Has Miami versus Florida State ever felt less like Miami versus Florida State than right now? Even with the Canes and Noles both struggling a few years back, there was at least some form of hype or an electricity in the air. Not the case this time around.
Chalk that up to one of many casualties of .500-type seasons and losing five consecutive to an archrival. Miami had a shirt a decade back that read, “It Ain’t A Rivalry If They Can’t Beat You”—having schooled the Noles five straight. The tide has since turned, with Florida State seemingly forgetting what it’s like to fear “The U”.
Psychologically-speaking head coach Al Golden went the even-keel route this week. No war-chant noise pumping through amplified speakers at Greentree and no over-the-top animation regarding this weekend’s foe.
Instead, a business-as-usual attitude—which somewhat makes sense (even if it doesn’t feel right)—based on how the Canes fell apart the past two years after losing to the Noles.
With seven games remaining in 2015, Golden can’t let his team unravel—which has him pushing a watered-down team goal of winning the Coastal Division, opposed to the higher standards this dominant program once embodied.
FSU’S SEMINOLES: HURRICANES KRYPTONITE AS OF LATE
Dating back to it’s last loss in Tallahassee, Miami went 2-8 in games played after losing to Florida State. Overly-invested emotionally, the Canes literally left it all out on the field; the desire to beat the Noles so great that Miami seemingly lost its way in the wake of those losses.
However Saturday night plays out at Doak Campbell, Golden’s approach to this week will either prove successful, or go down in epic-fail fashion, amplifying the notion that he’s a bad fit for the program, doesn’t embrace the brand and that UM desperately needs to make a change.
Up in the panhandle Florida State is certainly unproven early this season and seemingly ripe for a fall. Gone are quarterback Jameis Winston and other key components from a program that hasn’t lost a regular season game in two-plus years.
Notre Dame transfer Everett Gholson is still finding his way at under center, one-man-show running back Dalvin Cook is banged up, the offensive line is in rebuild-mode, while those big-play receivers and tight ends seems a few rungs lower than talent rolled out in years passed.
Conversely, Miami’s offense has some key playmakers—but has been too inconsistent to be fully trusted at this point of the season.
Brad Kaaya looked solid for three quarters against Nebraska, but the sophomore quarterback struggled somewhat in a recent road loss to Cincinnati.
Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton have been a legit one-two punch with the ground game at times this year, but due to play calling and scheming, haven’t been put in a position where they needed to truly establish a run to set a tone or take over a game.
Rashawn Scott has had his moments at receiver, thought Stacy Coley has been hobbled and yet to regain his freshman form two years back. Herb Waters has been hit or miss, while Braxton Berrios—also injured—hasn’t been re-worked properly into the rotation.
As for the offensive line; a true question mark. Good at times, awful as others and consistently undisciplined—making key mistakes at the most inopportune times, crippling offensive production. Miami remains awful on third-down conversions and after getting through those early scripted plays, has seen coordinator James Coley struggling in his decision-making.
DEFENSIVE SCHEMES CONTINUE TO UNINSPIRE
Defensively, same as it ever was … same as it ever was … same as it ever was, as the days go by under coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. The schemes remain troublesome, the production not always there, but the stat-pushing ever-present from the maligned coordinator the morning after—always sticking to his guns, as is Golden when it comes to “core values” and how the pair chooses to coach.
A standard preview would break down the keys to the game and what not, but to be fair to the reader—isn’t all that obvious four games in and coming off a disappointing loss?
Mistakes have to be cleaned up. Coaches have to play their best players and avoid the personnel mistakes that have taken place early this season. Miami also has to grow a pair; especially when it comes to truly “ignoring the noise”—instead of social media rants or in-game fights with fans.
Two-time national champion and Heisman-winning quarterback Gino Torretta chimed in days back; going old school with his sentiments in regards to how he and teammates would respond in these backed-into-a-corner situations—and it’s just what any Canes enthusiast would expect.
Collectively players need to hate losing and decide enough is a enough. Individually, someone needs to step up. Make a play. Offense carry the defense, or vice versa. Stop being denied. Find a way and get it done.
Miami had Florida State on the ropes last year, but couldn’t deliver the knockout blow. The obvious hope is that this year will be different, but based on a fourth quarter meltdown against Nebraska and a mistake-prone outing against Cincinnati, the Canes are yet to prove they’ve learned from last year’s mistakes.
Even more daunting; Miami has dropped five of their past eight, including last year’s 30-26 loss to the Seminoles. Bouncing-back hasn’t been this program’s strong-suit under Golden.
CANES RISING, NOLES BACKSLIDING?
All that said, there is a silver lining. This year’s Florida State squad doesn’t pack the punch its past two teams have. The Noles have looked surprisingly mortal in wins over Boston College and South Florida.
Last week Wake Forest out-gained FSU by 28 yards offensively in an eight-point loss and the Noles needed an end zone interception of the Demon Deacons to hang on.
Regarding Miami, this is arguably the most-talented team it has fielded in half a decade. Whether the Canes play to that potential, eliminate mistakes and coaches put these kids in a position to succeed, it remains to be seen. Still, there’s more than enough talent to go toe-to-toe in Tallahassee; which hasn’t been the case since the Canes last topped the Noles in 2009.
Karma, luck, fate, or whatever one wants to call it also seems like it will play a part in this weekend’s match-up. Aside from streaks always breaking, or swinging back the other way, Florida State seems ripe for a take down—the Noles somewhat big-headed, not respecting Miami and in a bit of denial regarding their own recent demise.
There’s also all the tongue-in-cheek pro-Golden efforts on their part; paying to fly a “Keep Al Golden” banner pre-game and selling garnet and gold shirts in campus bookstores with the same slogan. File both under sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong.
Miami’s coaching staff gripes are in-house, family business. Florida State’s mocking of it is piling-on and pointless bullying on their end. It’s also the type of prideful arrogance that oft comes back to bite one in the ass.
Maybe, maybe not—but it sure feels that way.
EVEN WITH A WIN, GOLDEN’S BATTLE STILL UPHILL
A win against Florida State won’t save Golden’s job, but it’s hard to believe that a loss won’t do him in. The Noles mopped up the Canes, 45-17 at Sun Life Stadium in 2010. Seven games later Randy Shannon was fired, hours after an overtime home loss to South Florida.
Oral history pinpointed Shannon’s tenure ending on October 9th; the night Miami was embarrassed by their most-hated rival in what was supposed to be a huge step-forward type year. Those final seven games were merely a formality; which was why Shannon was out before the Bulls even made their way back to Tampa.
All Miami’s issues aside, it feels like the Canes are going to steal one on Saturday night. How that unfolds and who steps up in the process remains an unknown, but it seems like it’s time. Not a player on this Miami team has ever beaten Florida State and there are a handful of seniors who appear ready to heed Torretta’s advice, finding a way to be difference-makers.
Golden and staff won’t have a foolproof game plan, but it’s hard to believe that some small tweaks won’t be made to ensure a better on-the-field product.
Translation? There will be more Deon Bush at safety opposed to Dallas Crawford. Same to be said for the standard approach of elevating practice field superstars on game day, opposed to sending out the Canes’ best players and leaning on them.
Saturday night is about talent and the best product each staff can put on the field; not moral victories, teaching life lessons and rewarding kids for mid-week effort.
Kaaya needs protection and more dedication to establishing a run will help provide that; so expect more Yearby, Walton and maybe even some Trayone Gray or Walter Tucker in those short-yardage situations.
It’s not about flash and treating Kaaya as the be all, end all; it’s going to take grit and substance to pull this upset off.
Can Miami cut down on the penalties, eliminate mistakes, capitalize in the red zone and turn the tide regarding the inexplicable third down failures? Maybe not across the board, but showing improvement here and there in pivotal moments might be enough.
Miami hasn’t played anywhere near it’s potential this season and while Florida State hasn’t either, the Canes are the ones with their backs to the wall, while the Noles continue rolling with their find-a-way abilities.
It’s not setting up to be some flawless work of art and won’t set the stage for the Canes to win-out, but as far as this one game and Saturday night’s challenge—Miami will be a smidge better than an overconfident, again-entitled Florida State bunch.
Winning ways inevitably bring on lethargy and complacency and watching the Noles early on this season—the hunger and drive of the past few years doesn’t appear there.
Or maybe it is and FSU absolutely puts it to UM. Wouldn’t come as a surprise—but penning this piece during that calm before the storm, I’m sticking with the aforementioned narrative and a gut feeling that the Canes hang on for the win.