Miami’s last road trip of the season begins this Saturday against Florida State, an unusually meaningless game in this rivalry.
A contest between two teams barely above .500 late in the season (the Canes are 5-3 and the Noles are 6-3) rarely has much significance besides determining which low-tier bowl game bid they’ll receive.
But Miami-Florida State is never that simple.
Even without national hype surrounding the game, head coach Al Golden hopes that his players will appreciate the road they’ve taken, and where it will end up on Saturday.
“They have to enjoy it, got to enjoy the journey,” he said. “The journey is better than the end. I’ve been saying – and I don’t want to sound like a broken record – but I think that is part of the deal.”
For the seniors on the team, their final trip to Tallahassee marks the beginning of the end of their careers at Miami. Only two games remain after Florida State.
“It’ll hit me once I get out there,” said Sean Spence, reflecting on how he’ll soak in his last game against the Seminoles. “But now I’m just sticking to the process, making sure I’m watching film and doing all the small things.”
That the game will be without the championship implications of years past is of little significance, as both teams have essentially been eliminated from even ACC contention. Seminole war chants have blared through the locker room for the past week and even during practice, reminding players of what they’ll face in Tallahassee on Saturday.
Although he is quite familiar with the meaning behind the matchup from afar, cornerback Mike Williams will join Golden in having his first foray into the rivalry from the inside. After transferring from Wake Forest, Williams has one shot to make his impact on a tradition that extends far beyond either team’s current record.
“It still means a lot to both programs,” Williams said. “In a rivalry, it doesn’t matter what the record is of both programs. It’s always going to be a big game and we’re both going to bring our best games to the table, and we hope that’s us.”
Williams and Spence are just two of the defenders charged with stifling the Seminoles’ offense, which is led by quarterback E.J. Manuel. Manuel currently ranks No. 12 nationally in terms of pass efficiency and, as a whole, his pass-heavy offense averages nearly 36 points per game. Though Miami’s defense gives up an average of 384 yards per game, in the red zone they rank in the top 20 nationally.
“We gave up some runs, but it’s all fixable,” Spence said. “Every time we give up a big play it’s because a guy’s missing an assignment, but we found a way to flip the switch down in the red zone, and that’s the most important thing – keeping points off the board.”
Both Spence and quarterback Jacory Harris have underplayed the bigger picture and the symbolism of stepping into Doak-Campbell Stadium for the last time, maintaining that it’s just the game itself that they’ll be worrying about come gametime.
But if it were up to Golden, the moment they hear the War Chant, see the Tomahawk Chop and watch Chief Osceola thrust his flaming spear into midfield for the final time in their Hurricane careers, they’ll take a moment – brief though it may be – to appreciate what it will mean to them long after the game itself is over.
“Part of it is that it is such a vicious cycle at Miami because the expectations are so high that if you lose one or two, everyone is saying that the season is a failure or the season is lost,” Golden said. “And as soon as you make a couple plays, they push you to the NFL. All I’m trying to do is get the kids to enjoy the journey, enjoy today.”