Last year, receivers Braxton Berrios and Darrell Langham — not to mention quarterback Malik Rosier— were the heroes in the Hurricanes’ 24-20 victory over Florida State with six seconds left.
Today, at 3:30 p.m., the UM-FSU rivalry that began in 1951 continues at Hard Rock Stadium, with the No. 17 Canes (4-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) trying to beat FSU (3-2, 1-2) at home for the first time in 14 years.
Berrios, expected at the game today, is now on injured reserve for the New England Patriots. Langham, who caught the game-winning touchdown, is a redshirt senior who could see more action today than the couple plays he was in last year at Tallahassee.
And Rosier, a redshirt senior, is now the backup to redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry, who made his first college start last week against North Carolina.
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The stakes are high for both teams.
To me, the key, as it usually is, will be the front lines on offense and defense. UM’s offensive line will be tested the most it has been since the opening night loss to LSU, when Rosier was the quarterback. FSU always has great athletes on defense, and the Canes need to protect Perry and open holes for DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer.
I have more faith that UM’s defensive line can penetrate the Seminoles’ O-line, which has been its weakness but allowed no sacks last week and is being fortified by players who were previously out. If the Canes can force a turnover early, the can might open with it.
Remember that final drive last year in Tally? Berrios had two clutch third-down catches from Rosier: the first one a 17-yarder at third-and-10 from the UM 25; the next one an 11-yarder at third-and-10 from the Florida State 34-yard line that set up Langham’s 23-yard touchdown.
Berrios also scored two touchdowns against FSU last year.
I could see 5-9, 175-pound slot receiver Mike Harley and/or 5-10, 180-pound Jeff Thomas coming through big today.
Harley, who caught nine passes for 91 yards all last season, already has a team-leading 15 catches for 173 yards after five games this season.
Thomas, who also returns punts and kickoffs, has 13 catches for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
UM coach Mark Richt spoke to Joe Rose on WQAM this week about both slot men excelling.
“Some of it is just that Berrios is gone and now they’re getting reps in that inside slot position,’’ Richt explained. “Harley and Jeff were playing a little bit more outside last year because Berrios was kind of taking care of business inside.
“So now we’ve go them inside at that spot and they both do that extremely well.
“Harley really kind of broke out when Jeff got dehydrated in the one ball game [FIU] and had to go out earlier in the game and then all of a sudden all the routes that were normally where Jeff would be, Harley was getting them all and he was making plays.”
Coaches have not made it a secret that they “love’’ Harley’s tenacity and work ethic.
“He’s a machine as far as a blocker,’’ Richt said. “You wouldn’t think so, but he’s by far the best blocker we got in the perimeter. It’s because he’s tenacious, because he cares. I mean, he’ll get in somebody and he’ll run his feet on contact and when the guy tries to get off the block he’ll accelerate those feet and then he’ll bury the guy. Those guys get so mad at him.
‘How’s this little guy just wearing me out?’
“It’s because he’s tenacious.”
Richt said the receivers as a group, however, did not block particularly well last week against North Carolina.
“There were some embarrassing moments,’’ the coach told WQAM. “There were a couple plays that guys just didn’t do what we normally do that would have sprung a guy for touchdowns.... We gotta block better in the perimeter on a more consistent basis. There were moments, and there are a few guys that will do it every time, but we struggled a little bit there.
“...[Receivers] coach Ron Dugans is going to get those boys straight.”
My prediction: Canes 31, Seminoles 24.