Miami in the AP Top Ten and Florida State scrambling to catch up is just plain weird.
This is not how we’ve come to know this red-eyed rivalry in recent years. FSU, a national championship team just three years ago and No. 2 in the national rankings last month, has a six-game win streak going against the Hurricanes.
It would be a mistake, however, to flip the switch mentally before Saturday night’s game has even been played. Too much talent on both sides. Too much temptation to look at the Seminoles 0-2 record in the ACC, including a 63-20 humiliation at Louisville, and see a total collapse.
Jimbo Fisher’s pendulum doesn’t swing nearly that far, and it never will as long as he keeps bringing in elite recruiting classes, including steals from the Miami area like running back Dalvin Cook. Matter of fact, it was a 45-17 blowout of the Hurricanes in 2010 that really got Jimbo rolling in his first year as Bobby Bowden’s replacement in Tallahassee.
Similar circumstances, too, because that game at what used to be called Sun Life Stadium is the last time Miami was ranked higher than FSU at the time of their meeting.
“They had a good team and we had a good team but we went down and really ran the ball well that day and we played good defense,” Fisher said. “It was a really good win for us and helped us to keep pushing the program forward to where we’ve gotten it now.”
Simply stated, simply done, but thing have gotten a lot more confusing for FSU of late, and sloppy defense is the biggest reason. Miami has a real edge there, and a ton of momentum built on a 4-0 start against lesser opponents. The Hurricanes have not trailed in any game at any point this season, and Boise State is the only other team in FBS that can say that.
If Richt needs to win in a shootout Saturday night, he’s got the right quarterback in Brad Kaaya, a junior who already ranks fifth on Miami’s career passing list.
Jimbo’s guy, redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, has far less experience, but already he’s been through a lot. His first start was a crazy 22-point comeback, the largest in school history, against Ole Miss. Last week, too, Francois put the Seminoles ahead of North Carolina on a touchdown run with 23 seconds to play, a lead that ultimately didn’t last.
In other words, there’s a bit of Jameis Winston in this kid.
“He (Francois) is a great athlete who can pass the ball well,” Richt said. “I’ve seen him throw some balls that were super impressive on the run and from the pocket. Quick-gain screens, quarterback run stuff, and then just creating on his own when nothing’s there in the pass game.”
Richt knows this rivalry as well as anyone. He was Bowden’s right-hand man at FSU for more than a decade prior to getting his first head coaching job at Georgia. He’s got a calm, measured approach to this challenge and every other and it seems to be rubbing off on the Hurricanes.
During post-practice interviews Wednesday, just before the Miami campus was closed in preparation for Hurricane Matthew’s approach, the famous Hurricane swagger was missing. The handful of players made available to reporters spoke softly and with the same clichés about preparation and execution that got rolled out earlier for Florida A&M, FAU and Appalachian State.
“We don’t need no motivation,” said defensive lineman Chad Thomas, “Just go out there and work hard, listen to what our coaches are saying and stay in the playbook. That’s our motivation right there.”
Ugh, and it got worse, with defensive back Corn Elder saying “Honestly, you know, it’s just another game. Another day to get better.”
You know better than that. Miami is looking to end a humiliating streak against FSU, and to set up another showdown next week against North Carolina, the biggest obstacle between the Hurricanes and their first-ever ACC Coastal title.
If the Hurricanes can cut it loose, feeding on whatever energy remains in the sellout crowd after a week of storm anxiety, I think Miami will win, something like 33-26.
Just don’t dismiss the Jimbo effect so quickly. He hasn’t lost back-to-back games at FSU since 2011, and he hasn’t lost to Miami ever.