Hurricanes expect tough challenge from Seminoles
Gore injury means tailback by committee
While UM students prepare for their midterms this week, the football team prepares for their annual test against their biggest rival, Florida State.
The Hurricanes and Seminoles come into the game ranked second and fifth in the nation, respectively, and both stand at 5-0 on the season. This game marks only the fourth time in the storied match-up that both teams come into the game undefeated and ranked in the top five. UM won all three of those contests by an average of less than two points.
“That’s why you come to the University of Miami and Florida State, to play in games like this,” Head Coach Larry Coker said.
Despite a lower ranking than the Hurricanes, FSU is a six point favorite to win the game, partly because the game is in Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, and partly because the ‘Canes have looked par or worse while dispatching their first five opponents.
In two of the ‘Canes’ first three home games, they have needed a last minute comeback to pull out a win. Last week against West Virginia they needed freshman kicker Jon Peattie to hit a school record five field goals after their offense stalled in the red-zone.
Maybe the ‘Canes saw FSU on the horizon and took West Virginia too lightly, or maybe they just wanted to give the fans their money’s worth. Either way, FSU will not let them get away with the same effort that they showed against the Mountaineers.
Coker doesn’t foresee the team’s mind-set as a problem this week.
“When you win a close game, you wonder what the attitude of your team’s going to be like after such a game,” Coker said. “Our attitude is terrific. I’m very encouraged.”
The pressure lies most heavily on the Hurricanes’ two main threats on offense to step up against their hated rivals.
Quarterback Brock Berlin has completed 62% of his passes but he has had a world of trouble finding the end zone. On the season he has more interceptions (7) than he does touchdown passes (6). Although the offensive line has only allowed three sacks, Berlin has had to run for his life at times.
The other player bearing the brunt of the fans’ expectations is fifth-year senior Jarrett Payton. Payton steps into the backfield as a starter for the first time in his career after Frank Gore tore his left ACL against West Virginia. Payton will have help from newly converted (again) running back Jason Geathers and freshman Tyrone Moss.
“We’re going to give [Geathers and Moss] some opportunities. I think they deserve it and Jarrett needs some breaks as we go through the course of a game like this,” Coker said. “It’s a very physical team we’re getting ready to play. I don’t see one tailback going the entire game.”
FSU Quarterback Chris Rix, who has lost two of these contests already, will need to continue playing the way he has all season if he hopes to beat UM before he leaves Tallahassee. After a less than stellar start to his career, Rix seems to have gained his team’s respect and has impressed a lot of people this season, including Coker.
“The thing you see is confidence,” Coker said. “He’s got great talent. He’s surrounded by players and surrounded by a great defense. That’s really helped him build on his confidence.”
The X-factor in this game might not be Rix, Berlin, or even Payton. The player with the biggest opportunity to lead their team to victory might be “The Chosen One.” UM tight end Kellen Winslow, who had 10 catches for 104 yards last week, thinks FSU will send just one man to cover him while they try to stop UM’s depleted rushing attack.
Coker knows what Winslow can do and even compared him to the greatest athlete of all-time.
“You watch Michael Jordan at the end of the game, Winslow’s that type of person. It really doesn’t amaze you anymore,” Coker said. “Winslow plays with such passion and energy, he’s phenomenal to watch.”
These games are usually violent and emotionally driven by both teams. They usually come packed with surprises and if the score looks close at the end then the ‘Canes will have the upper hand. In the nine games decided by 10 points or less, the Hurricanes have never gone home unhappy. And if the game comes down to an FSU field goal…well we all know that story.
Nate Johnson can be reached at NPJ44@aol.com