Greg Cote

Greg Cote: FSU shows its champion’s pedigree in win over UM

UM’s Jermaine Grace gets the ball stripped by FSU’s Tyler Hunter in the third quarter at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, November 15, 2014.
UM’s Jermaine Grace gets the ball stripped by FSU’s Tyler Hunter in the third quarter at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, November 15, 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

We have seen this movie before, right? The way it ends. How it ends.

We have seen Jameis Winston, down and doubted — then delivering. Again.

We have seen Florida State, flailing and trailing — then winning. Again.

Give the Seminoles more credit than you give the Miami Hurricanes blame for what happened here Saturday night at Dolphins stadium.

Champions happened.

No.2-ranked and unbeaten FSU escaped 30-26, never leading in the game until only 3:05 was left in it. Miami dominated in the first half, dreaming of an upset, the Noles’ perfect record in peril and the sold-out stadium coursing electric, but the Canes would manage only three points in the second half.

It was a terrific game, even as the ending might leave UM fans arguing the suggestion.

You can yak all you want about how FSU supposedly isn’t as dominant or as good as it was last season in winning it all, and you might be right. But the Noles’ nation-leading winning streak just grew to 26 games in this come-from-behind victory and, strange as it seems to say, this now 10-0 team deserves more respect than it gets.

Here was the difference Saturday:

One team is the national champion until somebody else proves it isn’t.

The other team is still learning how to be that again.

UM is getting there, but it is not there yet.

Brad Kaaya outplayed Winston for much of the night (and finished with more yards, 316 to 304).

The UM defense outplayed Winston for much of the night, too. That was even more impressive.

And Duke Johnson rolled to 130 rushing yards, his sixth consecutive game in triple figures.

The combination of all of that was enough to give Miami a fighting chance at an upset that would have shaken up the College Football Playoff picture and vaulted Miami into the national polls.

Instead, FSU won the second half, 20-3, and won the game when Dalvin Cook dashed 26 yards through missed tackles with three minutes left to make the final score.

UM had a chance for late heroics, but Kaaya’s desperation fourth-and-9 pass from the FSU 43 was intercepted with 39 seconds left — the masses in garnet and gold exalting as the fans in orange and green began their trudge to the parking lots.

Miami came that close to fashioning one of the biggest, loudest, most memorable football nights in Hurricanes history — and the best one in a very long time.

Miami came that close to celebrating again, two nights after the Dolphins had beaten Buffalo in the same stadium to keep playoff hopes alive.

“The Canes are back!”

You know that’s what Miami fans were poised to exclaim for so much of this game. When does a UM fan get to finally say that? To shout it and honestly believe it and know it with certainty?

This would have been a huge move in that direction. I’m not sure exactly what “back” even means anymore. Maybe the bar is so high here it will mean a sixth national championship and first since 2001. I do know that whatever “back” is or how you get there, it must start with nights like Saturday.

I mean winning them, not almost.

Miami had a chance to make a national declaration, to tell college football that if The U isn’t back all the way, it is on the way. It has found the map. The map is in the hands of Kaaya, the true-freshman marvel.

That’s all still true. But letting this one slip accentuated that work remains. It underlined that a power shift in the ACC, the strength moving south from Tallahassee, isn’t happening just yet.

“It’s an enormous opportunity to prove something to the world,” Kid Kaaya had said in the buildup to these rivals’ 59th meeting.

It was almost done. The opportunity almost taken.

“A lot of people doubted,” Kaaya had said before this night. “I’m sure a lot of people still continue to, and they have great reason to.”

Some of those doubts were swept away Saturday even in defeat. So much of the reason to doubt was, as well.

Yet the bottom line always is harsh, and it indicates Miami just lost a fifth consecutive game to its ACC and state rival. And that UM has not celebrated a home win over FSU since 2004. (The Canes, now 6-4, also were vanquished from contention to reach the ACC Championship Game.)

This was the signature victory waiting to happen for coach Al Golden in his fourth UM season.

That wait goes on.

UM has more than just Winston and FSU’s championship mettle to blame. The Canes were far from perfect Saturday. They lost two fumbles, the second when driving for breathing room, the lead a nervous 23-17. Miami also missed an extra point and missed a short field goal before that late interception.

With these mistakes the Canes played the young team still learning to win, while the Seminoles perfected the art of doing whatever it must to do so.

Still, in Kaaya’s hands UM’s future is rising.

That shone through Saturday even as one of the great nights in Hurricanes history lapsed late into disappointment.

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