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Miami Hurricanes Football: Beating FSU is as much mental as physical

Yeah, football is a physical sport, but the mental aspect also matters for the Canes

NCAA Football: Bethune Cookman at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It has been well documented, and trumpeted on social media, traditional media, and any conversation with any FSU fan in the recent past that the Miami Hurricanes have not beaten the Florida State Seminoles in the last 7 years. Starting in 2010, FSU has won every game between the rival teams, and Miami has struggled MIGHTILY in the aftermath.

From the SBNation piece about Miami-FSU, and Miami’s struggles, here’s the chart you need to see, but won’t like:

Not good, Bob.
Alex Kirschner /

Spinning this back to Miami, a key for the Canes, as it has been throughout the majority of this losing streak to FSU, is not the physical competition (we all know that physically playing a physical sport matters), but rather having and maintaining the mental fortitude to persevere.

In many games against FSU recently, Miami has held leads in the 2nd half, only to see things fall apart. It has been and is my contention that the major failings have been mental, and those mistakes have given FSU the opportunity to win games.

Here are my 5 keys for mental success for the Hurricanes in today’s game:

Key #1: Focus on your job.

Sounds simple, I know, but we’re dealing with 18-23 year olds, not adults. It can be easy, at times, to lose focus on the moment and the fundamentals of football (alignment, assignment, technique). It can happen quickly: you think about “damn, it’s been.....” or “what coach said reminded me of.....” or “wait, what quarter is it?”...or anything else. Even a moment’s lapse in focus is too much.

So, the team doesn’t have to think about anything but what’s going on. Again, I know that SOUNDS SIMPLE, but we’ve seen over the course of time that focus has been lost and that has led to results Miami would obviously like to change.

Focus on YOUR JOB — not the guy next to you, not the other side of the ball, not what you’re setting up...the job you have on the play that’s happening RIGHT NOW — and go from there.

Key #2: Adapt and adjust

Things will not be perfect, they never are in a game, and definitely aren’t vs the likes of Florida State. That’s fine. It happens. But the team, and coaching staff, has to be ready and able to adapt and adjust as time goes on.

I’m a trained musician. I’ve directed groups and performed all over the world. The similarities between music and sports are numerous. A music group practices for long hours to hone their craft and prepare for performance. So does a sports team. There are techniques used for playing/singing music that take time to develop, and methods through which they are taught and developed. So too is the case with a sports team.

In the world of music performance, live shows have mistakes. There may be a wrong note, or a forgotten word, or a technical malfunction, or a key member of the group is sick and is replaced, or any number of things. In sports, we’d call those things a missed tackle, or a blown coverage, or an injury concern, or turnover. In either case, the performers, whether musicians or athletes, have to adapt to the dynamic nature of the event, and forge a path toward success.

For Miami today, when adversity strikes — it will, just deal with that thought now — all parties involved have to have the focus (Key #1) to listen to the coaches, then adjust and adapt to the situation. Again, this is something that Miami has recently struggled with in their losses to FSU, so this will need to show improvement today.

Key #3 - Ignore the streak

For the coaches and players, this is another game. It’s a HUGE GAME AGAINST A HATED RIVAL, but it’s just one game. That has to be the focus. What has happened the past 7 years cannot be a concern during the game today. Watching film to know that a certain play from years past may be coming? That’s good. Being on the bench/sideline/press box and thinking “oh man, what if.....” is bad. Do the former, not the latter.

And, connecting this back to Key #1 FOCUS, if the players and coaches do that, then there shouldn’t be room for them, during the game, to think about the streak. We as bloggers and media and fans are the ones who can, and will, think about the streak as the game is ongoing. Obviously, there will be 1 of 2 points of conversation after the game: 1. the extension of the streak or 2. the end of the streak. After the game is a right and proper time to think about the streak. During the game, for the players and coaches, is not.

Key #4 - Somebody make a positive program-shifting play

After Miami beat FSU in 2000 (my Freshman year of college), legendary Canes WR Santana Moss famously said “Big time players step up in big games.”

For years, 7 of them, you know how long, Miami hasn’t had anybody step up and make a play. Not a good play. There have been sacks and interceptions and touchdowns and all of that. But nobody has made a game changing, “you remember when....” type play. There have been chances to do such things (Brad Kaaya to Braxton Berrios dropped in the endzone in 2014, Mark Walton’s 45 yard TD run last year [ERRONEOUSLY called back for holding], etc), but Miami has been unable to make that caliber of play. A great play. A legendary play. A rivalry game winning play. And, to win at FSU, that will be needed.

If you’re looking at the other sideline, which we are for today, FSU has had several such plays over the course of the last 7 years. Jameis Winston. Dalvin Cook. DeMarcus Walker. I only need say their names for you to know the play(s) I’m talking about. THAT is the kind of play Miami will need somebody to make to win today’s game.

So the question is: who will be the player to step up for Miami? Hopefully, we find out.

Key #5 - Beat Florida State twice

Now, the last key for me is the trickiest one. To beat FSU, Miami has to beat them twice. Here’s what I mean:

Miami cannot simply win the physical game. Miami cannot get out to a lead and get comfortable. The Canes have done that — to varying degrees, of course — over the majority of the last few years against the Noles. But mistakes have kept FSU in the games, and the Seminoles have rallied to win after trailing late in games vs Miami several times during the streak.

So, to beat FSU twice, Miami has to first beat them physically — get a lead, change the scoreboard, control the game — THEN they have to BEAT THE MENTALITY THAT FSU CAN COME BACK AND WIN.

Obviously, that last part is tough, but it’s necessary. Think back to 2012 (Miami leading heading into 4Q, HRS was all Miami fans, FSU fans silent....FSU comes back to win), or 2014 (Miami had a huge halftime lead, led in 4th Q at home, only to lose) or 2015 (close game, Dalvin Cook made a play, then FSU started rolling), or 2016 (Miami led, Kaaya throws interception to McFadden in endzone — WHY ON EARTH DID HE THROW THAT BALL — FSU scores on the ensuing possession, takes lead, blocks XP, wins by 1) and you’ll see that, while Miami was well on their way to accomplishing the first part (beating FSU physically), the Noles had the mental fortitude to persevere, and ultimately win the game.

Going back to Key #4, it’s going to take SOMEONE making a big play to accomplish Key #5. While many fans think FSU is the underdog in this game, I guarantee you their staff and team do not. Yeah, they may be playing up the “everybody is picking Miami/us against the world” angle, but there’s no way you can tell me that a single person in their building thinks that Miami will beat them. Not a single one.

That is emblematic of the tangible nature of the streak. It feeds FSU confidence, and has eroded it for Miami. Regardless of the situation of the game, short of a 5 TD deficit, FSU will think they can come back and win, because they have over and over again, so why should this year be any different?

That’s the mentality that Miami has to beat. That is the “2nd loss” Miami has to give Florida State today. Once Miami makes a play to turn the tide, or extend the lead at a time where FSU cannot mount a comeback, that mentality will be broken. But short of that, until the clock reads 00:00, FSU’s players and coaches will all believe they can win.

Kill that thought, Canes. Handle your business.

The mental side of today’s game is going to be huge. For the Miami Hurricanes, it could make or break this season.

Go Canes