Miami and Florida State is a rivalry that is held in the same regards as Michigan and Ohio State, in my personal opinion. These two universities recruit the same areas and are often battling for the same athletes to go to their respective universities. Not to mention that a majority of the players in this game played against each other in high school and youth football. This rivalry is personal. Florida State is circled on Miami’s schedule every year and vise versa.
This year in particular has been a weird one for both Miami and Florida State. After the first game of the season, Hurricane Irma forced both of these teams to postpone their matchup and created a 21 day hiatus from football. Since then, Florida State has lost to NC State and squeaked by Wake Forest in a close game on the road. Miami, on the other hand, went 2-0 after their delay with wins over Toledo and Duke. The biggest surprise is how much Florida State has struggled. It is never ideal to lose a starting quarterback, but it seems like the struggles have dove deeper than that.
Florida State is averaging just shy of 98 yards per game running the ball. A year ago, with Dalvin Cook, the Seminoles averaged 202.3 yards a game. I do not think many people are realizing the impact his departure has made. Everyone was so high and mighty about Cam Akers coming in and playing right away, but through three games Akers is averaging just four yards a carry. Akers is a good player so I do expect him to make an impact, even as a freshman. I just do not believe the Seminoles have fully adjusted to not having Dalvin Cook bail them out when they cannot get the offense rolling. Jacques Patrick was the complimentary guy to Dalvin a year ago and is having a nice year so far. Patrick is averaging 5.3 yards a carry, but has just one touchdown through three games and has less carries than his freshman counterpart. The running game is not what it was these passed couple of years.
I do not believe that it is entirely their fault. Somebody has to block for them and Florida State is getting virtually none of that right now. Between NC State and Wake Forest, there were a combined nine sacks and 23 tackles for loss. Those are middle of the pack ACC teams if we are being honest. Miami is coming into town with a defense that is tied for second nationally in tackles for loss with nine per game. If Florida State cannot fix their offensive line problems quickly, I can see Miami tower their season average.
James Blackman has not been bad for Florida State so far. He is not turning the ball over, which has been a huge sigh of relief for that offense. He is completing 56% of his passes, which could be better. It could be worse too. Something I found interesting about Blackman is how composed he is when defenses blitz. On blitzing plays, Blackman is 8-12 (66.7%) with 162 yards and has been sacked once. That is a testament to knowing the offense and recognizing who is coming at him and where the mismatch is. However, on non-blitzing downs, Blackman is 25-46 (54.5%) for 210 yards and has taken nine sacks. It is abundantly clear how to attack this Seminole offense and James Blackman. Let your defensive line create the pressure and force him to work through his reads and try to make a great throw. Expect Florida State to run screens. It is a way for them to move the chains without throwing dropping back too much and eliminating the chance that the offensive line does not hold up. If the offensive line can hold over Miami’s defensive line, which I doubt, then James Blackman will have time to find an open guy. If not, Miami’s defense is going to have a feast in the Florida State backfield, similar to how Wake Forest ate last week.
One area where Florida State excels is on special teams. Derwin James returned the opening kickoff for what looked like a touchdown, but was called back due to a boneheaded block in the back by Jacques Patrick that would have had no impact on the play had he not committed the penalty. In the second quarter, Keith Gavin had an 81 yard return before he was stopped deep in Wake Forest territory, which eventually lead to their first touchdown of the game. I believe this is an area that Florida State is going to emphasize in their game plan. Their offense may not move the ball well, but if they can start a drive off with good field position because of a big special teams play, it can help shift the momentum of the game and set up Florida State to succeed. Miami has been bad this year on kickoff defense, allowing 22.92 yards per return, which ranks 102nd nationally.
Now the Florida State defense has been good, but not what we would normally expect from the Seminoles. They only have one interception on the year and it came on a pass that hit the offensive player in the chest and bounced up. I have not seen that elite defense that we have seen in the past. It is not only in the secondary — the front seven is struggling to get pressure on the quarterback as well. Against Wake Forest, Florida State only sacked the quarterback twice and both came from linebacker Matthew Thomas. Against NC State they had just one sack. They have been exceptional in the run game and creating tackles for loss, averaging eight a game.
The fact of the matter is that they are not as good as they were. Derwin James has been great in coverage and in the return game, but has had suspect open field tackling. Suspect is a generous word to describe his tackling right now. Against NC State he looked like he was waltzing with a Wolfpack receiver that spun him around to break away for a long touchdown pass. Then James missed another tackle against Wake Forest that gave the Deacons a first down inside the red zone. The Seminoles defensive leader has been struggling this season. James is absolutely great, but has yet to show it in 2017. The Seminole defense is allowing 23.3 points per game and they have to get ready for a Miami team coming in averaging 41.3 points per game.
That is enough Florida State talk right? It was exhausting talking about the Seminoles for that long. After seven straight losses, it has to be time. The stars are aligning and it is time for Miami to take back the series against Florida State. I believe that starts on offense for the Hurricanes. Which version of Malik Rosier are we going to see? I hope it is the one we saw in the first quarter against Duke last Friday. In man-to-man coverage, we were too fast and too athletic for Duke and Rosier made some great throws that opened my eyes. When Duke started to bring the pressure in the second quarter, Malik was rattled a bit, but bounced back. He has what it takes. He can make the throws he needs to make to win this game. Rosier is completing 65.6% of his throws, which is much higher than I thought it would coming into this year. All we need to do is bear down on offense a little bit when they start to blitz, which I am sure Florida State will do early.
Mark Walton is NFL-bound and having an amazing year. Against Duke, our offensive line struggled a little bit and that limited his rushing attack. One of Walton’s biggest threats is his ability to make plays in the receiving game out of the backfield. It is almost like an extended run when Rosier throws him that cut route he made out the backfield when he hurdled the Duke defender on his way to a nice gain. Walton is averaging 9.2 yards per carry and 13 yards per catch as the teams third leading receiver. Mark Walton is going to be the biggest factor in the Miami offense. Hopefully his ankle is 100% or pretty close to it. Regardless, Travis Homer is a guy I love as a backup. He has that explosive speed that you would not expect. Homer can burst out of the backfield and in a blink of an eye be 20 yards down the field. Homer has more yards rushing than both Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick with about 15 less carries. I would take our backfield over 100% of the time over the Seminoles backfield.
Ahmonn Richards is back and he picked up right where he left off. He broke out against Duke in his first game back since hurting his hamstring with a couple of great catches, one of them being a 49 yard touchdown. Richards against Tarvarus McFadden is a matchup we, as football fans, should be paying close attention to. That is going to be two great college players and future NFL players going at it in the purest form of competition.
Braxton Berrios is going to have a really good game. Florida State has allowed a receiver to go for over 100 yards in the last two games and I believe Berrios is going to be that guy for Miami. He is Malik Rosier’s favorite receiver and is having a career year as a senior with 192 yards and three touchdowns so far. He called it “inexcusable” that Miami has lost seven straight to Florida State and, as a senior leader on the team, I expect him to do whatever it takes to change that.
A year ago, Florida State only scored 20 points against Miami in a 20-19 game. Dalvin Cook ran for 150 yards and caught a 59 yard touchdown from Deondre Francois. None of those two guys are in this 2017 game against virtually the same defense. If that does not jack you up as a Canes fan, I do not know what will.
I am pumped about what this defense has the opportunity to do on Saturday. Manny Diaz took the gloves off against Duke and showed the nation that this defense is just as good as it was at the end of last year. This same defense (for the most part) watched the game last year slip away because of a blocked extra point. They had it and they know that. RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton have to be salivating while watching tape of what Wake Forest and NC State did to that Seminole offensive line. Shaq Quarterman and Mike Pickney are playing some of their best football as sophomores and are ready for their second go-around with Florida State.
Malek Young, Dee Delaney, Jaquan Johnson, and Sheldrick Redwine are all more than capable of stopping the Florida State passing game. It will be essential for them, along with the linebackers, to stop the screen game. Florida State had a screen go for a touchdown against Wake Forest, but it was called back. They are not going to take many deep shots down the field. If we can handle the short passing game and eliminate it, Florida State is going to be in trouble. They also have the opportunity to give James Blackman his first interception, which I believe will come.
This defense, all together, is just different from what Florida State has faced. I know Manny Diaz has them ready. I know Coach Kool has the defensive line hungry. Mike Rumph has the secondary itching for a turnover. I could not be more excited for this game.
I want to be clear — we need to respect the hell out of Florida State. All of those stats I threw out there are all true, yes. But, in rivalry games all of those numbers get tossed out. We are going to get a different version of Florida State than anybody else has gotten. They are not going to roll over and let Miami hand it to them because they have not been playing well. Everything has to be earned come Saturday and I know what team wants it more. Now it is just time to go out there and play some Miami Hurricane football and break the streak.
Miami has held a lead in the fourth quarter in all of the last three meetings and Florida State has won by a combined ten points in those games. This year, Miami takes the points back and wins this game convincingly. It will not be a blow out by any means. I expect this game to be very close most of the way, but Miami is going to have a defensive touchdown to separate itself from the Seminoles and take full control of the game. Malik Rosier goes for 245 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. James Blackmon does not eclipse 200 yards for the second straight game and has two turnovers, one interception and one fumble while getting sacked by Joe Jackson. Cam Akers leads the Seminoles in rushing and has 90 yards and a touchdown, but it will not be enough. Miami has been ready for this game for weeks now, they had an extra day of rest, and they get it done. The streak is over. Miami moves to 4-0 and Florida State drops to 1-3 for the first time since 1976.
(12) Miami: 30
Florida State: 17