If you haven’t been paying attention, the Miami Hurricanes head to Tallahassee to face the Florida State Seminoles for the 2017 of this rivalry game. To get you, and ourselves, ready for the game, we have a 3 part roundtable discussion with our SOTU contributors about the Canes, the Noles, and the game overall.
Here is the first installment of these 3 pieces, with part 2 coming tomorrow, and our game predictions coming on Friday.
Away we go:
QUESTION 1: Miami is 3-0 so far this season. How are you feeling heading into the showdown against FSU on Saturday?
Cam Underwood: I feel good, but still wary. We’ve seen this story before: Miami being an apparently stronger team than FSU, but still coming up short. Maybe it’s Al Golden PTSD, maybe its seeing ghosts, but there’s an undercurrent of concern beneath the “Yeah, we’re good” thoughts up front.
Matt Washington: I'm feeling pretty good about where Miami is right now. The team has taken care of business so far this season. Lets hope that continues on Saturday.
Justin Dottavio: I have a quiet confidence about it. You can never predict a big time rivalry like this, at any level. Miami has yet to pay FSU back for that 1997 debacle and it would be nice to break the streak with a blowout, but in a game like this, it won't happen.
Stefan Adams: I believe most neutral observers would agree that the Canes have a slight talent advantage going into Saturday's matchup for the first time in a long time in this series. The stats even favor Miami in pretty much every category, although FSU has the edge in level of competition. However, the number I can't get out of my head?...7. As in seven victories in a row for Florida State over UM, and in the past 3 the Canes had the final possession with the chance to win or tie and could not come through. I have been to all 7 of these games, and I think I speak for others when I say: whenever Miami gets a lead on FSU, I'm excited for a bit, but then a sense of dread starts to set in and I find myself wondering when the other shoe will drop and how Miami will blow it. After 7 losses in a row, I wouldn't be surprised if that was on the player's minds as well, and that is not a winning mentality. The bottom line is Miami has consistently found ways to lose this game and FSU always seems to make the one crucial play that Miami cannot. Until that dynamic changes, I'm saving my overt confidence (and the associated heartbreak) for other games.
Mike Grunewald: I feel pretty good about how Miami has started. They have sputtered at times and have gunned the engines at other moments both on the offense and defense. This matchup will be the first time all 2017 they've played someone who has had about the same amount of talent as them all over the field so it should be telling how they perform this weekend for the future of the 2017 season.
Mat Scholtec: I feel confident in Miami's chances to win in Tallahassee. The Canes have been playing with great emotion on both sides of the ball and have momentum after the Duke win. The Canes have done well at Doak recently with their previous two series wins on the road. I expect the Noles' win streak to finally be broken on Saturday.
John Pickens: I'm excited about Miami's start to the season. Rosier has been better than I expected and Miami's defense played very well at Duke. With Richards back and Walton healthy enough to play, Miami should be ready for the challenge of playing on the road in Tallahassee.
Charlie Strauzer: This is the most optimistic I've been going into an FSU game since the 2014 game when we had the 'Noles on the hook and let it slip through our fingers.
Grant Misemer: So far I can’t say I’m disappointed, but I can’t say I’m convinced. I’m excited and surprised with the progress of Malik Rosier and the offensive line, but it isn’t enough to say Miami is the best team in the ACC, let alone the Coastal. Miami’s secondary – besides Malek Young – has struggled mightily. I’m optimistic for Saturday. I feel as if Florida State lost their title hopes and their motivation to play because of the Francois injury. My only concern is Florida State’s motivation may be reinvigorated. Even though Florida State’s title hopes are toast, a rivalry game of this magnitude can bring back Florida State’s pride.
Carter Balderson: Cautiously optimistic. The offense has performed better than I expected coming into the season and while the defense has not been as good as advertised yet, that side of the ball has gotten better each game. Last week, the defense made some really good plays that they would not have made a week prior. I just hope that they continue the upswing in production this week once again. Bringing back Ahmmon Richards helped my confidence in the team as well.
Silas Tsang: This is Miami’s best chance at beating FSU in awhile. Imagine last year’s game if it were without Francois and Cook; basically, that’s FSU’s 2017 offense. I don’t think that Derwin James, even at his best, can make up for a star-less offense and a true freshman quarterback.
Ky-Shon Hepburn: I am confident Miami will win the matchup this year. The Canes are off to a 3-0 start while FSU has lost most of its momentum after losing starting quarterback Deondre Francois.
Donovan Hutchins: Beyond nervous. I believe Miami is currently in the best scenario to beat FSU that it has been the past 7 years. The “Cane Killer” Dalvin Cook, is in the league now, and they are starting a true Freshman QB that was thrust into action. FSU’s O-line is quite simply struggling. Their defense is giving up yards and their special teams is a question mark every time they take the field. With all this working in the Canes favor, I just don’t know if the Canes know how to win under this much pressure. Winning is a mentality and 7 years of losing takes its toll. Perfect example: last year’s blocked XP.
QUESTION 2: Miami has had 2 slow starts (Bethune Cookman and Toledo) and protracted offensive droughts in all 3 games. How can Miami avoid these things on Saturday?
Underwood: Whatever they did last week to start fast at Duke, do that again. Every single coach, player, administrator, and support staff person has to be 100% dialed in. As far as avoiding long offensive droughts, I’m putting that onus squarely on the shoulders and playsheet of Mark Richt. There have been many of us screaming for particular adjustments in each game, even dating back to last season. Richt can’t be slow to change things up. The initial plans over the last 8-9 games have been good, but I want Richt to be ready with a new wrinkle, a change to the gameplan that’s proactive to keep stressing the defense, not go 5 possessions with no points and hope for halftime adjustments.
Washington: I think Miami can overcome these lulls by providing more balance. The offense struggled when Mark Walton was out of the game. With Ahmmon Richards back in the lineup they have a playmaker they can go to. We can't forget about Chris Herndon and Braxton Berrios as reliable pass options. I would also like to see the offense trust Travis Homer a bit more.
Dottavio: Miami needs to win the field position battle and give the offense a short field. Once you have a short field you can have a stalled drive, but keep your offense closer to their side of the field instead of that second drive starting at the 5 and having to drive 95 yards. Can't have a bad punt or a long return allowed.
Adams: The play-calling of Mark Richt is the biggest thing holding the Miami offense back at this point. The offense was very basic and vanilla in the first half against Bethune and Toledo before opening up in the second half. Richt finally came out firing in the Duke game, but then fell into a stretch where he was not properly managing the game flow, throwing the ball way too much and putting the offense in bad spots, like 3rd and long. For example, there was a period in the second quarter when Miami was up 14-3 where, over a span of three consecutive drives, Miami dropped back to throw the ball NINE (9!) straight times, resulting in 3 sacks and 2 three and outs. Duke's front 7 began teeing off on Malik Rosier because they were selling out for the pass on every play. It is Richt's second year back calling plays and there's just no excuse for mistakes like that. That's rookie level stuff. He must do a better job balancing the offense and being less predictable if the Canes hope to beat FSU and, ultimately, win the Coastal. We have Mark Walton and Travis Homer! Use them.
Grunewald: I think Richt needs to do a better job calling a variety of different plays. It seems what gets Rosier off rhythm is when he tries to go deep too frequently. Mix in more run plays (assuming Walton is really healthy) and also more short yardage, high percentage completion opportunities or the offense. Let’s not out think ourselves here.
Scholtec: Richt needs to make sure Walton is getting carries throughout the game. He keeps the offense on schedule and in a groove. Against Duke, Rosier got hot in the passing game which is fine, go with what's working. The problem was that Rosier is streaky and when Duke adjusted, Miami did not counter with Walton, their best weapon. I understand part of that may be Walton's ankle injury, but Miami's play calling cannot neglect Walton and force Rosier to carry the load.
Pickens: It's clear Malik Rosier is a streaky player. I hope Mark Richt mixes in more short passes when he starts to see Rosier press a little bit. Miami was aggressive on offense to start the game against Duke and that helped as well.
Strauzer: No more excuses, the rust should be shaken off by now, every player and coach knows how big this game is. Time for the big boy pants.
Misemer: My opinion is most likely in the minority, but I believe we need to play Florida State with a more conservative offensive approach. I commend Richt and Co. for being more aggressive with the offense this year, but sometimes this same aggressiveness has killed offensive drives. For example, against Duke, Miami went through a long stretch of 3 & outs because they neglected to run the ball. The offense is incredible when it runs and passes the ball, but when the run game goes cold, Richt can’t abandon it.
Balderson: Don’t move away from the running game. I know that Miami will need the passing game in order to win on Saturday but let Mark Walton go to work. He is the most talented player on that side of the ball and is a game-changer. Let Travis Homer get in on the action a little bit more as well. Feed him the ball on short passes just as they do with Walton to get him the ball. Having Homer in the game will also be helpful in keeping Walton fresh, as his health is a bit of a concern right now.
Tsang: Perhaps less reliance on the shotgun formation. It seems that last week against Duke we spent too much time in that formation, and the run game struggled immensely. As a fan, running from shotgun always looks awkward. I would prefer to see a ground and pound run game with the quarterback under center.
Hepburn: Miami can avoid droughts by inserting RB Travis Homer into the run game earlier. The dynamic duo of Walton and Homer can help take pressure off Rosier so he can relax and play his game.
Hutchins: Focus. Many of their drives have ended because of unforced errors like dropped balls, penalties or misreads/throws/blocks. While I don't expect Miami or any team to score on every drive you can't shoot yourself in the foot with mistakes. When Miami’s offense is locked in, it's a thing of beauty. The defense can also assist by getting off the field in 3rd and long situations, giving more opportunities for the offense and winning the field position battle with special team’s play.
QUESTION 3: Does Florida State's scuffling (1-2 record) change how you feel about the Seminoles potential heading into this game?
Underwood: Not one bit. Like I said before, we’ve seen this movie, with Miami entering this game thought to be in a better place than FSU, but still losing. History has taught me that FSU plays harder vs. Miami (it’s true, look up the game film) than other games, regardless of their record, and ESPECIALLY if they have an ability to spin things as “nobody respects FSU, so it’s us against the world” — something I saw a journalist who covers the Noles report as the FSU mindset on Tuesday morning. I get that FSU hasn’t looked dominant, or even very good for the majority of this season, but I’m still approaching them as though they were undefeated. No way they’re going to surprise ME.
Washington: Not really. I think Florida State is similar to what they were a year ago, with the huge exception of not having Dalvin Cook in the backfield. That offensive line still allows their QB to be hit way too often. There is more than enough talent on the defensive side to be concerned. This is still a good team, just not as potent offensively from where they were in 2016. They got their first win of the season last week, and in this rivalry, you can throw the records out.
Dottavio: It's more the QB situation than the record. That's a tough first 3 games for any team, but especially the latter two with a freshman QB.
Adams: Well, seeing as they were the preseason #3 team in the nation, it has to make Miami fans feel a little better. Many were expecting the next dominant Seminoles team in 2017, but that just hasn't come to fruition. They already proved they were overrated against Alabama, but losing to NC State at home is just unacceptable for a Jimbo Fisher coached team. And then to top it all off, they just got thoroughly outplayed by Wake Forest. WAKE FOREST. There's no doubt that having Deondre Francois go down was a tough break, but this team has plenty more holes than just quarterback, namely offensive line and special teams.
Grunewald: The FSU record and their overall performance to some may be surprising but if you look at this more “high-level”, it shouldn't be. Fisher "Pre-Winston and Cook" was a 9-3/8-4 coach. During their time on campus he obviously took advantage of their skill sets and won lots of games/trophies. Nothing wrong with that and can't take anything away from him there. Now that both players are gone, he's going back to that 9-3/8-4 ratio again. He's a top 15 to 20 coach that found crown jewels to build his team around for 5 or so years.
Scholtec: It does in the sense that they are clearly a different team without Francois, but the Noles are still loaded with talent that earned them a preseason top 5 ranking. I expected FSU to drop game 1 against Bama, but the NC State loss and struggles against Wake Forest prove that James Blackman isn't quite ready to be the starting QB.
Pickens: The record isn't that important to me because no one can be faulted for losing to Alabama. If the Canes played FSU's schedule the best Miami could be is 2-1. NCST is a quality team and will have a good season. That being said, FSU with Blackman is clearly a work in progress. He isn't ready to play yet and learning on the fly behind a very mediocre offensive line. Jimbo Fisher is searching for an identity on offense right now. Florida State always plays well against Miami, but if the Canes can't win this year I will be very disappointed.
Strauzer: FSU is the proverbial "wounded animal", beware.
Misemer: It’s not Florida State’s record that concerns me, because they have played Alabama and a very underrated North Carolina State team, but it’s what I saw against Wake Forest. Florida State’s offense has the same offensive struggles that Miami has, except instead of abandoning the run game, they tend to abandon the passing game. I understand James Blackman is a huge downgrade from Deondre Francois, but whenever an offense becomes one-dimensional, it becomes stagnant. Florida State has a great rushing attack, but a great run game can’t be great if it’s predictable.
Balderson: No, FSU will always play stronger than the sum of their parts against Miami. That’s what makes this game so special. Also, it’s not as if FSU has lost to bad teams. Alabama is No. 1 in the country and some people had NC State as an Atlantic Division dark horse and a top-25 team coming into the year.
Tsang: FSU will be strong on defense and it’ll be interesting to see if their advantage in the defensive secondary carries them to a win. They will be motivated and strong defensively. FSU’s offense, however, is not as strong as Toledo’s. Meaning, FSU’s record to date reflects how poor they’ve played offensively.
Hepburn: Florida State's record/ranking does not change how I feel about the Seminoles potential heading into this game. Regardless of the record/ranking on either side, both teams play each other extremely tough. This will be a competitive matchup until the end.
Hutchins: This game, no. Records and stats don't matter in rivalry games and FSU will likely play their best game of the year on Saturday. If you need proof about this notion, Miami lost to FSU by a combined 9 points in the last two years of the Golden era (2014/15). “Take that for data” because we all know the Canes were over matched by FSU's depth and coaching those years.
QUESTION 4: Miami has had several close games against FSU in recent years (2011, 2012, 2014 2015, 2016) only to fall short vs the Seminoles each time. What's different about Miami that will help the Canes finally beat their rivals this year?
Underwood: I think Malik Rosier’s mobility at QB is different than nearly every QB Miami has had, so that’s one thing. The defense is both talented and deep, especially in the front 7. The coaching staff is on par with, if not better than the opponent’s at most spots. Both CMR and Manny Diaz have made the kind of 2nd half adjustments that have been missing in this game for Miami for years.
Washington: Malik Rosier's ability to escape the pocket provides a dynamic that should help Miami, making the FSU defense account for more in prepping for the game. Plenty of Miami players now have experience playing in the rivalry, so the moment will not be too big for them.
Dottavio: Miami finally has an edge regarding QB play and the elite RB. Dalvin Cook was the difference the past three years; well, he's gone, and Akers isn't there yet, while Patrick doesn't have the break away speed of Cook.
Adams: One more year with Mark Richt and his staff and another year removed from Al Golden and his staff. You can slowly start to see the culture changing around the program: less penalties, great wide receiver blocking, better recruiting, developing talent, putting the defense in positions to make plays, etc. The last step is to start winning big games consistently and the Canes have a great opportunity to do just that this weekend.
Grunewald: Each of the last 4-5 years the Noles have had "X factor" players that often have bitten Miami in the ass. Whether it's been Lamarcus Joyner, Dalvin Cook, or Jameis Winston, they've all had big games against the Canes. This season I don't see who that player is on their team. Izzo maybe?
Scholtec: Miami's defense is clearly a few notches up from where it has been in previous years. Pressure from the defensive line and linebackers should force Blackman to make costly mistakes. Offensively, Miami has more weapons than it knows what to do with. So overall, Miami's talent matches Florida State's more closely than it has before. Most importantly, I think Miami truly has the mentality and belief that they should beat the Noles this year.
Pickens: Both teams are moving in opposite directions. This is clearly the weakest Florida State has been in recent years, mainly due to the injury to Francois. Miami's defense held FSU to 20 points last year and of the two teams, I think Miami has the better offensive line. Mark Richt's team has more confidence and is good enough to finally finish the job.
Strauzer: Our front defensive 7 is the difference, they'll be hungry.
Misemer: In 2 of the past three games Miami and Florida State have played, Miami has held the lead against Florida State at halftime. In all three games, Miami has blown a late lead. Looking back, I tried to figure out why. I blame Miami’s second-half struggles on two factors: Jimbo Fisher’s ability to make adjustments and the never-ending depth Florida State has. Al Golden and Co. got exposed in two consecutive seasons, and the trend continued with the new staff last year. Miami failed to adjust to Florida State’s short-passing/screen game, and the depth of Florida State wore Miami down. This year (hopefully) will be a different story. Yes, Fisher’s ability to adjust is inevitable, but Miami has the most depth they have had in awhile. This will keep Miami fresh and will give them a better chance to close.
Balderson: Miami has continuity to go along with talent. The coaching staff has had over a year to get settled in now and a lot of 2016’s major contributors are back. This defense also has the potential to be the best in years. This squad also has confidence, they know that they can go up to Tallahassee and beat that team.
Tsang: Experience at quarterback. Don’t get me wrong. Blackman could be great at some point. But on Saturday he’ll be a true freshman quarterback getting pressured by a reasonably awesome front 7. If he can channel his inner Jalen Hurts, maybe he leads FSU to a win. But FSU’s 2017 surrounding offensive cast pales in comparison to what Alabama offered the world in 2016.
Hepburn: Manny Diaz’s unit will pressure the Seminoles quarterback and limit their offense’s production in the red zone. Rosier has shown strength passing and running the ball. I expect a lot of production from offensive playmakers Braxton Berrios, Ahmmon Richards, and Mark Walton.
Hutchins: The easy answer would be coaching because Jimbo Fisher has coached circles around the previous staffs. However, I believe the Canes finally have the best difference makers on the field in this game with Mark Walton and Ahmmon Richards. Either one of them can change the dynamics of a game with one touch of the ball. In the past years, FSU has had the advantage in this area with Jameis Winston and Dalvin Cook being the most recent ones.
QUESTION 5: What have you seen from Miami that makes you think the Canes will win against FSU?
Underwood: Miami’s defense has been DOMINANT. On offense, Mark Walton has been a superstar, Malik Rosier has been much better than I thought he’d be, and the return of Ahmmon Richards changes literally everything for the opposing defense. A good offense, strong defense, and solid kicking game (Feagles’ -1 punt notwithstanding) coming together would put Miami in a great position to win on Saturday.
Washington: You asked a question earlier regarding Miami's starting out slow. By the end of each of those games, Miami had blown the doors off their opponent. That ability to finish off an opponent is something that was lacking for years for the ’Canes.
Dottavio: More confidence. The turnover chain stuff is fun and the guys look to be having more fun playing football. Miami has an elite RB and Rosier has looked good while not being great. The O-Line has improved and Richards is an All-American talent. I need to see even more from the front 7 against a zone running game.
Adams: The Canes' defense is absolutely elite in creating havoc in the opponent's backfield and blowing up plays to put the offense in tough spots, like 2nd/3rd and long. They are ranked 2nd in TFL per game in the nation, while FSU's O-Line is dead last in the nation in giving up TFL and just gave up a whopping 17 to Wake Forest. UM putting the Seminoles' true freshman QB in bad down and distances will definitely happen in this game and is sure to lead to some game-breaking turnover opportunities for UM's defense. Also, a month ago, who would've thought Miami could definitively say they have the advantage at QB coming into this game? Rosier continues to impress and he has executed almost flawlessly at times. As long as Richt puts him in positions to succeed, I trust Rosier to make plays and get the job done.
Grunewald: I freak out at anyone predicting a Miami victory, but as this question is slanted to ask, "why Miami can win", I'll answer... Miami has more experience at both QB and RB when it comes to the two deep depth chart. I also think Miami's offensive line is better than the Noles O-line which many believe is the worst group in the country. The O line of the Noles has gotten them in trouble the last three weeks and the fact that Miami's front seven played so well against a solid Duke offense gives me hope they can simply overwhelm and confuse a bad group of players.
Scholtec: As expected, the defense is proving to be Miami's greatest strength. If the defense can pressure Blackman and cause turnovers like they've done the first three games, then Miami should leave Tallahassee with a victory.
Pickens: Florida State looks one-dimensional on offense. The weakest part of Miami's defense is the secondary and I'm not sure FSU can take advantage of that. Blackman doesn't know how to find pressure and escape at this point in his career. Offensively, the emergence of Berrios, the return of Richards, and the incredible talent of Walton gives me confidence that Miami can put up enough points.
Strauzer: I see composure, and the confidence level is palpable.
Misemer: I was scared Malik Rosier would hold this team back, but instead, he’s put the team on his back. Rosier has played very well so far. I expected him to be a game-manager, but he has made plays without the expense of turning the ball over.
Balderson: An impressive overall offensive balance. Especially with Ahmmon Richards’ performance against Duke, Miami has two legitimate All-Americans at the skill positions with one to run and and one to catch. Cager has also re-acclimated quite well as a WR this year and should be a factor in this game.
Hepburn: An unrelenting defense. Behind the strong linebackers, Miami’s motto has been “bend, don’t break” and I look forward to the turnover chain making several appearances.
Hutchins: The leaps the secondary has taken from game “2” vs. Toledo to game “3” at Duke. It was a rough first two games for this unit, but if they can continue to improve and be solid on Saturday, the front 7 can do damage against the questionable O-Line play of FSU. I believe the offense will be able to score.
That’s it for the 1st part of our roundtable. Be sure you hop in the comments and keep the conversation going.
Be sure you check back tomorrow for the 2nd part of our roundtable tomorrow morning.