There are a few games on a college football schedule that fans from around the country mark on their calendars year in and year out: Alabama vs. Auburn, Michigan vs. Ohio State, Oklahoma vs. Texas and other marquee matchups featuring the sport’s most accomplished football programs. Miami vs. Florida State is one of those games. Despite that both coaching staffs like to act as if it were just another game, this one means a little more than a W or an L on either team’s record. The winner takes home an advantage in conference standings, state bragging rights and instant credibility among Florida high school recruits. It’s a game that epitomizes everything fans love about college football.
The UM-FSU rivalry is one of the most evenly matched in college football, with Miami holding a 31-29 overall advantage, and almost half of the matchups being decided by eight points or less. However, in recent years, the matchup has become a lopsided affair, as Florida State has won the previous six meetings. In order for Miami to put an end to that trend, it will need to focus on these three areas come Saturday:
- Protect the football
With Hurricane Matthew looming in the Atlantic, wet and sloppy conditions are expected for Saturday night’s game. Junior running back Joseph Yearby acknowledged that the weather might result in more running plays on Saturday and emphasized the importance of limiting turnovers.
“It might be raining a lot, so we have to focus on holding onto the ball,” Yearby said. “We’ll get what [yards] we can get and not try to do anything extra.”
The Hurricanes have taken great care of the ball with only three turnovers in the first four games combined, but this week will present a much different challenge when the rain and quality of the opponent are factored in.
“When you watch film of their defense, you see a lot of very athletic and talented guys,” junior quarterback Brad Kaaya said.
The Seminoles’ athletic defense will surely come after the ball and try to take full advantage of opportunities that the weather presents to them. The Canes will need to be extra cautious when it comes to turnovers if they want to extend their overall lead in the series.
- Slow down Dalvin Cook
Cook is the type of running back that can completely take over a game if you give him any daylight. When asked about what he sees in Cook, Miami sophomore running back Mark Walton needed only one word.
“Explosive,” Walton said.
While it might not be feasible for the Miami defense to completely stop Cook, it needs to limit his impact on the game by not allowing him to break big plays in the open field. Walton, who played against Cook in high school, also provided some insight into what the defense needs to focus on when Cook has the ball.
“Against [Cook] you have to finish plays and tackle him all the way to the ground,” Walton said. “He has plays where he looks like he’s down but he’s not, so you have to finish every tackle against him.”
Cook has momentum on his side going into Saturday as well. He has rushed for 407 yards and five touchdowns in his previous two games combined, while also racking up large chunks of yards as a receiver out of the backfield. This will be an extremely tough task for a Miami defense that looked vulnerable against Georgia Tech’s rushing attack last weekend, but it will need to rise to the occasion if it wants to have any chance of slowing down Florida State’s offense.
- Don’t get caught up in the hype
Although this is admittedly the most important regular season game of the season, the players and coaches can’t let that creep into their minds once they take the field on Saturday night.
“It’s a big-time football game and I’m excited to go against [FSU], but we just look at it as the next game on our schedule,” Wide Receivers Coach Ron Dugans said.
Kaaya also emphasized the importance of not treating this opponent any differently.
“It’s honestly hard to not get caught up in the hype, but you just have to do your job and prepare like you would for any other team,” Kaaya said after practice on Tuesday.
The Canes have played very well so far this season. They are a top-ten football team and shouldn’t need any extra motivation to beat the Seminoles. If they treat Saturday like they treated their first four games, the outcome should be the same.
The latest edition of this historic rivalry will be featured as ABC’s primetime game of the week on Saturday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:14 p.m. EST in Hard Rock Stadium.