Another October, another showdown between Miami and Florida State. It also marks another year where game plans and past narratives get tossed out the window. Expect the unexpected when these two throw down. Check the history books for proof.
The Noles entered the preseason ranked third in the nation, with some picking them to topple No. 1 Alabama in the opener. Instead, a dose of humble pie by way of a turnover-fueled, 24-7 beatdown—and a side of insult-to-injury when quarterback Deondre Francois went down. The second-year started suffered a season-ending injury, immediately putting Florida State in scramble mode.
Enter true freshman quarterback James Blackman—as well as a 21-day Hurricane Irma-related layoff and a home date with North Carolina State—and the Noles were 0-2 before they knew up from down. Face was saved in a last-minute road win at Wake Forest last weekend, but the damage had been done and mojo shattered.
This isn’t the same FSU squad that expected to make some noise in 2017—but one that knows it can turn its season around with a takedown of a fired-up UM squad.
DESPITE NOLES’ SLIDE, STILL A MARQUEE GAME FOR CANES
Miami’s journey has been a bit more favorable. Natural disaster-related issues also impacted Coral Gables, the early schedule and practice regiment. The Canes cancelled a road game at Arkansas State as the Category 5 storm approached, saw the annual Florida State match-up postponed a month and time was spent away from campus, practicing in Orlando as South Florida worked to get back to normal.
A slow start against Toledo resulted in a second half blowout and Miami followed up with a convincing road win against undefeated Duke. Blemish-less and headed to Tallahassee—all anybody could really ask for year two in the Mark Richt era, outside of breaking a seven-game losing streak to Florida State.
The Canes enter as a three-point favorite in a game taking on a bit of a strange feel. The Noles are wounded, but talented. Injuries plagued the offensive side of the ball—Francois going down, as well as a few banged-up offensive linemen trying to find their groove—but the defense is in tact, albeit underachieving.
Toss in a rowdy Doak Campbell crowd on Saturday afternoon and a sleeping giant could be easily awoken. No better way to turn around a 1-2 start than to “upset” Miami in front of a garnet and gold audience looking for a reason to believe.
Equally as off-base; the premise of an already postponed game dealing with more weather-related issues, courtesy of the latest brewing tropical storm. Talk of the 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff getting moved to Saturday morning—or even Friday night—has since been squashed as Nate kicks wide left, but it’s still a distraction after a chaotic opening month to the season.
NOLES’ NIGHTMARES AND CRUSIN’ CANES
Matchup-wise, the Canes certainly have more going for them early October than was expected a month back. Florida State had the quarterback edge, but that changed with Francois went down—and Miami junior Malik Rosier stepped up.
Originally seen as a one-year option keeping the seat warm for freshman-phenom N’Kosi Perry, Rosier has looked all the part of a capable two-year starter for the Canes.
Two grossly overthrown interceptions are more than outweighed by a 65.6 completion percentage (59-of-90 passing), 820 yards through the air and eight touchdowns over three games. No. 12 also rushed for 23 carries, 97 yards and two scores during that span—an added dimension his statuesque predecessor Brad Kaaya lacked.
Rosier’s maturity is matched by the even more capable Mark Walton—a combination of next-level back and full-blown leader who is proving to be the heart and soul of the Hurricanes’ offense, much like the departed Dalvin Cook was for the Seminoles the past three seasons.
Walton was a spark plug at Duke last Friday night—churning out 51 yards on 17 carries, as well as four receptions for 79 yards. Not quite the explosive 204-yard outing against Toledo a week prior, but the Blue Devils’ field a better defense and are a quality conference opponent.
Still, the same type of leadership was on display in both outings. When sidelined against the Rockets due to injury, the Canes’ offense lost their mojo. Upon Walton’s second half return, Miami tacked on 42 second-half points and blew Toledo out.
Duke’s hyper-focus on stopping Walton early allowed Rosier to exploit man-to-man coverage on the opening drive, finding Braxton Berrios for a 27-yard score. Later in the game, with a convincing lead—and a injury scare with Walton—Travis Homer reiterated the Canes’ depth at the position, tearing off a 40-yard touchdown, untouched.
While Rosier needs to remain as mistake-free as possible—put in position to succeed by a coaching staff paid handsomely to do just that; all roads to success come on the ground.
InsideTheU.com went deep-diving on the stats and pointed out that during Miami’s seven-game losing streak to Florida State, the Canes averaged 99.9 rushing yards on 209 carries—with four games under 85 yards. Conversely, the Noles have rolled for an average of 185.7 rushing yards-per-game.
When UM was dominating FSU in the early 2000’s, the Canes were averaging 134.8 rushing yards over eight wins.
The team that runs the ball controls the clock and as far as this rivalry is concerned—has the ultimate leg up regarding a hard-earned victory.
FSU’s Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick haven’t seen the same type of success three games in, courtesy of a Florida State offensive line that has proven to be a hot mess early on. In last week’s showdown at Wake Forest, the Seminoles’ offense allowed 18 tackles-for-loss and five sacks of Blackman.
Defensively, both squads look better than they’ve played; Miami finally closing the talent gap against Florida State on that side of the ball. Both secondaries have room for improvement, but the front sevens are chock full of talent and hard-hitters. Either could change the game on a play—and for the Canes’ sake; a little added momentum by way of the “Turnover Chain” as rocking that Cuban-link in Tallahassee would be as good as it gets.
MIAMI & FLORIDA STATE: A TALE OF TWO STREAKS
As always with this rivalry, intangibles will again define everything between these two long-time foes. Looking back at recent years, games have always turned on a dime. Last season, an NFL-caliber throw by Kaaya on fourth down looked to have things overtime-bound—until kicker Michael Badgley had his point-after attempt blocked.
Back in 2015, sloppy play by Florida State let Miami hang around longer than it should’ve—the Canes overcoming a 17-3 deficit, yet taking a brief fourth quarter lead, 24-23—before Cook turned it on and rattled off back-to-back 23-yard runs; the latter for a game-winning score.
Most-memorable in recent Miami history; a blown shot at dethroning the defending champs down south. On fire early, the Canes led 23-7, before falling, 30-26. Cook again delivered the dagger; a 26-yard touchdown run to reclaim the lead, while Miami played tight all throughout the second half—a lethal combination that was a fear of success, as well as not knowing how to play with a lead.
A decade prior, it was Miami playing the role of party crasher and dream killer. Florida State’s current streak sits at seven, but the Canes got theirs up to six between 2000 and 2004.
Ending a seven-year, home-unbeaten streak in Tallahassee in 2001, en route to a national championship. Overcoming a 27-14 fourth quarter deficit as the top ranked squad on the verge of being upset by the Noles.
The late, great Sean Taylor taking over the rain-soaked affair in a 22-14 Miami win in 2003 between two Top 5 squads, followed by the Canes eking out BCS win in the 2004 FedEx Orange Bowl, 16-14. Eight months later; a jailbreak screen with under a minute remaining to force overtime, followed by an 18-yard Frank Gore dagger in the extra period.
From the right side of history, to the wrong. So it goes in rivalries. The saving grace; every season offers another clean slate and opportunity to both change the narrative, while starting a new chapter in the storied history.
‘STATEMENT GAME’ FOR CANES IN EVERY SENSE OF THE PHRASE
All of this brings up the ultimate question; is this a must-win game for the Canes? Also-f**king-lutely. Seven game-losing streaks in heated rivalries leave little margin for error.
No, a loss doesn’t ruin a season and the Coastal is still wide open. Virginia Tech’s trek south early November is truly Miami’s “game of the year”—but as Richt continues working to do away with an old, broken culture in favor of the type of program he wants to build—taking down a Seminoles’ squad on the ropes is that next necessary step.
When this season began, many—myself included—penciled in a loss for the would-be September 16th showdown in Tallahassee; remaining focused on an ACC Championship game rematch. Rosier was an unknown, Perry wasn’t ready and the Noles still looked a half-step ahead—especially with Francois and the momentum that came from elevated expectations.
The loss to Alabama was a setback, but paled in comparison to losing a gritty starting quarterback. Toss in the 21-day layoff for both squads, a postponed game and Miami getting to cut its teeth with Toledo and at Duke—while Florida State fell at home to North Carolina State and then struggled at Wake Forest; the script was flipped in every sense of the phrase.
Whatever the quirky path it took to get here, momentum now officially favors the Canes—and it’s time to capitalize on that. If asked the worst part about the past decade of sub-par Miami football—beyond the losses—it would be the incompetence, general no-shows and non-U style of play in said losses.
The U was nothing more than a logo on a helmet. Times when the Canes needed to step up, they’ve consistently stepped down. Nothing about Miami was reminiscent of the program that dominated decade after decade—most-notably the losing streak to Florida State; little brother owning big brother and rebuilding their program while UM suffered.
That can all end this Saturday—and should. The Canes have as legit a shot to take down the Noles as this program has seen since it’s last win in this series. While an offensive shootout circa 2009 most-likely isn’t in the cards this year, Miami has a two-dimensional scoring attack, an aggressive defense and a reeling, albeit worthy opponent.
The Canes also have to be sick-as-hell of losing—hearing it relentlessly from former players and fans who are used to more in this rivalry. To not rise up and take what’s sitting right in front of this Richt-led squad; exploiting weaknesses and and imposing one’s will—absolutely criminal.
Take care of business. Hit. Stick. Bust dick. Talk shit. Leave it all out there as losing pumps the brakes on a program destined for bigger and better.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter @ItsAUThingBLOG or @ChristianRBello.