By all measures, the Miami Hurricanes should beat the Florida State Seminoles.
Miami ranks significantly higher in most statistical categories approaching their 63rd meeting at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Miami averages 44.2 points-per-game to FSU’s 22.2. The Hurricanes’ defense is second-best in the nation, allowing an average of 244.8 yards in a game and holding opponents to a measly 16.8 points-per-game average. The Noles, on the other hand, are allowing opponents an average score of 24.6 points each game and 385.4 yards. It’s the reason why Vegas opened the odds for the contest in favor of the Canes by an astounding 12 point as favorites to open the week.
So why does it feel like this will be another one of those games that goes down to the wire?
Of course, it’s a rivalry game. You think of those cliches such as throwing the record out of the window, each hit has a bit more spice and the verbal jabs have a couple uppercuts and hooks to emphasize a point. Many of these points are factual, with each roster made up primarily of Floridians with a great familiarity of the enemy they line up across from. Aside from some connections with local powerhouses St. Thomas Aquinas, IMG Academy and a few other fleeting acquaintances, there won’t be many instances of former high school teammates having to battle with one another. There’s familiarity, yet the common ground among all those involved is the hunger to win. And, of course, to let the other side know all about it.
This will be the first time UM head coach Mark Richt and Willie Taggart meet head-to-head. Richt, with his calm demeanor, poker face stoicism and lowkey swagger, understands the swing that this game can have on the Canes’ season. Taggart may be new on the job, yet the first-year Noles head coach is still trying to get his fanbase and, more importantly, his team to buy into his philosophy. For both coaches, a win Saturday serves as confirmation. A win over a 3-2 FSU on paper at first glance won’t make you swoon like you’re being serenaded by The Weeknd. However, the adulation from the fanbases, alums and the boost that is infused into the locker room is priceless. FSU serves as an ideal midterm as the Hurricanes approach the halfway mark of the regular season.
With the SEC ditching its old mantra, perhaps the two schools can Swiffer the dust off the old slogan, “It just means more.” In the country’s most fertile ground when it comes to football stars, putting it all on the line in the middle of the season has special meaning. As fiercely as the two schools will battle Sunday, they’ve already clashed more than their fair share on the recruiting trail. Every school with a decent recruiting budget makes their way into the state to poach who they can, but for Miami and FSU — the establishments of the state — they’re more than just the local option. These two titans of the ACC have endured low moments and also ascended to the mountaintop of college football. Their presence in the college football world is not only emblematic of the institutions, it’s also a testament to the abundance of talent that dwells in Florida. Each upholds a tradition of not only winning, but playing with an edge that you don’t see from other programs on Saturdays. Well, at least that was the case until the Turnover Bag, satchel or purse came around.
What’s interesting about this upcoming battle between the north and south of the state is that both programs have matchups that favor the weakness of the opponent. Miami’s defense has been lights out for the month, leading the country with 60 tackles-for-loss. The Seminoles rank 93rd of 130 FBS teams for sacks allowed with 12 sacks in five games. Florida State’s saving grace may be their run defense — allowing 101 yards rushing per game — but that number is deceiving, considering the team has given up 100+ yards to all of their FBS opponents, save for Northern Illinois. Miami’s 213 rushing yards average a game is no weakness; instead, for those who have watched the team to date, there’s room for improvement given the talent carrying the ball. One area that both teams have struggled with is getting a good push upfront from their respective offensive lines. Since the Canes made the decision to go with N’kosi Perry at QB, the pass-blocking has seen a noticeable improvement, though there are still instances where blockers get exposed to one-on-one speed rushes on the perimeter of the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, the sight of FSU QB Deondre Francois laying on the turf after taking a shot on throw has become as common as pumpkin flavored beverages this month.
In a month where vampires, devils and all things zombie become common, the Seminoles have resurrected themselves from an early grave. After thrashing Northern Illinois and miraculously slipping past Louisville, FSU is above .500. Some call it momentum, others would qualify it as good fortune. Regardless of their win-loss record, the Noles will test the Hurricanes; cohesion. Will the offensive line be able to limit the likes of DE Brian Burns, LB DeCalon Brooks and DL Corey Durden from causing havoc in the backfield? Can Deondre Francois handle the pummeling of hits he’s likely to receive from DC Manny Diaz’s attacking system? Who will step up in the big game?
In a clash that’s bound to be intense and chippy, you can’t aide your opponent. FSU is among the most penalized teams in the nation with 43 whistles blown for some sort of infraction. In comparison, Miami has just 25 penalties through five games. Composure and focus on a big stage is paramount to victory for either side.
As talented as FSU’s roster is, the Hurricanes are the most cohesive unit approaching Saturday. Miami’s offense has found rhythm both through the air and on the ground with Perry under center. The offensive line that’s the achilles heel of the team has shown improvement from the start of the season. Instead of obsessing over their weaknesses, the Hurricanes turn the focus to their strengths, masking the problems of the past. A year ago, the Canes put the seven straight losses to FSU in the past. A win this weekend ends the six-game home losing streak to their bitter rivals.
In a game teeming with expectations for both sides, the most fascinating aspect of the impending showdown is the suspense surrounding who will meet the challenge. It’s a chance to serve notice to the rest of the state, but it is also an emphatic reference on an ACC championship resume.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!