Miami is prepping for a crosstown visit from Florida International this weekend; both squads making the trek north to HardRock Stadium for the first Canes versus Golden Panthers showdown since 2007.

Last time these squads went at it, two former UM players were at the helm of their inaugural seasons with each program—Randy Shannon coaching up the Hurricanes, while Mario Cristobal worked to bring the Golden Panthers out of the gutter. Shannon’s squad got the 23-9 victory early-on in a dismal 5-7 season, while Cristobal’s crew lost their next eight games, before winning the season finale, en route to a 1-11 campaign.

The year prior, a full-blown street brawl at the Orange Bowl which ultimately ended the newly proposed “City Line Series” after two showdowns—while playing the part in the firing of Larry Coker; the wheels falling off en route to a 7-6 season. 18 players from FIU and 13 from UM all received (at least) one-game suspensions from the battle royal; the depleted roster almost resulting in an upset for Miami at Duke days later—the Canes hauling in a goal-line interception, holding on for the 20-15 victory.

Since then, the “rivalry” went dormant, until now—FIU heading to UM’s house this weekend, with a return game as there are talks that next year’s game will take place at Marlins Stadium—home of the one-time Orange Bowl.

Another twist; former Canes’ head coach Butch Davis is now in control of the Golden Panthers, while Mark Richt is three games into his third season at his alma mater. Davis last faced off against his former team in 2010 as the head coach at North Carolina; the Tar Heels falling 33-10 to the then-Shannon coaches Canes, having lost three prior to Butch before that victory.

Aside from Davis’ leadership, former Miami Hurricanes quarterback—both a national champion and Heisman finalist—Ken Dorsey will also be in the house. Dorsey was hired as FIU’s assistant athletic director earlier this year.

History and sub-plots aside, there really isn’t much of a story for this latest incarnation of Miami versus Florida International. The Golden Panthers are a ways behind the Hurricanes talent-wise. Davis put together a respectable 8-5 season year one—though an opening-season loss at Central Florida (61-17), a shellacking by Lane Kiffin-led Florida Atlantic (52-24) and bowl loss to Temple (28-3) ultimately defined the state of the program. In short; Davis has a way to go on the recruiting trail and talent-wise.

KEYS TO VICTORY — MIAMI

The Canes will have to focus and get their emotions in check come Saturday. The Davis-related sub-plot is one thing, but the fact that so many kids on both rosters grew up battling each other at the optimist level—that will stir things up for both UM and FIU.

Much like Toledo last week, this is another high-risk, low-reward showdown for Miami. Nothing good comes from match-ups like this for the Canes, while the Golden Panthers get their season-defining moment and national championship-type game by playing nightly Miami at HardRock. It’s a dream opportunity for FIU and an upset would make their year. Richt needs to guard his kids against the emotional aspects of a game like this and to focus on the game plan, as well as overall execution.

Miami’s rushing defense best come to play. Yes, it’s “only” Florida International and the competition they usually face isn’t on the Hurricanes’ level, but the Golden Panthers rushed for 329 yards at UMass last week and averaged 6.2 yards-per-carry. UM is currently 22nd national in rushing defense and is allowing roughly 99 yards-per-game on the ground in three games thus far.

Shut down the FIU ground attack and it puts the weight of the game on the shoulders of quarterback James Morgan.

Get another clean outing from quarterback Malik Rosier; most-importantly, to help lead Miami to a convincing victory—but also to quell any chatter about a manufactured quarterback “controversy” that some in the Hurricanes’ fan base are complaining about.

This is UM’s final non-conference game before getting into ACC play next Thursday at home against North Carolina; one final shot to work out the kinks before the opponent talent level gradually improves. The Hurricanes’ goal should be to have a healthy enough lead early third quarter that Rosier can yield to N’Kosi Perry, letting the sophomore get some necessary reps.

After next week’s match-up against the Tar Heels, Miami welcomes Florida State, before hitting the road back-to-back weeks against Virginia and Boston College The Hurricanes will officially be at that point of the season where games will get a little tighter and playing time for back-ups won’t be the norm. UM must execute early and avoid letting this be a game in the second half.

Run the football. For all the chatter about quarterbacking woes, fact is the Miami ground attack still feels like it needs some work personnel-wise. Travis Homer was a huge asset for the Canes when Mark Walton went down for the season in Tallahassee, but the luster began to wear off a bit down the stretch when the one-time back-up was facing better defenses like Clemson’s and Wisconsin’s.

DeeJay Dallas came on strong in the Orange Bowl and three games into this season—having packed on some man weight in the off-season—has looked more natural at the position that Homer; better vision, finding holes, shifty running, etc.

This is also that one last warm-up game for true freshman Lorenzo Lingard to get his reps. Lingard shone late against Savannah State, but only had four late-game reps at Toledo last week. Fact remains, the Hurricanes need Lingard to grow up fast as he’s a superior talent that can be a difference-maker when the second half schedule gets tougher.

Miami won’t want to break Lingard in weeks out in Charlottesville or Chestnut Hill—and certainly needs him playing like a sophomore for road trips to Atlanta and Blacksburg in November. This must come together on the ground for UM this weekend.

Utilize the tight end. Nether Brevin Jordan or Will Mallory had a reception against Toledo, after both experiencing coming-out parties two weeks back against Savannah State. Jordan has seven receptions for 52 yards and two touchdowns against the Tigers, while Mallory was good for one grab and a score.

Tight end is crucial to Miami’s down-the-stretch success this season and both true freshmen need to get broken in proper. The Canes already lost Michael Irvin II for the foreseeable future, while Brian Polendey had season-ending surgery earlier this week. Already a thin position for UM, there is now added pressure on the freshman to perform—so get them some needed reps in this week’s game.

Lastly, force some turnovers—which haven’t been the norm dating back to the end of last season. None in the ACC title game against Clemson. One in the Orange Bowl against Wisconsin. Zero in this year’s opener against LSU and one last week at Toledo. (Yes, there were a bevy against Savannah State—but that was a glorified scrimmage.)

UM’s Turnover Chain helped propel the Canes to 30 turnovers in 2017 and proved to be one of the biggest stories in college football last year. That said, the introduction of this motivational tool also brings a little bit of pressure, as well as a mindset where guys might be thinking more about the celebration than living in the moment and making a play.

The Canes need to figure out how the Turnover Chain 2.0 handles its encore and how it fits into the 2018 landscape. No different than a band that dropped a dominating first album, but is trying to figure out how to have the same impact with their follow-up. Can’t just repeat the first go-around. Needs another level or dimension.

KEYS TO VICTORY — FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL

Have a game plan. Davis knows he lacks the athletes to go toe-to-toe with his former program, so it’s going to take some clever thinking to level the playing field.

Running the football effectively and keeping Miami’s offense off the field is a pretty obvious start; controlling the time of possession and playing to the Golden Panthers’ greatest offensive strength. From there, the question becomes how to slow down the Hurricanes’ offense.

Others have had success doing this over the past few games—Pittsburgh, Clemson, Wisconsin and LSU. FIU lacks the athletes and talent those squads boast—but the blueprint is there regarding working towards shutting down UM’s ground game and pressuring Rosier. Do that and it’s proven successful in the recent past.

Protect the football. Easier said than done, but there are two different Miami teams—one that is forcing and feeding off turnovers, and one that never gets a momentum boost from the chain making an appearance as the Canes’ offense trots back on the field, feeling the energy.

Miami had a shot at an early fumble recovery against LSU. Instead, a review proved the Tigers recovered the ball—while also showing Trajan Bandy led with his helmet, prompting an ejection. Instead of recovering on the Canes’ 35-yard line, busting out some Ibis ice and taking possession—it was 1st-and-10 for LSU from the UM 20-yard line, courtesy of Bandy’s personal foul—setting the Tigers’ up to get on the board first with a field goal a few plays later.

Playing turnover-free football is a must for the Golden Panthers; for several reasons.

Make Miami’s pain FIU’s gain. The Canes will be without their best player on defense—safety Jaquan Johnson— and one of their best offensive threats; receiver Ahmmon Richards. Toledo picked on Johnson’s side of the field during the second half last Saturday, turning a 21-0 deficit into a 21-14 momentary comeback—wideout Dionte Johnson hauling in six receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Can FIU have similar success going against Johnson’s back-ups—while also having less to deal with regarding UM’s passing attack? Jeff Thomas has been on fire thus far, but without Richard opposite him, there’s a bit of a drop-off—lots of talent, but no sure-fire, go-to for the Canes at this point.

Two big personnel losses for Miami. Florida International must exploit this.

THREE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS FOR MIAMI

Malik Rosier — The senior quarterback will continue to be the target of criticism. Even when he plays as he did last week at Toledo; no turnovers, throwing for two touchdowns and running for three more—his detractors will pick him apart. With Miami gearing up for conference play come Thursday, the last thing the Hurricanes need right now is a sub-par outing from Rosier that will keep his critics running their mouth and distracting from the task at hand.

Rosier may now be “Mr. Right” for a Miami program looking to get *back*—but he’s “Mr. Right Now” as no one is pressing hard to take his job. Have a clean outing, push the Canes to a healthy lead early and then slap on that headset to coach-up Perry or whoever gets their second half shot.

Amari Carter — With Johnson sidelined, Miami needs Carter to get up to speed quickly. The sophomore out of Palm Beach Gardens is getting his first start and needs to deliver. The Canes saw a big drop-off against LSU when Bandy was ejected and Jhavonte Dean stepped in. This is what happens when a program has depth issue; as good as the first string looks, what happens when those guys are out and you’re in a next-man-up situation.

Back in the day, the Canes were loaded so when a James Lewis was out—you had an Antrel Rolle or Sean Taylor waiting in the wings. Miami isn there yet—but part of getting there; it’s delivering in smaller moments like this. Carter needs to play big and show he’s a reliable option behind Johnson, as he number will get called more as the season progresses.

Gerald Willis — The defensive tackle has been coming on strong three games into this new season, so no reason to slow that roll days before ACC play kicks off. After missing last season for personal reasons, the former Florida transfer has one year for everything to come together.

This is one final warm-up for Willis before getting into the meat of the season. Willis can go a long way in stuffing the FIU ground game, while playing is part in harassing quarterback James Morgan.

THREE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS FOR FIU

Shawndarrius Phillips -and- Napoleon Maxwell — The Golden Panthers need to run the ball and chew up clock time, so they’ll rely on the tandem of Phillips and Maxwell to accomplish this. The duo combined for 221 yards and four touchdowns last week against UMass. The week prior, 158 combined yards in a win at Old Dominion.

Going up against the Miami defense is a far cry from anything FIU has run against all season, but the need is still there. Both Phillips and Maxwell will need to go balls out, moving the chains and taking the pressure of Morgan’s arm if the Golden Panthers have any shot at an upset.

James Morgan — Another no-brainer pick as the junior quarterback will have to come up big if FIU has any chance of dethroning UM. Morgan was a combined 33-of-50 for 458 yards and five touchdowns the past two weeks, though he did throw an interception in each game and has been picked off three times this season.

Morgan isn’t much of a dual-threat, so his yards will have to come through the air—not his legs. Does he have the poise to sit in the pocket, withstanding the Miami pressure, giving his receivers time to get open? Can he come up big when needed? Will Morgan exploit Carter as he fills in for Johnson? Lots of questions. Let’s see if he has any answers.

The Entire Panthers’ Offensive Line — Where offensive line is a weak-link for Miami, Florida International actually boast some depth and experience at the position; having returned all five starters from last season. Aside from one third-year sophomore (Dallas Connell), the rest of the line are all seniors—Daquane Wilkie, Jordan Budwig, Neal Mars and Kai Absheer.

FIU’s best defense against UM will be an offense that can move the ball—and it all starts up front with a line that must open holes for Phillips and Maxwell, while giving Morgan the necessary time to let plays unfold.

THE PREDICTION : HOW IT SHOULD ALL SHAKE DOWN

Emotions will play their part early on both sides, due to the hometown ties and familiar faces on both sides of the ball. Couple that with the Hurricanes being notoriously slow starters—and the first quarter of play could prove interesting, depending how things shake out.

After a defensive stand against Toledo last week to open the game, Miami marched dow the field for a 12-play, 76 yards drive capped by a 5-yard Rosier touchdown run, halfway through the quarter.

Against Savannah State, the opposite, as Miami fumbled their first possession away and had a three-and-out their next go-around. The Canes finally got on the board with 3:57 left in the first quarter after an eight-play, 31-yard drive—Rosier hitting Mallory for the score.

Because of the sub-plots, emotions and undertones, wouldn’t be surprised if it takes both sides time to find a groove—but Miami should pull away by a hefty margin in the second half, giving Perry and other back-ups a crack at much-needed playing time before attention shifts back to North Carolina next Thursday night at HardRock. Canes roll.

Miami 45, Florida International 16


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