No. 12 Miami Ready for Rival Seminoles

by David Villavicencio

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need anyone to tell you what week it is.

The annual meeting between storied college football powers Miami and Florida State has arrived. The No. 12 Hurricanes will square off against the rival Seminoles for the 65th time in their history and all eyes will be on Hard Rock Stadium when the ball kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in a game that will be broadcast in primetime on ABC.

“Hey, it’s Miami-Florida State,” head coach Manny Diaz said following UM’s victory over Louisville. “It doesn’t matter what the records are, we always know that’s a huge weekend and our players understand what’s on the line when Florida State comes to town.”

Adding to the excitement, ESPN’s College GameDay will be live from Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday morning – marking the eighth time the show has been to a Miami vs. Florida State game and the second straight week The U is featured in the premier game on ABC.

“I thought Louisville had a really good atmosphere. I suspect it’ll be a little juicier than it was for the UAB game,” Diaz said. “I will say this, the fans that go, we need them, because I do think it felt like a game at Louisville on Saturday night, big-time atmosphere Saturday night, the ABC national telecast. However many they let in … or however they get there, as long as they stay distant, wear a mask and make all the noise they can, I think it will benefit our team.”

Despite the hype surrounding the game, the Canes are not letting any outside distractions change their focus ahead of the annual rivalry contest.

“It’s a primetime game, but we see it as just another game, another game that we’ve got to prepare for, that we’ve got to come to play, so that’s what we’re going to do,” cornerback DJ Ivey said.

The Hurricanes carry a 34-30 all-time series lead against the Seminoles into Saturday, but trail by a 20-17 mark in games in Miami / Miami Gardens. Miami has won three straight rivalry matchups against Florida State, including a commanding 27-10 decision on the road in the 2019 showdown.

In the most recent matchup at Hard Rock Stadium in 2018, the Hurricanes overcame a 20-point second-half deficit to capture a 28-27 victory. The Hurricanes have not won four straight against Florida State since a stretch of winning six straight games over their rivals from 2000-2004.

"As a Hurricane you come here and this is one of the biggest, if not the most important game of the season. When you leave here everybody's always going to ask you what was your record against Florida State.”

Al Blades Jr.

Veteran Canes know they would not be in position to try and win a fourth consecutive rivalry meeting without the leaders like Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney that guided them early in their careers.

“I don’t think we would be anything without the older guys that came before us,” safety Amari Carter said. “I was a part of that freshman class that ended the streak of seven with Florida State winning, but it was the older guys that really held it down and they showed us the ropes. Ever since then, we’ve just been trying to keep the streak going. The credit shouldn’t go to people like me. It should go to like the people that came before us like Quan, Red all those guys on offense, Shaq, Pinck, all those guys on the d-line from my freshman year and sophomore year. Yeah, we did it, but they started it.”

Carter is one of many Canes who grew up surrounded by the rivalry. A native of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., he was exposed to the mutual disdain the Hurricanes and Seminoles share at an early age, but he grew up rooting against his current team.

“Growing up, it’s crazy because I was on the other side of the game, but I didn’t know any better,” Carter said. “My mom went to Florida State, my uncle went to Florida State and I had cousins that went to Florida State. All of that ended when I came to Miami. The whole family went to Florida State, but they’re rooting for me.”

Legacy Hurricanes like Al Blades Jr., know exactly what Saturday’s game means. Heading into his third matchup against the Noles, the junior cornerback wants to continue the success that his father, Al, and uncles, Bennie and Brian, established before him.

“As a Hurricane you come here and this is one of the biggest, if not the most important game of the season,” Blades said. “When you leave here everybody’s always going to ask you what was your record against Florida State.”

New Canes like quarterback D’Eriq King and Jaelan Phillips are heading into their first UM-FSU rivalry tilt and both players cannot wait to play in the historic series.

“One of the first things when I came to Miami was that Manny Diaz told me and the rest of my teammates is that when you come to Miami you know the one thing that everybody cares about when you leave Miami is what’s your record against FSU,” Phillips said. “To be able to play FSU and being a part of that storied tradition, I think is an amazing opportunity and I can’t wait to step on that field. I think the energy is going to be electric. Having this win [against Louisville] is definitely going to give us some momentum, but we’ve got to prepare for FSU just like anybody else, just like any other week, but it’s definitely a big week for us.”

For King, the rivalry is nothing new. The dual-threat standout QB learned under one of the central figures in this notable feud.

“It’s a big game. I know it’s a big thing in Florida and honestly everywhere in the country,” King said. “I played for Charlie Ward in high school, so he was my high school coach for a little bit, and he used to talk about it all the time. I know it’s a big week for everybody and I’m grateful to be part of it.”

Even Hurricanes who hail from as far as Las Vegas know the magnitude of lining up across from the archrival Seminoles.

“The Florida State game is always so fun,” tight end Brevin Jordan said. “No matter how good they are, how bad they are, how good we are, how bad we are, it’s always going to come down to the fourth quarter. Coach Diaz just hinted at it, ‘Fifty years from now, people are going to ask hey did you beat Florida State? What was your record against Florida State? So, I’m so excited.”

While Jordan has played a key role in Miami’s last two victories over the Seminoles, safety Bubba Bolden, a fellow Las Vegas native, got his first taste of the rivalry in 2019 and he is locked in to make a difference again in 2020.

“The coaches always say this is the biggest game of the year, no matter what, no matter who we’re playing, this is our rivalry,” Bolden said. “Last year I saw a lot of tension between both teams. A lot of players from both sides know each other; they grew up with each other. I’m kind of new to all of it. I’m not from Florida or this area, so I just come out here and kind of go with the flow of everything, maintain focus and just play.”

While the Seminoles are coming off a tough opening week loss to Georgia Tech, they will certainly enter Hard Rock Stadium hungry for a victory on Saturday night. But veterans like Carter and Blades are focused on making sure the Hurricanes stick to the game plan because that is the best way to come out victorious.

“Something that we always recognized and something we were always told is ‘the team that goes in together, plays together and plays for the team is the team that comes out with the victory.’ That’s something that we emphasize all the time here at Miami,” Carter said. “It’s about trust, trusting the guy next to you and just playing for each other – not for yourself and not selfish – but playing for the team.”

“It’s our job to make sure we prepare as well as we can and come out and dominate because this game is one where everyone’s edge, everyone’s emotions are higher than they need to be,” Blades added. “But we’ve got to also make sure we stay in line and come out and just be prepared and ready to dominate.”

“Growing up, all I knew was the Miami Hurricanes and that they don't lose to Florida State. That's all coach Diaz preached. We don't lose to Florida State and we're going to continue to beat Florida State. I'm 2-0 and I plan to be 4-0.” 

DJ Ivey

Domination is a central theme surrounding the Hurricanes. The phrase goes back to the early 2000s, when former All-American and team captain Joaquin Gonzalez used to break the huddle with a loud “DOMINATE” chant. That chant was made famous when legendary safety and current UM chief of staff Ed Reed mentioned it during a passionate halftime speech at Doak Campbell Stadium in 2001 and the goal remains the same for the Hurricanes nearly 20 years later.

“The main thing is dominate,” freshman Jaylan Knighton said. “I know I was committed there, but that’s not my home anymore. I’m at the University of Miami, so just go in the game and dominate.”

With a new coaching staff at the helm, the Seminoles feature a new scheme and have plenty of talent to run it. Florida State is also coming off a bye week, giving them extra time to prepare for their annual showdown with the Canes.

“They have a lot of talented dudes on the offensive side of the ball,” Ivey said. “We just got to come out and play like Miami Hurricanes. We’ve just got to come out and play ball.”

The biggest name on the Seminoles’ offense is wide receiver Tamorrion Terry. A preseason All-ACC pick, Terry is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list and poses a big threat to the Hurricanes, as the 6-foot-4, 215-pound wideout is blessed with a rare combination of size and speed that can make a major impact on a game.

“His size is a big key,” Bolden said. “What he likes to do is get downfield. A lot of his routes, a lot of his touchdowns have come off deep routes, so that would be a big thing for us safeties and our corners trying to key in on him and not giving up any deep routes. He’s a good player, he’s got good size, good speed, so we’ve got to lock in.”

Offensively, Miami has been potent in its first two games. The Canes have posted consecutive games with nearly 500 yards of total offense and have shown an ability to succeed both on the ground and in the passing game.

Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has experience going against FSU DC Adam Fuller after facing him last season while the two coaches were at their previous schools. Lashlee believes that prior knowledge will help him prepare the Canes for their primetime matchup against the new Florida State defense.

“Familiar with the defensive coordinator, we played him last year at SMU, he was at Memphis,” Lashlee said of Fuller. “He brings a lot of pressure. Their defensive front, they’re long, big. Their interior guys are really good, by far the best front we’ve seen so far. Their linebackers are big. On the back end, they have guys with confidence. We have our work cut out for us. They’ve had two weeks [with the bye]. We’ll have to execute at a high level.”

Both teams are familiar with each other and both know what a win on Saturday could do for their program and their season. The Hurricanes, who have won three straight against the Seminoles, are focused on extending their winning streak one more year.

“Growing up, all I knew was the Miami Hurricanes and that they don’t lose to Florida State,” Ivey said. “That’s all coach Diaz preached. We don’t lose to Florida State and we’re going to continue to beat Florida State. I’m 2-0 and I plan to be 4-0.”

“It’s the game we must win in Miami,” King said. “This game is going to follow you your whole life, so it’s a big week for us.”