Miami. Florida State. The in-state foes will meet for the 62nd time Saturday in Tallahassee after their early-season meeting was postponed 3 weeks because of Hurricane Irma.
The Hurricanes come into the Florida State game undefeated, looking to take a good season and make it great.
That’s because we’ve seen this movie before, in the recent history of this series even. Back in 2013, Stephen Morris led the 7-0 Canes into Tallahassee, but ran into a wall named Jameis Winston. The Seminoles win that season helped propel them to a national championship victory.
It happened again last season in the 2016 game, when a 4-0 Hurricane squad was riding high, but had their confidence crushed after UM kicker Michael Badgley’s extra point to tie the game was blocked. The Noles would hold on for a 20-19 win to extend their winning streak in the rivalry to seven in a row.
So why, after all of that, does this year seem to feel different?
The Seminoles, for all their talent, have had an uninspiring season thus far. Sitting at 1-2, they’ve taken losses against Alabama and NC State before pulling out an ugly last minute win versus Wake Forest last weekend. Mistakes have piled up. The offensive line has been a sieve. They are even starting a true freshman at quarterback for the first time in Jimbo Fisher’s tenure at FSU, James Blackman, who was thrust into action after star QB Deondre Francois sustained a season-ending knee injury late in the Seminoles' season opener against Alabama.
However, there’s just something about this rivalry that wakes a team up and gets players to perform up to their full potential. For their part, the Hurricanes’ players know they’re going to get FSU’s best shot and don’t plan on getting caught off-guard.
"They are going to challenge the receivers like they always do," WR Braxton Berrios said. "They are going to run to the ball, they are going to hit. A lot of things they do the same and regardless of their record, Florida State-Miami is going to be Florida State-Miami."
"They're probably one of the fastest and most physical teams we've played so far," QB Malik Rosier said. "Their record doesn't show how good their defense is. They fly around the ball. Every time you see a pass there's someone in the way or deflecting the ball. They're a really solid defense. They're going to give us troubles and I just feel like we have to be perfect, we have to execute, we have to do our jobs otherwise, they will beat us and we know that. We're just hawking on doing our job and doing it perfect every play because they're a great defense."
Rosier, himself a first time starting QB, has led a high flying Miami offense to 41.3 points per game, best in the ACC, and over 500 yards a game. The redshirt junior QB replaced Miami’s leading passer Brad Kaaya this year and has played better than most Miami fans expected to this point, putting up 273 passing yards per game, with eight touchdowns and only two interceptions.
To help Rosier in his first big road matchup against the Seminoles, the Canes will look to establish the run early with Mark Walton, who has played the part of an elite running back through Miami’s first 3 games. UM head coach Mark Richt is confident that Walton’s ankle, which was injured 2 weeks ago vs. Toledo and was re-tweaked last week against Duke, will be healthy enough to play.
"He's going to play," Miami coach Mark Richt said of Walton on Tuesday. "Like last week, unless there's a setback, we believe he'll play. He's practiced."
That’s not to say Miami is all offense, though. A hungry and ferocious UM defense that is second in the country in TFL per game wants to set the tone early against a struggling FSU scoring unit that allowed 17 TFL against Wake Forest last weekend. But Richt is wary about Blackman and knows he’s only getting better.
"As we all know, he's a true freshman, but I think he's done nothing but gain experience and gain confidence," Richt said. "He's had no interceptions, he threw a game-winner last week, which I'm sure helped him."
Blackman has capable weapons around him, including WR Auden Tate, who’s grabbed 13 balls for 226 yards and three scores, but the Hurricanes expect Florida State to lean on the run. The Seminoles have a thunder-lightning duo at running back in 230 pound bruiser Jacques Patrick and freshman Cam Akers, who is known for his quickness. Both backs compliment each other well and stopping them will be key for UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
There is a lot at stake in this game, including bragging rights. Florida State's seven-game winning streak against Miami is tied for the longest for either team in the rivalry. The Seminoles also won seven in a row against the Hurricanes from 1963-72.
The Hurricanes want to break that streak and continue moving forward on their way to a special year. The Seminoles hope to use this game to set their season back on track and keep their slim hopes of an ACC Championship appearance alive.
We’ll find out which team will get their wish tomorrow at 3:30 PM.