College football came to Miami for the first time this season Saturday night. That is, college football emanating raucous passion, unabashed territoriality and unrelenting noise.
The University of Miami and Florida State played for the 57th time, and it was wonderful to see the host enjoy the full house it deserves but rarely gets these days.
A mosaic of orange, green, garnet and gold replaced too-often empty seats. Students stood for the duration of the game. Faces and torsos were painted. Chants and chops filled the air. Family members sitting adjacent to each other were split by dual allegiances.
On the field, there were audible hits and neighborly hugs between boyhood friends. Fumbles and penalties aplenty. A field-goal attempt curled wide left.
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By the time everybody exhaled, Florida State had broken away for a 33-20 victory for its sixth win in the past eight meetings. UM holds a 31-26 advantage in the series.
UM entered the game a 20-point underdog to the No. 12 Seminoles. But with quarterbacks Stephen Morris and EJ Manuel off target and under pressure, FSU running back Chris Thompson out early with an injury and UM’s Duke Johnson unable to get uncorked, this contest was closer than expected. Defense dominated, unlike some of the classics of the 1980s and 1990s that had the scoreboard scrolling like a slot machine. Through three quarters, FSU led 16-13 and each team had scored only one touchdown.
FSU overpowered the weary Hurricanes in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns from Devonta Freeman, who went to Central.
The swing state was swinging and spectators loved it. UM got to experience the electricity that energizes most major programs every week — from the Big House to The Swamp to Death Valley.
An exuberant fan got so carried away that in the middle of an FSU pass play, he dashed onto the field at the 50-yard line, ran untouched toward the UM end zone, pulling off his orange shirt along the way. He eluded one security guard, got tackled by another, then was hustled into the tunnel by two state troopers.
The rivalry between Miami and Florida State — that began in 1951 when Harry S. Truman was president and A Streetcar Named Desire was the hot movie — always delivers. Something bizarre happens. Prior to Saturday, FSU’s 45-17 win in 2010 is the only game in the past 10 meetings not decided by one score. Both teams have better records against each other when they’re on the road.
“They wore us down because we weren’t converting on third down — only 25 percent on the day,” UM coach Al Golden said. “We played hard, but they are a better team.”
Saturday’s game had Atlantic Coast Conference ramifications. UM and FSU each had one loss in the jumbled and weak conference and now, even at 4-4 and 3-2, UM still has a chance to advance to the championship game. Also at stake, the recruiting edge for coaches Golden and Jimbo Fisher.
The halftime ceremony in honor of the 1987 Canes, who beat Oklahoma for the national title, brought back memories of the glory days of a matchup that featured an incredible run of excellence and consistency — what other state can compare?
For seven consecutive seasons, 1987 through 1993, both teams were in the top 10 when they played each other; four times, each in the top five.
FSU’s first play from scrimmage set the stage for this edition, when FSU tight end Nick O’Leary was slammed in midair by linebacker Denzel Perryman and Jimmy Gaines recovered the fumble, giving UM a first down at the FSU 22-yard line.
FSU kept losing the football, usually because the hard-hitting Hurricanes wanted it more. Eddie Johnson, Deon Bush, Tyrone Cornileus and Brandon McGee separated Seminoles from the ball and their senses.
But in the end, UM couldn’t capitalize on FSU’s mistakes.
It is said that the farther north you travel in Florida, the more Southern it gets, and vice versa. Part of the charm of the rivalry is that the state capital and the state’s largest metropolis are such disparate places.
School pride brought both together for the 57th time.
“Dadgummit if it wasn’t another barn burner,” Bobby Bowden used to say.
Or at least tense enough to cause a good sweat.