University of Miami

After stormy week, all clear for UM-FSU football showdown at Hard Rock Stadium

Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) sets up to pass in the first quarter as Florida State University hosts the University of Miami at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee on Saturday, October 10, 2015.
Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) sets up to pass in the first quarter as Florida State University hosts the University of Miami at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee on Saturday, October 10, 2015. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Miami-Florida State week didn’t need a bona fide hurricane to elevate the drama.

But that’s what it got.

So, the usual distractions provided by social media and bulletin board material during the days leading up to one of college football’s storied rivalries were overshadowed by a hurricane named Matthew and each team’s logistics around it.

In the end, the game will prevail.

But will the Hurricanes?

“It’s a grudge match. It’s a rivalry. It’s everything in the book,’’ said freshman linebacker Shaquille Quarterman last Saturday, before coach Mark Richt muzzled the emotive, albeit sincere, youngest Hurricanes from talking this week. “This is going to be a hard-fought game beginning to end.”

At 8 p.m. Saturday on ABC, the nation will begin to learn whether Miami (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is worthy of its No. 10 ranking as it faces the No. 23 Seminoles (3-2, 0-2) at Hard Rock Stadium.

UM has lost the last six games to FSU, though the Hurricanes lead the series, which began in 1951, 31-29. The last time the Canes won was in 2009 at Tallahassee. The last time they won at home was in 2004, a 16-10 overtime victory.

Now under a new coaching regime led by former Hurricane quarterback and former FSU offensive coordinator Richt, the Hurricanes are ranked higher than FSU for the first time in this rivalry since 2010.

“Mutual respect,’’ Richt said of the rivalry and his memories. “We knew, and I say we, when I was at Florida State as a coach, we knew Miami was the real deal, and I think Miami knew Florida State was as well.

“Florida State at one time was dominating the ACC. Miami was dominating the Big East, and Florida was dominating the SEC…So between those three teams, somebody was going to the national championship game. …It was something to behold.’’

Players from one of those national title teams – the 1991 Hurricanes – will celebrate their 25th anniversary at the game. Most of them are not as diplomatic as Richt.

After UM beat Georgia Tech on Oct. 1, 2016, Mark Richt warned that one day his talented freshmen are going to face adversity and he's waiting to see how they react

“Wow. 25 years ago we won a championship in 1991,’’ former All-American offensive lineman and three-time national champ Leon Searcy tweeted. “Can’t wait to see all the fellas this weekend as we celebrate by beating FSU.’’

Not so fast! ESPN College GameDay host Lee Corso might say.

In 2013, the No. 7 Hurricanes and No. 3 Seminoles were each 7-0 coming into the game. But the third-ranked Seminoles crushed Miami 41-14 in Tally.

In 2014, the then-defending national champion Noles were 9-0 when they met unranked 6-3 Miami at Sun Life Stadium. UM led by 13 points at halftime and by six points after three quarters, giving up a touchdown to Miami Central High’s Dalvin Cook with 3:05 remaining for the eventual 30-26 victory.

Last season, Cook ran for 222 yards and two touchdowns – including the game winner with 6:44 left – on a bum hamstring to lead FSU to a 29-24 win at Doak Campbell Stadium.

“It feels different all week,’’ Cook told reporters in Tallahassee on Monday. “This is Miami week, man. It don’t get no bigger than this.

“This is one of the games we came to Florida State to play in. We’re going to take full advantage of it. …When you step in that stadium, man, it’s something you can’t explain.”

The Seminoles, also led by freshman quarterback Deondre Francois (1,323 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions) are coming off a last-second loss to North Carolina, which kicked a 54-yard field goal to win. They also fell to now-No. 7 Louisville 63-20 Sept. 17. Their wins are against Ole Miss, Charleston Southern and USF – significantly tougher than UM’s schedule to this point.

The Canes, led by junior quarterback Brad Kaaya (935 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions) and tailbacks Mark Walton and Joe Yearby (combined 766 yards, 13 touchdowns) have defeated Florida A&M, FAU, Appalachian State and Georgia Tech.

This game is being viewed by most as the indicator of whether these Canes are for real.

“I’m just going to treat it like another game,’’ insisted freshman linebacker Michael Pinckney last Saturday. “I can’t get too excited because when you get too excited you try to do things differently.’’

Pinckney was asked what kind of statement beating Florida State would make after six consecutive losses.

“If you don’t beat Florida State you’re nobody at Miami,’’ Pinckney said he has been told by “everybody.’’

“You know what I’m saying? Because that’s your rival game. That can dictate your season – you had an alright season [or] you had a great season. We want to have a great season and we’re trying to get a championship.”

Cook said the idea of Miami winning Saturday “just irks my nerves.’’

“That’s my hometown,’’ he said. “We’re going to do everything in our power and prepare as much as we’ve got to, to go down there and get that W.’’

W or L in the end, both teams will play in what is forecast to be favorable weather conditions: temperatures in the mid-to-low 80s at kickoff, with no rain expected.

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