Back Familiarity Breeds Florida State-Miami Rivalry

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Familiarity Breeds Florida State-Miami Rivalry

By Carlos Pineda
SouthernPigskin.com
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As is the case every year when Florida State clashes with Miami on the gridiron, hurricane warning flags hang from the observation tower overlooking the FSU practice fields to signify the arrival of the big rivalry game.

As is the case every year when Florida State clashes with Miami on the gridiron, hurricane warning flags hang from the observation tower overlooking the FSU practice fields to signify the arrival of the big rivalry game.

The importance of this series goes without saying. Two of college football's elite teams. Miami and Florida State have combined to win eight national titles, five Heisman trophies, and produced countless players to the NFL. Players on both sides playing with and against high school teammates.

Though the national attention has waned due to the season-ending injury of quarterback Deondre Francois, coupled with FSU's unexpected 1-2 start, and a fall from the top 25, plenty of college football fans will still tune in to watch one of college football's most intense rivalries Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET.

As the road favorite, the 13th-ranked Hurricanes heads into Tallahassee winners of eight straight games and desperate to avoid an eighth consecutive loss to the Seminoles. Fresh off of a sound 31-6 win at Duke last Friday, Miami is looking for its first win against the Noles since 2009.

The 2009 win was also the last time the Hurricanes have won in Doak Campbell Stadium. Both teams combined to score 72 points in a back-and-forth game that came down to an instant replay ruling FSU's winning touchdown was not a catch after all. The Hurricanes, behind Jacory Harris's 386 yards and two touchdowns, along with Travis Benjamin's 128 receiving yards, survived in Doak on Labor Day to win 38-34.

The Noles have dominated the series since, although Miami has come up close in a few encounters, including last year's disappointing 20-19 loss. The Canes had scored the would be tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but a blocked extra point sealed the deal giving FSU the one-point win on the road.

Miami hangs on to a slim 31-30 record in the series, but FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has had a stranglehold against his two Florida rivals. Fisher is a combined 13-1 against the Hurricanes and Gators.

Mark Richt, the second-year Miami makes his first return to Doak Campbell Stadium in 17 years. Richt had spent 15 years as an assistant coach under legendary head coach Bobby Bowden. As quarterback coach and then offensive coordinator, he was there during the height of FSU's success, coaching two Heisman winners, Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke, and winning two championships in 1993 and 1999.

With Richt as head coach, Miami fans are hopeful that he can restore UM to previous glory and return to national championship contention.

That next step begins Saturday afternoon. The national media has been raving about Miami as of late, impressed with how ferocious its defense has looked and how explosive the offense has been, especially against the Blue Devils in the conference opener.

On offense, quarterback Malik Rosier has really come into his own. He leads all ACC QBs in pass efficiency, and has thrown for eight touchdowns compared to two interceptions so far. The offense jumped out to a quick two-touchdown lead in Durham on the way to a 25-point win, with Rosier throwing for 270 yards and two scores. Receiver Braxton Berrios has been Rosier's most reliable target. The senior has already surpassed his 2016 production, leading the receivers with 10 receptions for 192 yards and three touchdowns. By comparison, he had 12 catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games last year.

In his return to action last Friday, Ahmmon Richards had three catches for 106 yards and a 49-yard touchdown versus Duke. As a freshman in 2016, Richards amassed 934 receiving yards to break the UM freshman receiving record (840) previously held by Hall of Famer Michael Irivn.

When talking about the ACC's top scoring offense, you can't go any further without mentioning the league's top rusher. Mark Walton has had a hot start for the Hurricanes. He has rushed for 403 yards in three games, and his 134.3 yards per game is fifth best in the nation. Walton is the only returning rusher in the ACC to have gained 1,000 yards in 2016.

Without a doubt, FSU is the toughest defense Miami has faced all season. The Noles rank 15th nationally with eight tackles-for-loss per game. Linebacker Matthew Thomas leads the team with 20 tackles. The secondary is top notch with Tarvarus McFadden and Derwin James.

One aspect that the Hurricanes will no longer have to worry about is former FSU running back Dalvin Cook. The Miami native tortured his hometown team for three consecutive seasons. In 2014, Cook scored the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter after Florida State overcame a 23-7 deficit. In 2015, he rushed for 222 yards in FSU's five-point win, and last year, he had 209 total yards against the Hurricanes.

Dating back to 1988, the team that rushes the most yards has won 22 of 30 games.

Things have been rather rough in Tallahassee over the past two weeks. Fans have been grumbling since FSU's loss to N.C. State two weeks ago. The situation appeared worse last week against Wake Forest as it looked like they were about to start the season 0-3. The Noles may have pulled off the miracle win against the Demon Deacons, but the feeling is things could go south in hurry now that playing for a national championship is out of the picture, and winning the ACC is likely out of the question seeing how good Clemson has looked so far. Fans are certainly frustrated with the realization that those goals are no longer within reach this early in the season.

There's no denying FSU's offensive line has been one of the team's glaring weaknesses. It's even more alarming when your quarterback is a freshman replacing the starting quarterback due to injury. That being said, the Noles will have their hands full facing Miami's defensive front.

But there were some bright moments last Saturday. Receiver Auden Tate hauled in the winning 40-yard touchdown pass with 53 seconds left in the game. He has now caught a touchdown pass in three straight games. Running back Jacques Patrick produced his third career 100-yard rushing game, carrying the ball 19 times for 120 yards and a touchdown.

Freshman quarterback James Blackman is looking to become the sixth consecutive FSU QB to beat Miami in his first attempt as a starter. The streak dates back to Christian Ponder in 2008.

Bragging rights is the first thing up for grabs in a rivalry game. For Miami, the game serves as a measuring stick. Their hopes of playing in their first ACC championship game take shape in Tallahassee. For Florida State, its about persevering and avoiding any sort of collapse the rest of the way.

Miami-Florida State has produced so many memorable moments. Here's hoping Saturday produces many more.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.