The FSU-Miami rivalry is Sunshine State football at its finest. Traditionally characterized by high-caliber talent, all-around speed, jaw-dropping hits-and of course missed field goals-it is undeniably one of the greatest in-state disputes in college football history.
Why else would an ESPN record 6.3 million households watch a 2006 match-up where both teams rushed for a combined three yards and managed only one touchdown apiece?
Heading into Saturday’s showdown, fans across the divide should expect another defensive dogfight in the rivalry’s most recent trend of “who’s going to mess up first.”
Like Miami, Florida State’s biggest strength is its defense. Led by junior linebackers Geno Hayes and Derek Nicholson, the Seminole ‘D’ has held opponents to less than 100 yards rushing per contest and given up just three rushing touchdowns through six games this season.
Hurricane signal caller Kyle Wright is going to want to keep a watchful eye on No. 10 and No. 99 in garnet and gold. Hayes wears the big 1-0 and, with a team-leading 12 tackles-for-loss, flies to the ball and is no stranger in the backfield. Sophomore defensive end Everette Brown dons the double nine and seems poised to become FSU’s next great pass rusher with a team-best five sacks this season.
Coming into a game that will likely be decided by field position and turnovers, the Florida State defense has three takeaways in each of its last two games. An experienced secondary has hauled in seven interceptions thus far and will pressure and tempt Wright-who has already completed eight passes to the opposing team-into errant throws.
Offensively the Canes will get a different look from the Seminoles this time around. In addition to FSU’s new offensive coaching staff, Miami will get its first real look at the rocket-armed and sack-resilient Xavier Lee under center.
Lee, who replaced two-year starter Drew Weatherford against Alabama, will start his third consecutive game Saturday and his big-play potential has turned a dormant offense into a legitimate threat.
Despite an inefficient offensive line, Lee gives the Tribe mobility and strength in the pocket and is a proven escape artist. His ability to keep plays alive and avoid the rush will be key, but so will his decision-making.
Lee’s favorite target is 6-foot-6 jump-ball specialist Greg Carr who’s already hauled in 25 catches for 508 yards and three touchdowns halfway through the season. Sophomore wide receiver and kick-returner Preston Parker is another threat to the Canes. Parker leads the Seminoles in all-purpose yardage and rest assured FSU has plenty of ways to get him the ball.
It’s no secret the Seminoles have been disappointed in the running game but look for tailback Antone Smith to be a difference maker this week. After all, FSU can only improve on last year’s dismal one-yard rushing total, and Georgia Tech’s Tashard Choice torched the Canes for 204 yards last Saturday.
If it comes down to the kicking game, FSU is confident with senior Gary Cismesia (knock on wood). Cismesia is the only Seminole kicker in school history to hit two game-winning field goals against Miami and he’s done it in both of the last two meetings.
With that said, leave all your small children and faint-hearted at home because it should be another classic, bone-crushing battle in Tallahassee. And with 82,300 fans jam-packing Doak Campbell Stadium, it may be a little louder than you’re used too.
Oh, and one more thing. Stanford Samuels called. He said this should be enough to get you riled up for Saturday.
Michael McGuffee is the Sports Editor of FSView & Florida Flambeau. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.