Hurricanes play almost perfectly for 4th straight win over Florida State

Head coach Manny Diaz celebrates a touchdown during the first half of Miami's game versus Florida State at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 26. Photo credit: Michael Laughlin/ACC
Head Coach Manny Diaz celebrates a touchdown during the first half of Miami's game versus Florida State at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 26.
Head coach Manny Diaz celebrates a touchdown during the first half of Miami's game versus Florida State at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 26. Photo credit: Michael Laughlin/ACC

Just about everything that could’ve gone right for Miami did go right for the Hurricanes Saturday night in a 52-10 win over the Florida State Seminoles at Hard Rock Stadium.

From putting up 517 total yards on offense, going 11-16 on third downs, and scoring on all six red zone trips, the Canes were absolutely humming on all cylinders.

It’s not easy to beat your rival by six touchdowns, but that’s exactly what Miami (3-0, 2-0 ACC) did. Still, head coach Manny Diaz can take away much to improve on before the next test.

Four straight over FSU

As recently as three short calendar years ago, the Miami program continued to take flack for its seven-year losing streak against the Seminoles. There were close games and even a very average UM team nearly ended a 25-game winning streak that Jameis Winston and FSU had going in 2014. But the Canes couldn’t get over the hump against their rival until Darrell Langham scored in the final seconds at Doak Campbell Stadium in 2017.

Fast forward to the present and Miami now holds complete command of the rivalry for the first time since the early 2000s. Having momentum in a rivalry is huge. Everything from the morale these wins bring to the rewards on the recruiting trail are positive aspects that are a result of a string of wins in this series.

“People say it’s a rivalry,” running back Don Chaney Jr. said. “We try not to treat it as a different game. It’s just a regular game, regular season. It’s another game we’ve got to play to win.”

First half offense

The Canes’ landslide victory was landmarked by interminable touchdowns in the first two quarters. Miami punched the ball into the endzone five times in the first half. They then set up a Jose Borregales 30-yard field goal to make it 38-3 at the half. It was the most lopsided pair of quarters in the rivalry’s history.

“I do think we had a great attitude and a great focus all week, and I think it showed in the way we started the game,” Diaz said.

Quarterback D’Eriq King completed 22 of his 30 passes in the first half, throwing for two scores, including a 40-yard shot to wide receiver Dee Wiggins. Cam’Ron Harris logged two scores of his own, and UM put up 333 yards of total offense in the half while converting on eight of 10 third downs.

Defensive aggression

After UM’s season-opening win over Alabama-Birmingham, I said that the Hurricanes’ front seven lived rent-free in the UAB backfield.

It was that on steroids against the Seminoles. This was beyond rent-free living. The Canes might as well have burned down FSU’s bungalow and built a South Beach waterfront mansion in the backfield. The first half alone saw nine tackles for loss including five sacks for the Miami defense. They finished with 13 total tackles for loss and six sacks. The Turnover Chain also came out three times.

“I think any game starts up front,” defensive end Quincy Roche said. “Any game starts in the trenches with the o-line and the d-line. So, it’s just great. Credit to these guys, we had a great game, dominated up front. And we need more of that.”

Third quarter shakiness

The Canes had a five-touchdown lead at the break. But that advantage was whittled down to just four scores after the Seminoles nonchalantly drove the ball the length of the field to open the second half.

This cannot happen. Even though Miami had no issues closing the game out at the end of the night, smaller leads against better teams will greet the Hurricanes in 2020. Diaz must preach that all 60 minutes count, and that any momentum surrendered can come back to bite.

And throughout the entire contest, the Canes remained plagued by penalties, many of which were very much controllable. Yes, it’s a rivalry, and yes, FSU was called for 12 fouls of their own, but 80 penalty yards on eight calls is on the high side, no matter who is on the other side of the field.

Canes flex depth

32 Hurricanes recorded a stat on defense. 11 pass catchers hauled in at least one catch. Miami even used backup punter Matias Gasc for the one and only time they had to punt on the night.

In order for The U to be “back,” Miami needs its playmakers to extend not just a few stars, or even the starting lineup, but up and down the entire roster. Whenever someone exits the field, the next man up must be ready to take over. When the Hurricanes were on top of the college football world, even the best players feared losing their starting jobs due to the plethora of quality depth.

The one-sided score was a big reason so many players got reps, and getting back to where to program can be is a work in progress. But when so many guys can get into the boxscore and make real impacts in games, it is a sign that things are working.

Real test awaits

The next game on the schedule is one that pops out to any football fan with a pulse.

The Clemson Tigers have won each of the past five Atlantic Coast Conference championships and have as many appearances in the College Football Playoff during that time frame. They’ve won two national championships as well.

Over the past half-decade, Clemson has not been kind to the Hurricanes. In 2015, the Tigers topped UM 58-0 at Hard Rock Stadium, and then-coach Al Golden was fired the next day. The ACC title game in 2017 wasn’t much better for Miami, where they fell 38-3. But 2020 is a new year, and the Canes look like a new program that may be able to offer No. 1 Clemson a scare.

“They might beat Clemson,” analyst Kirk Herbstreit said casually at the end of Saturday night’s win.

“Clemson is obviously one of the best teams in college football,” King said. “They have one of the best quarterbacks in college football, a great head coach, great defense. They’re a pretty good team. I’m looking forward to it.”

Only time will tell if the Canes go into Death Valley and leave with a victory after next week’s bye. But there is no question that the next fortnight offers the best chance for Miami to claim a signature win in a long, long time.