As the Miami Hurricanes prepared for their Atlantic Coast Coference opener on Thursday against North Carolina, a game that would eventually be a 47-10 thrashing in UM’s favor, Miami coach Mark Richt noticed something different about his team.
“We felt that we saw a little bit of a different energy level even on the short week with our guys knowing that it was a conference game and what was at stake,” Richt said.
There should be no problem seeing a high energy level again this weekend.
That’s because Saturday isn’t just another ACC game. It’s also the Hurricanes’ annual matchup with in-state rival Florida State, which Miami defeated 24-20 last season in Tallahassee on a last-second touchdown catch by then-freshman Darrell Langham. The win last year snapped UM’s seven-game losing streak in the series.
A win at Hard Rock Stadium for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff has more meaning that just giving the Canes their second consecutive victory over FSU. It would make them 2-0 in conference play in a topsy-turvy ACC Coastal division that feels essentially up for grabs.
It would also keep the Hurricanes (4-1, 1-0 ACC) heading in the right direction as they attempt to reach the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte for the second consecutive year and keep their outside hopes of a College Football Playoff berth alive. After dropping their season opener to now-No. 5 LSU, Miami has won its last four against Savannah State, Toledo, FIU and North Carolina by a combined score of 204-51.
The defense continues to lead the country in tackles for loss (60) and third-down defense (opponents convert on just 17.14 percent of their attempts). Miami also leads the ACC in scoring (44.2 points per game).
“As a team we feel like we can play with anybody,” running back Deejay Dallas said. “We feel like we can beat anybody. We always talk about running the table. The first game stung us and we came back, and came back hungry. So shoot, I just think we can beat anybody.”
But don’t underestimate the Seminoles. While FSU (3-2, 1-2 ACC) has gone through their lumps under first-year coach Willie Taggart, they put it all together on Saturday in a come-from-behind victory against Louisville. Deondre Francois threw a career-high four touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Nyqwan Murray with 1:13 left to play.
“These games always turn into a dogfight, whether you blow them out in the end or not,” defensive lineman Joe Jackson said. “These rivalry games always happen to be a dogfight. So we’ve got to come prepared and make sure we don’t have any self-inflicted wounds.”
Especially given the state of the ACC Coastal, where Miami and Virginia Tech are the only remaining teams undefeated in conference play heading into this week.
Virginia Tech, which two weeks ago lost to Old Dominion of the Conference-USA, pulled off the 31-14 upset on the road over then-undefeated Duke in the Blue Devils’ conference opener. It also has a season-opening 24-3 win over FSU. The Hokies host Notre Dame this week in a primetime matchup.
As for the rest of the division:
▪ Virginia is 1-1 in league play, with a win over Louisville (27-3) and a loss to NC State (35-21).
▪ Pittsburgh is 1-1, with a win over Georgia Tech (24-19) and a loss to North Carolina (38-35).
▪ UNC is 1-1, with the win over Pittsburgh and loss to Miami.
▪ Georgia Tech is 0-2, with losses to Pittsburgh and Clemson (49-21).
“That goal of making it to Charlotte again is very real,” Richt said, “and it means a lot.”
The next team in Miami’s way is Florida State.