Two years ago, the Florida State Seminoles entered the Orange Bowl as the nation’s No. 1 team and the defending national champions. Their mission on this Oct. 7, 2000 day was rather simple: beat an upstart Miami Hurricane team with a lot of talent. Of course, the Seminoles could not complete the mission, falling to the ‘Canes 27-24 that day, and thus beginning one program’s downfall and beginning another program’s upward climb towards the top.
Two seasons and a Miami Hurricanes national championship later, the teams hook up tomorrow afternoon in the Orange Bowl. The squads have reversed roles since the Oct. 2000, with Miami (5-0) playing the role of the heavily favored machine, while Florida State (5-1) looks to take a major step towards their resurgence back to the nation’s elite.
One might find the ironic nature of this setting to find reason to throw a red flag at the Hurricanes, but head coach Larry Coker won’t let any historical references change his team’s preparation for the contest.
“I think we have played better that way if we prepare the same each week,” Coker said. “Obviously it is Florida State, and you can’t put that in the background and hide that, it is a very important game for us. But we’re not going to prepare differently for Florida State than we did for Connecticut.”
The Hurricanes enter tomorrow’s game after their best showing in weeks, a 48-14 victory over Connecticut. Miami outscored the Huskies 42-0 in the first half, thanks in large part to the play of Willis McGahee, who’s three first half touchdowns helped boost his status as one of the premiere players in the nation. Of course, McGahee would like to credit his success elsewhere.
“I’m just having fun,” McGahee said. “I owe most all of it to my O-linemen, they open up the holes and do all the dirty work and I’m just running to the clean area. So, I have to give them all the credit.”
McGahee’s play this season has also opened the door for quarterback Ken Dorsey to spread the ball around even more. Dorsey has thrown 14 touchdown passes to six different receivers. The senior’s arm will be a major challenge for the young Seminoles secondary, who according to Coker, have tinkered their coverage this season.
“They have changed that style a little bit, I think this year a little bit more than in they have in past,” Coker said. “So I think we’ll probably see some of both, I think we’ll see some off coverage, I think we’ll see some zone and I think that they would like to get some long yardage and play a little bit more zone defense.”
As for Florida State, offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden has assembled a more balanced offense in 2002. Sophomore quarterback Chris Rix has shown more consistency and better decision-making, completing over 57 percent of his passes, including nine touchdown strikes.
“I feel this is a big challenge for us,” said cornerback Antrel Rolle. “I feel that he (Chris Rix) will go out there and try and pick apart our secondary for weaknesses and we have to go out there and try and prove them wrong.”
Running back Greg Jones has emerged from the two-tailback system implemented at the beginning of the season, averaging better than 105 yards a game. The junior tailback comes off a 165 yard, three-touchdown effort against Clemson last Thursday.
“I saw that,” defensive end Andrew Williams said. “A lot of those guys weren’t using their feet or doing proper tackling technique. If we do that, we can stop him.”
The rest of the Miami Hurricanes squad is confident in stopping a talented but inconsistent Florida State attack. The Seminoles have shown a tendency to give up a lot of all-purpose yards, which was instrumental to the team’s loss at Louisville, and near defeat at the hands of Iowa State.
Although the outcome is far from certain, there will be a lot of intensity on both sidelines. The Hurricanes look to keep their national championship hopes and nation-long 27 game win streak alive, while a win for the Seminoles puts them back on the Fiesta Bowl map and settles some scores with the Miami program.
“We have a streak going also so we can continue to do well,” said tailback Jason Geathers. “We’re friends (with some of Florida State’s players), but come Saturday at 12 o’clock, there aren’t no friends. We’ve just got to go out there and do what we’ve got to do.”
You can reach Jeremy Marks-Peltz at email@example.com.