Hurricanes revitalize defense in face of undefeated Seminoles

Quarterback Jacory Harris looks to connect with his teammates during the 2009 game against FSU, the last time the Hurricanes defeated the Seminoles in football. // File Photo
Quarterback Jacory Harris looks to connect with his teammates during the 2009 game against FSU, the last time the Hurricanes defeated the Seminoles in football. // File Photo

Saturday will mark 378 days since the last time Miami and Florida State met in Tallahassee, Florida, and the Seminoles will be coming to Miami with the royal flush of football resumes. FSU can boast about being defending national champions and defending ACC Champions, and also possessing the defending Heisman trophy winning-quarterback. They hold a 25-game winning streak, to boot.

Even though the quarterback carries baggage big enough to have to be checked onto a flight, Florida State has an overpowering persona.

The Miami Hurricanes have, under head coach Al Golden, fought each battle one at a time, not looking ahead or behind. Golden makes sure the Canes have their eye on the prize, especially this week, without letting the game’s attention get to them.

“I don’t let anything on the outside get inside,” Golden said. “The magnitude of the game is not going to come from me. The magnitude of the practice, the magnitude of everybody executing – those are the things that the guys need to focus on.”

Still, this is FSU week, which doesn’t escape the players’ minds; after all, they are only human. As overpowering as they are, human is also what the Seminoles have shown themselves to be the past few weeks. A win over Notre Dame, granted on a touchdown-negating blocking penalty on the Irish, followed a comeback in Louisville marred by allegations of point-shaving from quarterback Jameis Winston.

Another ingredient to spice up the salsa is the 180 these two teams have pulled defensively. The National Champion Seminoles allowed the second fewest yards per game in all of college football; the Canes were nothing more than a blip way down in 116th, according to NCAA rankings.

This season, with huge improvements in the backfield and the front lines stopping the run, the Canes have pulled up to 11th, allowed 312 yards per game. The Noles are 50th with 374 yards per game allowed.

“We’re tackling better. We’re finishing our movements better,” Golden said. “We’ve been very unselfish.”

Senior starting safety Nantambu-Akil Fentress, who’s started the last five games over tailback-turned-safety Dallas Crawford, has been thrilled with his own performance but understands the need to keep grinding every practice, every game.

“I guess you can say delayed gratification,” Fentress said. “You just gotta keep working, control things you can control … take it one play at a time.”

Junior defensive tackle Michael Wyche said that, while Winston is a great quarterback, he’s not so elusive or invincible.

“He ain’t the most elusive, but he gained a lot of knowledge,” Wyche said. “He’s smart with the football.”

Defensively, the Canes have been on a roller-coaster run getting to the quarterback: 11 sacks in their first three games, two in the next three, followed by another 11 the past three weeks, including six against North Carolina on Nov. 1.

Junior linebacker Raphael Kirby boils it down to the defensive personnel knowing their specific playbook cover-to-cover.

“In a game like this, everyone has their job,” Kirby said. “From start to finish, we come out swinging in any game. There’s no in-between; everybody come out and do their job.”

A revitalized defensive unit will take their shots against Jameis Winston at 8 p.m. Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium on ABC and WVUM 90.5 FM.