Looking back at the past decade, this rivalry has cooled off tremendously. Sure, there were those Labor Day openers, which brought tremendous excitement as both teams were undefeated and the season was wide open – but outside of that, one has to go all the way back to 2003 to find a truly meaningful regular season showdown. A game where both teams were ranked in the top ten, undefeated and in the hunt for a national title.
The ninth-ranked Hurricanes topped the eighth-ranked Seminoles, 22-14 in that sloppy, rain-soaked, mid-October affair ten years ago – and months later, a rematch in the 2004 FedEx Orange Bowl, where the Canes pulled out the 16-14 victory, en route to an 11-2 season, while the Noles finished 10-3. Come September, the teams met again, with No. 5 Miami pulling out the 16-10 overtime win over No. 4 Florida State.
Ahh, the good old days – which at the time were seen as a drop off in comparison to some of those late 80s, early 90s and early 00s battles.
Florida State has had Miami’s number as of late – not as a great squad, but one simply better than the present-day Canes. Both teams were rattling off their share of six-loss seasons the past half decade, though the Seminoles are a few years a head in their rebuilding project
The teams seemed evenly matched around 2009, with both programs expected to take a step forward in the coming years.
Miami took that meeting in Tallahassee – a last-minute, 38-34 shootout and a breakout game for then-quarterback Jacory Harris, who passed for 386 yards and two touchdowns, including a forty-yard hook-up with Travis Benjamin with two minutes remaining, punched in by Graig Cooper from three yards out a play later.
It marked the final time Bobby Bowden would be on the sidelines for this Sunshine State rivalry and the following season, the Noles continued their ascension while the Canes took a step back.
The annual meeting pitted 3-1 Miami against 4-1 Florida State and the result – the most lopsided game this series had seen in a decade – a 45-17 shellacking handed down by FSU in a game where UM seemingly quit late.
The loss is said to have started the movement to send Miami head coach Randy Shannon packing at year’s end, and the fourth-year leader didn’t help his cause with a 2-3 finish down the regular season stretch. Meanwhile, first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher wrapped his first season in Tallahassee with a 10-4 finish.
Florida State started the 2011 season ranked No. 6 and climbed to No. 5 when meeting top-ranked Oklahoma in game three, which the Noles lost, 23-13 – the start of a three-game losing streak, including an embarrassing 35-30 loss to a lesser Wake Forest squad.
In a matter of weeks, national championship aspirations were dashed and the offense went into a hole – as witnessed in a 23-19 win over Miami, where Florida State racked up 259 total yards, one offensive score and a mere 63 rushing yards. UM’s three turnovers to FSU’s zero was the difference-maker, as was a broken special teams play which resulted in a Noles return for score.
Florida State again rolled into the preseason with a lofty ranking – this time No. 7 – and after putting beatings on Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest (to the tune of 176-3 combined), had worked their way into national championship talk, while Miami survived Boston College, got thumped at Kansas State and rebounded against Bethune-Cookman, to open the season 2-1.
While Miami pulled off the upset at Georgia Tech on October 22nd, Florida State stole the primetime spotlight with a convincing win over then-No. 10 Clemson, 49-37. A week later Miami topped North Carolina State in a shootout, 44-37 while Florida State survived a road trip to South Florida, where the Seminoles finally looked mortal on a 30-17 win.
On October 6th, disaster for both Florida schools as Miami was crushed by Notre Dame, 41-3 at Soldier Field and Florida State, for all intents and purposes, played itself out of the BCS championship game with an embarrassing 17-16 loss in Raleigh, where North Carolina State overcame a 16-0 halftime deficit to pull off a stunning 17-16 upset of the nation’s then-third-ranked team.
Florida State responded with a 51-7 beat down of Boston College, in Tallahassee, while Miami gave away an 18-14 loss to North Carolina at Sun Life Stadium.
Adding it all up, the Seminoles now roll into South Florida with a 6-1 record and the ACC favorite, while the Hurricanes limp in 4-3, having choked away a shot at 5-2 and redemption for that brutal loss to the Irish in Chicago.
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris limps in to this showdown with a sprained left ankle. Morris has received treatment, has practiced lightly and is listed as ‘doubtful’ per Thursday morning’s injury report, but having never taken a meaningful snap in this rivalry, one has to believe that the junior will find a way to see the field.
Rewind to the 2010 season and the Sun Bowl showdown against Notre Dame, Morris tweaked his ankle in similar fashion during bowl practice, yet found a way into the game when Harris failed as the starter.
The point? Morris is a resilient kid and unless he’s truly hobbled, one has to believe he will do whatever it takes to see the field this Saturday night under the primetime lights.
Florida State enters a three-touchdown favorite and based on Miami’s porous defense, it’s hard to argue the spread. The Seminoles boast the conference’s best quarterback in E.J. Manuel, a bevy of playmakers – most notably, running back Chris Thompson, a veteran offensive line and a fast, aggressive, solid defense that will create turnovers and look to keep the Hurricanes off the board.
Entering this week, Miami head coach Al Golden again has his work cut out for him. Two straight losses for the first time in his reign as the Canes’ head coach. Injuries piling up. A lack of depth that has hurt both sides of the ball. Golden and staff continue playing the role of mad scientists, returning to the lab, tweaking the formula in effort to get the best unit out there.
Biggest change this week? Moving middle linebacker Denzel Perryman back to the outside in effort to counter sweeps and other big plays where speed has killed the Canes. Freshman linebacker Raphael Kirby is headed to the middle, despite missing the majority of the season due to injury – but the change is being made as Miami knows what guys like Thompson can do if they get outside.
Duke Johnson is no longer on the injury report, meaning the bout with turf toe is getting better, which is a good thing as the key to this Saturday’s showdown is an effective ground game, taking a page from what was intended in last week’s loss to North Carolina.
The quickest way for Miami to immediately shore up it’s biggest defensive woe; keep the offense on the field. As exciting as all the big-play offense was against Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, the lack of sustained drives put the Hurricanes’ lesser defense back on the field and helped both opponents log more time of possession minutes.
I-formation football and a powerful ground game that aims to break an opposing defense’s will – that is much more important that a quick-score offense and instant-seven.
Mike James ran tough against a Butch Davis-built Tar Heels defense last week and between the big-back style of him and Eduardo Clements, as well as the flash of Duke when in open space, the Miami Ground Machine is the key to this football game — as it working a tight end into the game, creating some havoc in the middle of the field, which has been a rarity this season.
Buy Morris some time, force the Noles to respect the running game, open up some deep ball opportunities and chew time off the clock, in effort to slow down Florida State’s potent offense.
That’s the game plan, in theory. How doable it is, the world will see come Saturday night.
Miami needs this game to stay alive in the ACC Coastal, but Florida State needs this win for street cred. The Seminoles aren’t rebuilding. They’re supposed to be “there” by now and after underachieving and losing four games last season, this was supposed to be a banner year – and still can be, should they win out.
Title dreams may have faded, but could get a huge shot on the arm if Florida stays undefeated and Florida State takes that showdown in Tallahassee on November 24th. Still, for that game to keep its meaning and for the Seminoles to continue asserting themselves as the true state power, beating Miami soundly is a must.
The Canes were predicted to be as bad as 3-9 or 4-8 this year, so at 4-3, Miami has already exceeded expectations — which should be of solace to no fan, but again, based on preseason predictions (fifth in the Coastal division!), the fact that UM is still atop the division, it should give Miami a devil-may-care attitude going into this game.
Throw it all against the wall, see what stick and hold nothing back. The Canes are expected to get thumped and if that plays out, so be it — but go balls out and play aggressive.
Florida State is Miami’s bowl game, especially with another self-imposed ban potentially on the horizon. Forget the rankings and the win-loss record and remember that those kids on the other side of the ball are former high school teammates and opponents.
This isn’t an untouchable, recent national champion, top-ranked Alabama squad — it’s a Florida State team that hasn’t sniffed a national championship since 1999 and one that often finds a way to choke. It’s in their garnet and gold blood.
Look no further than a few weeks back when North Carolina State — who Miami laid 44 points on — held Florida State to sixteen and pulled off a massive upset.
An undefeated Seminoles squad is a much more daunting task than one that was tamed two weeks back and took a bit hit to its psyche when title dreams all but died. Two years in a row Florida State was put on a pedestal, knocked off and from there went on to lose multiple games.
Not saying that the Canes take out the Seminoles, but this is a beatable team that hasn’t proven it can be championship-level consistent from September to November.
Defensively, Miami must be smart and aggressive. Don’t let Manuel throw and run all day long. Take something away from him. Draw up some looks he hasn’t seen Miami bring all year, while offensively the Canes must move the chains – all night long.
Points have been left on the field too many times this year and while that was all right against Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, Miami paid against North Carolina and will certainly get smoked should that be the case against Florida State this weekend.
Miami simply needs to show up, strap on those helmets extra tight, check the gimmicky nonsense at the door, limit boneheaded mistakes, hit hard, create turnovers and prepare for four quarters of physical football, while a rowdy fan base plays that twelfth-man role to perfection en route to a low-scoring upset.
Living in Fantastyland? Most-likely, but that’s the recipe for a Hurricanes upset Saturday night at Sun Life.
Christian Bello has been covering Miami Hurricanes athletics since the mid-1990s. After spending almost a decade as a columnist for CanesTime, he launched allCanesBlog.com. – the official blog for allCanes.com : The #1 Canes Shop Since 1959. Bello has joined up with XOFan.com and will be a guest columnist at CaneInsider.com this fall. Follow him on Twitter @ChristianRBello.