The Miami Hurricanes knocked off the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday afternoon on a national ABC broadcast; a one-sided beatdown that could’ve been worse as the Canes struck early and the Noles never found their footing.
Pro tip; marinate on that statement for a little bit and find a way to enjoy the moment, as it hasn’t been the norm. Not this season and not in recent history. Aside from Miami already racking up four losses this fall, Florida State has dominated this rivalry over the past decade—blowing out the Canes on occasion, while stealing some close ones when they were the better team, or things were evenly matched.
For those saying, put this game in the rearview—on-to-Louisville; let the team take that approach. Fans should bask in the glow of beating a rival. Made this point last fall with the on-to-Virginia crowd, only to see Miami drop four in a row after the comeback against the Seminoles; which made savoring that home win against Florida State—the first since 2004—all the more important.
Miami has now taken three-in-a-row in the series; winning in Tallahassee in 2017 behind a gritty Malik Rosier—ending a seven-game losing streak to the Seminoles with a last-second touchdown—as well as overcoming the rivalry’s biggest deficit in 2018 when N’Kosi Perry helped the Canes overcome a 27-7 hole, en route to a 28-27 comeback win.
This time around, it was a confident Jarren Williams—another first-year starter in the series—throwing for 313 yards, two touchdowns and protecting the football in the 27-10 rout. Yanked weeks back after a three-interception first quarter against Virginia Tech, Williams yielded to Perry before entering late in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh last weekend, where he delivered the game-winning strike to K.J. Osborn.
Williams’ performance against Florida State wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot to like as No. 15 finally connected on two big deep balls for touchdowns—an early 39-yard strike to Jeff Thomas that kicked off the scoring, followed by a 56-yard dagger to Dee Wiggins that pushed Miami’s lead back to 14 points early in the fourth quarter.
There was also an effective 34-yard strike to Mike Harley on a 3rd-and-4 late in the second quarter, setting up a six-yard DeeJay Dallas touchdown run, extending the lead to 14-3 at the half—Dallas deservedly cashing in after a huge block that afforded Williams the time to find Harley.
Better pocket awareness, coupled with an improved offensive line and better blocking schemes—Miami, to its credit, is showing signs of improvement going into the final third of the season, while Florida State is in full-blown disaster-mode.
While both teams have seen their share of offensive line struggles, the Hurricanes have finally reached a respectable level of play—unlike the Seminoles, whose line was reminiscent of Miami’s in the season-opener against Florida. The Gators smacked Williams around all night back in August, tallying up 10 sacks—while here in early November, the Noles let the Canes’ front seven in their backfield—where Miami notched a season-best nine sacks; four of which were credited to freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau, who was become virtually unstoppable.
Miami tossed quarterback Alex Hornibrook around like a rag doll all evening; a welcomed sight to see the Seminoles’ starting quarterback harassed from start to finish—but a bonus as the Wisconsin transfer played the game of his career against the Hurricanes in the 2017 Orange Bowl, where he earned MVP honors. This time around, sent home battered and bruised—and deservedly so.
As much as Miami rolled in with a stellar effort and solid overall game plan, the complete opposite can be said of Willie Taggart—who dropped to 9-12 overall since taking over Florida State last fall. Having seen what inexperienced mobile quarterbacks have done to the Hurricanes’ defense this fall—even a newbie like Virginia Tech’s Hendon Hooker—Taggart still opted for the immobile, average-armed Hornibrook, over the erratic-yet-athletic James Blackman.
Similar knocks apply to offensive coordinator Kendal Briles; a name that had some Miami fans overly-concerned as a threat when hired by Taggart in the off-season. Briles spent the first half forcing Hornibrook to throw too often, with Miami’s safeties dropped deep—instead of trying to establish something on first down with the electric Cam Akers—only to put it all on Akers’ shoulders early in the second half; overly-reliant upon their WildCam direct-snap package, too little too late.
Admittedly, not much offensive good was going to come behind Florida State’s porous offensive line play—especially with Miami’s all-out aggression on defense—but both Taggart and Briles deserve criticism for going with Hornibrook and not finding more creative ways to involved Akers.
In the midst of writing this piece, news broke that Taggart has been relieved of his duties; the Florida State brass having seen enough after a 9-12 run since last fall—to the point where they’ll eat his remaining $17M contract and hope to reel in a better fit next time around.
Tallahassee burning and another Seminoles restart aside, the Hurricanes have now won three of their last four overall; games circled on the pre-season schedule and considered the most-defining of the year—Virginia, at Pitt and at Florida State. Losses to lesser squads like Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech definitely took some shine off of this mid-season run—but in looking at how things have played out, it appears both of those games served as cautionary tales and motivational tools that ultimately seems to be helping these Hurricanes turn a corner.
Having given up 42 points to the Hokies; a sloppy five-turnover, 11-penalty outing—head coach Manny Diaz reinserted himself into the defense’s preparation and days later Miami clamped down hard on Virginia— stuffing the Cavaliers in the red zone and holding them to nine points. After a lethargic outing against Georgia Tech the following week, where the Hurricanes whiffed on 29 tackles and DJ Ivey fell asleep on two plays—costing the Canes 14 points—Ivey hauled in two interceptions at Pittsburgh, while the defense allowed another field goals-only performance, in a 16-12 victory.
A road victory against the Panthers is also where an unintended quarterback quandary ultimately played itself out, sans any controversy—Perry seemingly hitting his ceiling over the course a few starts, with Williams saving the day with a game-winning drive that obviously played into his getting the nod for Florida State week.
Diaz’s choice of Williams as QB1 was confirmed in the rolling of the Noles, as there were enough flashes of what coaches felt this Miami team was capable of months back with No. 15 at the helm. Improved offensive line play (finally), receivers growing up, a secondary coming together and a kicking game that isn’t a full-blown liability—the Canes have somewhat dispelled the myth that a team is what their record says it is; looking and feeling better than the 5-4 staring them back in the face.
Of course all that’s left to do now it continue winning and building off of what’s taken place over the past four weeks; the mostly-good (Virginia, Pittsburgh and Florida State) as well as the bad (Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech), that led to some hard resets and ultimately helped right the ship.
One big knock on Miami in 2019 has been a lack of an identity; who are the Hurricanes and how do they react and respond? Over the first half of the season, it was a question impossible to answer—but over the past few weeks, things are coming into clearer focus.
Defense is again proving to be the calling card as the line has found an ace in Rousseau and others like Nesta Silvera and Trevon Hill are finding their groove and playing with a nasty streak. At linebacker, Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney quietly continue taking care of business and making plays—while a secondary that was tentative early, has seen player like Ivey, Gurvan Hall, Al Blades Jr. and Bubba Bolden finding their identity, which has helped a veteran like Trajan Bandy fall back into the type of player he was as a freshman in 2017 while playing along side guys like Sheldrick Redwine, Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson.
Offensively, the Canes were completely identity-less the past few years; right up through 2018 where Miami ranked 104th in total offense. As this year took off, a shoddy offensive line didn’t much help any inexperience at quarterback with Williams—which lent itself to Perry getting a few mid-season starts, as his mobility helped mask line deficiencies. As things have started to level out a bit there, Williams is looking more like the guy coaches expected when giving him the nod back in August—especially with the deep ball now added to his arsenal.
Days after the win, Hurricane Sports rolled out their post-game social media content—where a pre-game quip from Diaz set the tone for the highlights that would soon unfold.
“I don’t know if you can feel it, but there’s something different, man. I have not see this type of focused-aggression, to be honest, since Notre Dame . Guys, today is the day it all comes together. Offense goes down the field. Defense get the stop. Kicking game makes the game-winning play. All three phases start clicking today in Tallahassee,” Diaz shared, before his Canes aggressively took the field.
The win seemed to mark the first time this season the pre-game chatter matched the product on the field—coaches’ expectations and desires meshing with the belief of the players, as well as their overall effort and execution. The fact it happened at Florida State, sending the Seminoles to their version of rock-bottom; a third head coaching change since a three-game win streak for the Canes got underway—priceless.
With three-quarters of the season in the books, Miami has three remaining—Louisville at home for Senior Day and one final bye week to rest up, before a quick crosstown jaunt the Orange Bowl’s old, hallowed grounds to take on Florida International at Marlins Park—before a regular season-ending road trip to Duke. Mathematically, the Canes are still technically in the running for the Coastal Division—but it’s hardly worth touching on as a dozen things would have to fall into place; starting with winning out.
As Diaz continues building The New Miami—again, a long-term attitude and culture adjustment; not a quick-fix—a huge step forward is taken every time the Hurricanes can show up ready to play, coming off a win or a loss. Miami has struggled in times of prosperity, as well as despair—ill-prepared the week after a big win, as well as multiple-game losing streaks—unable to pump the failure breaks.
Winning at Florida State in that environment at Tallahassee was big for this Miami squad; equally as big, hitting the ground running against an upset-minded Louisville squad. The Cardinals are 5-3 on the season; losses against Notre Dame, Clemson … and at Florida State, while wins have come against Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Boston College, Wake forest and most-recently, Virginia.
Much like Florida State going between Hornibrook and Blackman, Louisville has played musical quarterbacks with Evan Conley and Micale Cunningham since starter Juwon Pass had season-ending surgery back in September. Conley mostly led the charge in a shootout win against the Demon Deacons, while both were used (rather ineffectively) when the Tigers routed the Cardinals. Cunningham got the majority of the snaps in the recent win over the Cavaliers; throwing an early touchdown to Tutu Atwell to tie the game in the first quarter and running for another in the fourth to take the lead for good.
Cunningham is precisely the type of shifty, athletic, mobile quarterback that has given the Hurricanes fits all season—moving the chains on third down, while doing enough with his feet to buy receivers time to get open—while Atwell is another of many Miami natives (Northwestern) over the years, who will return and look to break big playing in front of the hometown crowd this weekend. The Cardinals’ roster has roughly a dozen kids from what would be considered the State of Miami; all with a chip on their shoulders.
Louisville are hardly world-beaters, but lesser teams have given the Hurricanes fits a week after a gritty win or a shitty loss. Saturday represents another step-up moment where Miami has been prone to step-down. Take care of business against the Cardinals and handle the Panthers, which would put these Canes at 7-4 entering a finale at Duke, with a chance to accomplish a hell of 2019 rebound; especially based on how things looked at 3-4 a few weeks back.
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 for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.