Ahead of the Miami-FSU game, our SOTU staff got together to answer some questions about this matchup. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the discussion.
QUESTION 1: How are you feeling heading into the showdown against FSU on Saturday?
Jerry Steinberg: I felt good about this game before the season started. My take is that Mark Richt knows how important this game is to the program and also recruiting. Losing 6 straight to FSU is unacceptable, and I expect Richt and the staff to pull out all of the stops to get it done. Now that I have seen UM play 4 very good games, spearheaded by an aggressive defense and rejuvenated running game, I am even more confident. FSU is 3-2, and they are a wounded animal no doubt. So this one won't be easy. But I think you're going to get the best effort possible out of the Hurricanes this week, and that should be enough. It's time to take back the state!
Cam Underwood: Other than Hurricane Matthew bearing down on South Florida, I feel good. Miami is playing like MIAMI again, and that is great to see. The Canes have the QB, the skill position talent, and — most importantly — THE DEFENSE to make plays throughout this game. Instead of being 3-1 and having lost to a team we shouldn’t have, Miami comes in undefeated, having soundly beaten inferior teams. We’re playing well and ready to keep it going.
Blain Bradley: Confident as ever. This is a changed team, and everyone is playing with a high motor. This game is the turning point.
Justin Dottavio: This is the most excited I've been for Miami/FSU since Golden's first year at Miami. The games have been close with a horrible coaching staff, I can only see a win with this competent staff. I have to watch it in a bar before the WWE live event in Portland so there's the additional hype.
Mike Grunewald: Heading into the contest against FSU I feel mostly optimistic but a tad bit cautious because the Noles will probably be the stiffest competition the Canes have gone up against all season. Each week the level of competition has ratcheted up and although Miami has won each bout, the scoring margin has also started to shrink. The reason I say that FSU “probably” is their stiffest competition is because the last two or three weeks the Noles have really regressed on defense. Is GT a better overall team? Maybe. That’s how bad it’s gotten at least in my opinion in Tallahassee.
John Pickens: I feel good about Miami's chances to win, but think approaching the game with cautious optimism is far better than overconfidence. I am a little worried about how quickly the expectations have been raised for this team. FSU is 3-2, but is now being underrated. I am confident Miami can score on FSU and expect a shootout.
Charlie Strauzer: I feel like the for the first time in years we are gaining momentum just as FSU is losing their mojo and looks vulnerable. However, momma always said beware of a wounded animal.
Daniel Tummeley: I definitely feel optimistic about Miami's chances to win this game. For the first time in a long time, I am confident that Miami should win this game.
QUESTION 2: What have you seen from Miami that makes you think the Canes will win?
Steinberg: It all starts with the D. The front 4 is looking awfully deep now that Trent Harris, Anthony Moten, and Courtel Jenkins are contributing alongside Demetrius and Joe Jackson, Chad Thomas, and Kendrick Norton among others. I think they have enough among this group to put pressure on Deondre Francois as well as slow down if not stop Dalvin Cook. Speaking of QB's, Brad Kaaya is a junior now, and no matter how talented his freshman counterpart may be, in games like this the team with the more experienced signal caller usually has a distinct advantage.
Underwood: The defense led by Manny Diaz and Craig Kuligowski. 12 tackles for loss a game. 17 players with a TFL on the year. 4th Nationally in sacks. #1 DL havoc rate in CFB. This defense is finally using its talent properly, and that’s exciting. On top of that, Brad Kaaya is the truth at QB, Mark Walton/Joe Yearby are a dynamic duo at RB, and there are plenty of playmakers on the outside, from Stacy Coley to Ahmmon Richards to Braxton Berrios to David Njoku to Chris Herndon to Dayall Harris. Scheme and talent. Scheme and talent.
Bradley: A relentless defense. Freshmen are playing like seasoned vets, and the defense is hungrier than ever.
Dottavio: I think Miami has played well while staying pretty basic. I think we'll see some big things on offense and defense for FSU. I expect Francois to be pressured all night like Louisville did and the offense to run multiple RPO's, play action passes, and a lot of power to keep the defense guessing.
Grunewald: One aspect about the Canes that I like looking ahead to Saturday is that Miami’s offense is very versatile and unpredictable. They can line up in a power set with two tight ends, a full back and running back and smash it down the oppositions throat. The Canes can also go fast paced with four wide and run/pass option their way down the field. As a defensive coordinator in the college game that is very hard to prep for in just one week for everything Miami could potentially run. Mix in the fact that Miami probably hasn’t opened up over half their playbook yet this season and you have a team with a lot of tricks still hidden up their sleeves.
Pickens: Miami has played nearly perfect football this season. The Canes are near the top nationally in numerous statistical categories. Brad Kaaya should have opportunities to make plays downfield against a vulnerable FSU secondary that badly misses Derwin James. Miami's defense has been aggressive and is playing with a lot of confidence.
Strauzer: Kaaya's poise under pressure, the emergence of our running game, particularly Walton and our in your face aggressive defense. Our frosh LB trio has me flashing back to when Barrow/Armstead/Smith were freshmen.
Tummeley: I think the 'Canes will win, because how they have played in the first four games. Sure, Al Golden had a few good starts to the season while at Miami, but this is different. They have controlled each game they have played in, and under the last regime, that was not happening.
QUESTION 3: What have you seen from Miami that makes you think the Canes will lose?
Steinberg: The offensive line is still too inconsistent. If Kaaya does not have a clean pocket for a good part of the evening, it's going to be a long night. They need to create holes for Joe Yearby and Mark Walton as well, as a one dimensional attack is not going to get it done.
Underwood: This offensive line can still be very problematic. App State loaded the box and curtailed the run game after Walton hit them for 80 yards on the first play. GT, whose defense is particularly stingy, made it hard to run. There were a couple breakdowns in pass pro as well, which we cannot have vs FSU.
Bradley: Nothing yet. Honestly, the team can be hesitant at times, and question their ability, but they're so ready for this game. I'm glad they handled GT, and didn't over look them. When the whistle blew in ATL the Canes sites were set on FSU.
Dottavio: It's less Miami and more FSU. They're like a super roach in the school cafeteria that's been feeding off of hot Cheetos and spilled Mountain Dew. Miami has to grow a killer instinct that doesn't let off.
Grunewald: I think the big takeaway from the GT game was that Miami doesn’t have sideline to sideline quickness like they used to. GT couldn’t execute their dive plays up the middle of the running attack but they were successful in the perimeter running plays. This wasn’t necessarily because they out schemed the Canes, it was because their players were faster than the Miami line backers in my opinion. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Nole offense try some toss plays in the running game to start off the contest to see if Dalvin can get outside on the Miami defensive ends and linebackers.
Pickens: Florida State has already played UNC, Ole Miss, Louisville, and South Florida. Miami's toughest tests came on the road against App State and Georgia Tech, two teams that would probably be underdogs against all four of FSU's FBS opponents. If FSU had faced Miami's schedule, a 4-0 start would be the most likely outcome. I love how Miami's freshmen linebackers have played, but facing Dalvin Cook is a whole different challenge. Miami will face more NFL players on Saturday night that it's seen in the first four games combined.
Strauzer: Our lack of depth on D
Tummeley: If Miami were to lose this game, it would probably fall on the shoulders of the offensive linemen, who have had their fair share troubles this season.
QUESTION 4: Who needs to step up for Miami to win?
Steinberg: Kaaya. To quote Santana Moss, "Big time players make big time plays in big time games." Kaaya is a big time player. It's time for him to achieve his defining moment.
Underwood: I’m tempted to say Kaaya, but he’s averaged 360.5 yards vs FSU in 2 games, so we’ve seen him be great. I’m going to go with Chad Thomas. He’s finally playing like the 5-star recruit he was, and Miami will need him to continue to be dominating and disruptive on the edge come Saturday night.
Bradley: I'd love to see Brad have a big game. It would be a great notch in his belt as a leader for this team.
Dottavio: Brad Kaaya. Brad Kaaya has to run when there's open space either when dropping back, on sprint outs, or in the zone read game. He can't eliminate that aspect of the game. UNC, Louisville and Ole Miss used QB mobility to put up points on FSU. Kaaya can't look like Drew Bledsoe.
Grunewald: It sounds kind of cheesy but I think the guy that needs to step up the most would be Head Coach Mark Richt. I think Miami is more talented at executing their offense and defense at this moment when compared to FSU. Richt has a lot of options on offense whether to ground and pound or light up the FSU secondary. He needs to really mix up the tempos throughout the game and keep the Seminole defense guessing throughout the game. More importantly, if he finds something that works, he needs to stay with it until the Noles adjust which, to his credit as the play caller, we saw a lot in the App State and GT appearances the last few weeks.
Pickens: This game will come down to the play of Brad Kaaya. Mock drafts have Kaaya going high in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. It's time for him to live up to those projections and stake his claim as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. The Canes will need 30+ points to win. This is his opportunity.
The Canes' offensive line has played well this season and managed to stay healthy. Communication will be critical when trying to slow down FSU's star DE Demarcus Walker. Miami will try to maintain balance on offense, featuring a heavy dose of Walton and Yearby.
Strauzer: Kaaya is 0-2 against the noles, he's due for a big time game.
Tummeley: Miami's offensive line needs to step up, in both run and pass blocking. If they do that, I think Brad Kaaya will be the first UM quarterback to beat FSU since Jacory Harris.
QUESTION 5: What about Florida State concerns you heading into this game?
Steinberg: To start it's Francois ability to break contain and keep plays alive. And you always have to worry about Cook, as he is one of the premier backs in the country. But my biggest concern by far is the presence of DeMarcus Walker on the other side of the ball. The kid is a beast, and as we talked about earlier, the 'Canes O line has been anything but dominant through 4 games. What happens if/when he matches up with Sunny Odogwu, keeps me up at night.
Underwood: Talent and depth. Across the board. I know they’re not playing great on defense (they’re really playing badly, actually), but there’s still TALENT across the board. You’d be hard pressed to find more than 1 or 2 3-star recruits starting there. With that kind of talent and athleticism, FSU can create problems on both sides of the ball.
Bradley: Nothing. I sound blunt and ignorant, but they should have lost to Ole Miss. Louisville worked them. USF was whatever. And the UNC game... In all honesty, containing Dalvin Cook is key.
Dottavio: (see question 3)
Grunewald: What concerns me the most about FSU is that they can also score tons of points on offense just like Miami can. FSU is almost like a Big 12 team where they know heading into the game they’re probably going to have to score 30-40 points a game just to stay close because their defense simply isn’t capable of stopping teams and keeping them out of the end zone. Miami won’t be going against a plodding run option offense, they’ll be going against a quick strike team that can keep pace if they need to.
Pickens: The Canes' offensive line has played well this season and managed to stay healthy. Communication will be critical when trying to slow down FSU's star DE Demarcus Walker. Miami will try to maintain balance on offense, featuring a heavy dose of Walton and Yearby.
Strauzer: Two losses so far this year, they will fight and claw to prevent a third loss this early
Tummeley: The Florida State defensive line is most concerning, because they are capable of making game changing plays. There is always the Dalvin Cook factor, which won them the game last year.
QUESTION 6: Does Florida State's scuffling (3-2 record, near Nation's worst 6.98 yards per play allowed) change how you feel about the Seminoles potential heading into this game?
Steinberg: Somewhat, but not really. They are a young team, looking for their identity (especially in defense). But Jimbo Fisher has recruited incredibly well over the past decade and that is a roster that is still littered with talent. Miami is undefeated and playing at home, yet only favored by 2-3 points. That should tell you all you need to know about how closely these teams still match-up.
Underwood: No, it doesn’t change how I feel. FSU has flaws, sure, but what team doesn’t? People treat games vs FSU like they treat games vs Miami: It’s their Superbowl. FSU had been able to fend off those challenges in previous years, but have been unable to so far this season. That happens. FSU isn’t the dominating team they were a few years ago, but they’re still a good team, with plenty of talent, and they’ll be keyed up for this rivalry game. Their previous struggles don’t change my feelings about that.
Bradley: Yeah, they're just not all there. The team is flawed. I don't see them fairing well against a RB stable like ours.
Dottavio: I feel more confident but it's still FSU/Miami, anyone can win.
Grunewald: My perception does change a bit based on FSU’s recent performances. The fact of the matter is that this may be what Jimbo Fisher is as a head coach. I wrote about it earlier in the week. I believe he’s a good coach but do I believe he’s an elite coach? Not really, no. Anyways, back to FSU at this point.. I think the biggest surprise the last few weeks is how badly the defense has been playing. The last two or three decades when I think of FSU I think of a stout run defense with quick linebackers. Now they’re playing Big 12 bend and probably break defense.
Pickens: Dalvin Cook was the difference maker in 2014 and 2015 and young QB Deondre Francois has looked the part of a star quarterback at times. The Noles have so much talent on both sides of the ball will be playing with confidence despite the slow start, having won the last six games in this rivalry.
Strauzer: It's why I think this could be our year.
Tummeley: The Seminoles' struggles this season have been fun to watch, but at the end of the day this is a rivalry game. The record does not matter, as the winner of this game will be the team that executes best.
QUESTION 7: What would a win against Florida State mean to the Miami Hurricanes program?
Steinberg: This is a tough one to answer. Part of me wants to say it'd mean Miami was back. But in reality I don't see it that way until Richt has a few more classes under his belt, and the depth is there to truly contend for a National Title. A win however, would be a major step towards the program's first ever ACC Coastal Division crown, and does keep the chances of a playoff berth alive. It'd be pretty significant. But I think more than anything it would be a psychological boost for the players, the fan base, and the program as a whole. Perhaps it'd say, "We might not be quite back yet, but we are no longer to be taken lightly."
Underwood: It would be big. From a fan standpoint, we wouldn’t have to hear FSU fans’ BS anymore. From a program standpoint, this would be a signature-type win that Al Golden was unable to get. This game would help recruiting, help the season moving forward, would be a signal to America that while Miami isn’t back, we’re on the way. This may be the only game a person in North Dakota watches the Canes play. We have to take advantage of this moment and make a statement with a win.
Bradley: It's the turning point. It's "we're back, and you don't like it, we don't like you". It's recruiting battles. It's everything. I'll never understand Tallahassee. I stopped at a WhatABurger there on my road trip to Miami, and I thought I was in a scene from "Deliverance" (this is coming from a guy in west Alabama). Keep south Florida kids home, cause we know that's the best spot.
Dottavio: Even if FSU is 3-2, it's a sign the Canes are back. It's been a long time since Miami beat FSU and the fans/boosters are restless. Especially with the game in prime time (thanks ABC).
Grunewald: Wow, there’s so much going on here in this question.. I’ll limit my answer to one aspect: team psyche. No one on this team has ever beaten Florida State. Ever. If Miami were to beat FSU, even a shell of their former self program as they are now, it’d be huge to the players and the coach staff. Keep in mind, Richt got ran out of Athens Georgia not because he didn’t win enough games, it’s because he didn’t win the right games. This would go a long way in dispelling that notion for Richt’s legacy.
Pickens: A win Saturday night would mean everything to the Miami program. It would help immediately in recruiting and would send a signal to the rest of the country that the Canes can contend nationally. After years of close calls, frustrations, and disappointments, beating Florida State would be a special moment for Miami fans everywhere.
Strauzer: 2 words: INFLECTION POINT
Tummeley: (no response given)
That’ll do it for today. Our SOTU Staff picks and predictions for the game coming tomorrow.