Breaking a seven-year drought without a win against rival Florida State in 2017 was monumental for Miami Hurricanes football in more ways than one.
Not only was the 24-20, last-second victory the beginning of what would be a historic run in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but it also marked a new chapter for the Canes – one that sent the message that they are tired of being considered FSU’s little brother.
On that Oct. 7 evening, Miami proved it was making strides toward reclaiming the title of “Best in Florida.” But that was only one win, and now just moments away from another installment in the storied rivalry – this one in Miami – the hard part is to maintain the momentum and keep winning.
“We all know what a big game it is,” Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt said. “We all know what’s at stake. We’re excited about playing it, and I’m sure they are too.”
One could easily take a look at this Seminoles team and see a group that is clearly not the juggernaut it has been in years past, and rightfully so.
So far this season under first-year head coach Willie Taggart, who replaced the highly successful Jimbo Fisher after he took the lead role with Texas A&M, Florida State has been blown out at home by Virginia Tech, dominated defensively in a one-sided loss to Syracuse and somehow, someway almost embarrassed in a near fall to Samford.
Not Stanford. Samford.
Everything for FSU has been up and down in 2018. From offensive line play to red-zone efficiency to a defense that is one of the best in the country against the run, but can’t seem to stop big plays through the air.
However, with all that being said, none of it matters because it’s Florida State against Miami. All previous performances go out the window. The matchup will be a dogfight, and the fact that the last four battles between the two teams have been decided by a total of 14 points says it all.
“From a motivation standpoint, this game is going to take care of itself,” Canes offensive coordinator and running backs coach Thomas Brown said. “We’ll have some motivational stuff for the game, but we don’t need that. It’s Florida State and Miami. Enough is said. We have to do a good job of preparing well for them and going to execute.”
The No. 17-ranked Hurricanes (4-1, 1-0 ACC), who have won four-straight games after getting crushed by LSU in the season opener, know the Seminoles (3-2, 1-2 ACC) will bring their “A-game” regardless of their inconsistencies thus far.
“The thing that really stands out is just their personnel,” UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “Their quarterback is probably the best we’ll play in the last two years. They’re going to force your eyes to be in the right spot and for you to make the right decision every time.”
The nationally televised battle, set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Hard Rock Stadium, will feature two quarterbacks who did not play in the game last year – Miami’s N’Kosi Perry and Florida State’s Deondre Francois.
Perry, a redshirt freshman, recently took the starting role over Malik Rosier in the Canes’ ACC opener Sept. 27 against North Carolina, and he has combined to throw four touchdowns and complete 68 percent of his passes over the last two games. Francois, who missed the majority of the 2017 season with a knee injury, has started each of FSU’s first five games, posting nine touchdowns to five interceptions.
“I feel like he has kind of taken over this whole offense,” Miami redshirt senior receiver Darrell Langham said about Perry. “It fits his role.”
The pressure will be on the quarterbacks to lead their teams to quick offensive starts – something that has been a struggle for both schools against top-ranked competition over the past year.
“It is something I have been looking forward to my whole life,” Perry said about playing in the UM-FSU rivalry.
UM’s Turnover Chain vs. FSU’s Turnover Backpack will be another interesting storyline to watch as the defenses force takeaways. Miami feels confident that its tradition remains supreme.
“Because we have the best idea, we don’t really spend a lot of time worrying about what other people have,” Diaz said. “I like the chain.”
The Hurricanes, who are trying for their first home victory against the Seminoles since 2004, are nearly 14-point favorites in this one, although it’s very likely the matchup will prove to be tight competition.
“Everyone is going to play their best on Saturday,” Diaz said. “It’s going to be a great challenge.”