The Hurricanes and Seminoles will get together for the 64th time when Saturday’s rivalry game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. inside of Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium.
Miami has won 33 of the 63 meetings but are 17-20 all-time in Tallahassee and haven’t won back-to-back road games over the Seminoles since 2007 and 2009. The big story, however, is both coaches will enter Saturday looking to squelch a pair of extremely dissatisfied fan bases with Florida State’s Willie Taggart furiously seeking a job-preserving victory by year’s end.
As for Miami’s Manny Diaz, just eight games into year one, his job is a little more secure, but losses to Florida and Florida State (among other things) could put the South Florida native on the proverbial hot seat entering 2020. Like Diaz, former head coach Mark Richt was sitting at 4-4 in early November during his first season in Coral Gables before closing 2016 at 9-4 with the program’s first bowl win in nearly a decade.
Richt rode that winning streak — that began with a win over Pittsburgh — into a 10-0 start in 2017, proving that not all is lost for Diaz and company. A win over the Noles could right the ship and spark a 9-4 finish, which would do wonders for recruiting and offseason momentum.
Here are five keys to victory for Miami if they want to lay the foundation for a 2016-esque turnaround and enter 2020 on a high note.
Win the ground game (winning the turnover battle won’t hurt either)
During the month of October, Miami rushed for 97 yards per game, down from 144 per game in August/September. Meanwhile, the defense has gone from allowing less than 60 yards on the ground in August/September to 153 yards in October.
At the same time, FSU has gotten its ground game together in October with a 171 yards per game average - up from 121 a game in August/September.
In last year’s contest, Miami won the rushing battle and the turnover battle. I believe those are the two key factors this time around.
The offensive line needs to help Jarren Williams go the distance
Miami can’t continue swapping quarterbacks. If they’re forced to turn to N’Kosi Perry, it’s because Williams is hurt or struggling, and the last thing the Hurricanes can afford is to fall behind early in Tallahassee.
The growing pains of the Miami offensive line are well-documented, but it should be noted that they’ve shown signs of improvement in recent games. I don’t think anyone expects a dominating performance from its young front-five, but continued growth is a must.
Entering last week’s game, the Pitt defense led the nation with 5.14 sacks per game but were limited to just two sacks in Miami’s 16-12 victory. In previous weeks, the Hurricanes allowed three sacks apiece vs Georgia Tech and Virginia after giving up seven to Virginia Tech. A few sacks are to be expected Saturday, but now that progress has been made, the Canes can’t afford to take one step forward at Pitt, followed by two steps backward at FSU.
Someone NOT named K.J. Osborn needs to step-up on the outside
The last time a wide receiver other than Osborn caught a touchdown pass was the Virginia Tech game — one month ago.
Jeff Thomas and Mark Pope haven’t caught a TD since Virginia Tech (Oct. 5), Mike Harley hasn’t been in the end zone since Bethune-Cookman (Sept. 14) and tight end Will Mallory hasn’t scored since UNC (Sept. 17).
Osborn and Brevin Jordan could use some assistance. Especially Osborn. And whether it falls on the receivers, the quarterback or the play-caller, there’s no better time than right now for someone to lend a helping hand in the passing game.
Stop Cam Akers
I realize this could easily go under “win the ground game” but Akers is a completely different animal. Fresh off a four-touchdown outing vs Syracuse, Akers could be the best running back that Miami has faced since Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor in last year’s Pinstripe Bowl.
Furthermore, Akers is winless vs Miami and this might be his best/last chance to score a victory over the Canes. After an impressive performance vs Miami as a freshman in 2017, Akers had only 11 carries in the 2018 meeting.
Akers is just 83 yards from 1,000, giving the junior plenty of motivation going into Saturday. He is also a threat out of the backfield with 21 catches and three receiving touchdowns on the year.
Be advised: A trick-play IS coming
I could see FSU taking a page out of Dan Mullen’s playbook and employing an early fake punt. The Noles almost burned Miami for 6 last year with the double-pass that was called back on a penalty. I firmly believe that Taggart is chomping at the bit to get revenge for the play that many FSU fans feel cost them the game.
This is where Miami should benefit from having a pair of four-year starters at linebacker. Furthermore, going head-to-head with Kendal Briles provides a shot at atonement for defensive coordinator Blake Baker and an opportunity for Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney to salvage the season and prove why they returned for a fourth year.
Quarterman has started all 47 games at the University of Miami, and as freshmen in 2016, Quarterman and Pinckney began the year with four straight wins.
Now is the chance for their careers to come full circle.
Saturday’s game will air on ABC at 3:30 p.m. with Bob Wischusen, Dan Orlovsky and Allison Williams on the call. The game is also available on ESPN Radio, 560 WQAM and Unanimo Deportes 990.