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Miami Hurricanes

FSU-Miami marked more by desperation recently than aspiration

Matt Zemek

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Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

The Hurricane winds of change keep whipping through the Miami-Florida State rivalry.

Over the past decade and a half, this rivalry has had a difficult time deciding what it wants to be. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself; rivalries gain texture when the two teams involved are constantly changing. It is fascinating to see how one team fares as a favorite and then as an underdog. It is revealing to see bitter rivals in various contexts and conditions: Who enjoys playing with house money and who can carry the pressure of being the heavyweight? Viewed through that lens, this rivalry enters a new chapter this year, with Miami being the heavy favorite and Florida State stumbling through the darkness, trying to find more light.

Yet, while it will certainly be fun to see Miami play the role of the team expected to win — and FSU in the underdog’s chair — there is a larger story attached to this game which isn’t very happy. In the big picture, the 2018 edition of Hurricanes-Seminoles does represent a step back for this rivalry. Desperation, not aspiration, lies at the center of this clash which once crowned national champions and sent shockwaves through the rest of the college football world.

Two years ago, Florida State — though not at its 2013-2014 peak under Jimbo Fisher — was still good enough to make and win the Orange Bowl. Last year, Miami’s win over Florida State and subsequent ACC Coastal championship, complete with an Orange Bowl appearance of its own, announced that The U was back — maybe not permanently, but at least for the time being. The past two years brought these storied programs closer to the vision ACC Commissioner John Swofford had when he brought Miami into the conference: Florida State and The U, playing for high stakes each year.

The ACC always counted on the idea that FSU and Miami would take what they had from 1987 through 2001 and carry it into the new league. Yet, the golden days of their rivalry ended in the 2004 Orange Bowl, just before Miami moved from the Big East to expand the ACC’s football footprint. A total of 13 ACC Championship Games have been played, and not one has featured the Canes and Noles. Yes, Clemson has represented the ACC quite well in the College Football Playoff over the past four seasons. Yes, Florida State — until recently — has done its fair share to bolster a league which, in 2016, stood above all the other Power Five conferences at the end of the bowl season.

Yet, in nearly a decade and a half of shared involvement in the ACC, the FSU-Miami dream has never truly come to fruition. It was hoped after Miami’s 2017 breakthrough (above) that this meeting of Sunshine State schools could once again become what it was always meant to be. That dream will have to wait at least a year, and based on Florida State’s present condition, probably another one until 2020 if we are being realistic. Clemson might still carry the banner — and carry it well — for the ACC, but the 2016 league which was deep from top to bottom now looks much thinner in 2018. It’s Clemson and then everyone else.

This is the backdrop to the latest edition of Noles-Canes, which will unfold this coming Saturday in Miami.

Last year was the game Miami HAD to win under Mark Richt in order to change the flow of one of college football’s most important rivalries. In previous years, Florida State was the target — the gold standard Miami aspired to reach, but couldn’t quite match. Now, Miami has the upper hand, but even though the Canes are finally sitting pretty within the narrow confines of this matchup, their larger outlook isn’t that rosy.

It could be that this team has begun to evolve under new quarterback N’Kosi Perry. It could be that — much as USC finally soared at this same juncture of the 2016 season under a freshman, Sam Darnold, who wasn’t the team’s Opening Day starter — Perry is about to similarly transform the Hurricanes after Richt chose Malik Rosier for the LSU opener. We have seen a number of quarterbacks get ignored by head coaches in the first few weeks of September, only to then come off the bench and light up the skies in October and November. Perry could be the latest talent to author such a story… but we are still in a “wait and see” position with Perry. A dominant win over North Carolina — a terrible team which has crashed and burned — does not prove that Miami is ready to match last season’s lofty achievements.

Even though Miami is the pronounced favorite in this game against Florida State — as it should be — the Canes are an unproven team. Don’t forget that. I say this not to criticize the Canes, but to merely remind you that they haven’t affirmed their place at the top of the sport. They have a lot of work to do to achieve that goal. Before The U can dream big dreams about this season, it has to string together strong performances in what appears to be a very weak ACC. A month of early-round knockouts would build back this team’s 2017 swagger. Then we can talk about Miami’s modern-day staying power in college football. Saturday is a time for the Canes to show how desperately they want to remain relevant on a national scale.

For Florida State, the “desperation” angle is even more pronounced. It therefore requires much less of an explanation.

Louisville is not a very good team, and FSU quite frankly should have lost to the Cardinals. However, Bobby Petrino made one of the worst play calls you will see in this sport in 2018. The Seminoles and Deondre Francois were good enough to take advantage. It has happened many times in sports that a struggling team wins a game it had no business winning, and then — from that escape — finds the winning chemistry and mentality which had previously been elusive. Maybe Florida State will catch lightning. That is the hope the Seminoles and Willie Taggart will bring to the ballyard against Richt and the Canes on Saturday.

Yet, the mere presence of hope and optimism won’t solve this team’s many flaws — its sloppiness, its inadequate offensive line, and its porous secondary. A comeback win in Louisville might inspire this team, but inspiration won’t be enough to save FSU’s season. The Noles have to make substantial advancements in their level of play to belong on the same field as the Canes. Florida State has to play this game with desperation. Anything less is likely to lead to defeat.

No, Miami and Florida State do not inhabit the same situation. Miami is still legitimately a team with division championship potential, while Florida State is going to struggle to merely make a bowl game this year. The Canes and Noles are not on the same plane. Yet, they are both in a position where greatness has eluded them in September and might continue to be evasive in the next two months. One will win this Saturday, but given the eroded condition of this rivalry in 2018, a win might not mean that either team is ready to rise to the top tier of college football this season. The winner will have to reaffirm itself many times in the second half of the season to show that this game, on October 6, was a genuine catapult.

Past Miami-FSU games didn’t need that explainer. It was once known that the winner of Canes-Noles would automatically be in the center of the national title discussion, at the very least assured of a prime January bowl. Neither Miami nor FSU can rest comfortably in that realization this year.

Let the desperation begin. The aspirations have to wait in 2018 for The U and Florida State.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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Miami Hurricanes

Parrying the thrusts of “Perry Pushers” at Miami

Matt Zemek

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Look, Miami fans: You have a point. You do. However, you don’t have an AIRTIGHT point, and there is a difference between having a reasonable argument and an unassailable one.

Yes, in the second half of the 2018 season, the Miami Hurricanes WILL need to give N’Kosi Perry more playing time. How much is the real question, but yes, Perry is the future of the program. Accordingly, he needs to get meaningful repetitions in live games to set the stage for 2019 at The U. I get it. We agree. We are not speaking past each other on that issue.

However: Can we settle down a little bit in our reactions to Mark Richt’s handling of the quarterback situation on this roster? Wanting Perry to play a reasonable amount — a proper and logical inclination — is not the only consideration Richt must account for.

There is still a 2018 season to deal with.

As poorly as this season has gone for Richt and Miami, the Hurricanes are still just one game behind Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal Division race. They will get their chance to play Virginia Tech soon enough. The season is not lost. It is CLOSE to being lost, but it is not a done deal. Not yet. As long as that is the case, the idea of playing Perry with 2019 in mind isn’t yet something which should be at the very top of Richt’s concerns. It should be on his radar screen, but it is not a top-three priority.

This tweet from longtime Miami-based Associated Press writer Tim Reynolds neatly underscores the point that there is no surefire answer for the Canes at quarterback — not right now:

The notion that N’Kosi Perry is OBVIOUSLY the better quarterback than Malik Rosier is flawed. Perry has more upside, but as you can see, he is not profoundly more accurate as a passer, and he has surrendered more interceptions. If Florida State had not had a touchdown wiped away by an officiating call in the second half of the FSU-Miami game, Perry would have eaten the loss in that contest, which preceded Rosier’s stumble against Virginia this past weekend.

Before the ACC season began, the intensity and fervor surrounding the desire for Perry were already conspicuous. Rosier’s disaster against LSU in the season opener began the Perry bandwagon movement in earnest. Yet, Perry has hardly done enough to warrant continued bandwagon support. It’s not as though he has clearly wrested the job away from Rosier on the merits. He is struggling to find himself just as much as Rosier. He is also searching for solutions and the rhythm good quarterbacks need.

Let’s be blunt about this larger issue: Virginia Tech plays Miami on November 17. If the Coastal title is still in play by then, Richt ought to do whatever he sees fit in the attempt to win that game, presuming the Hokies don’t collapse before then and shake up an already volatile division race even more. If, however, Miami loses one of its upcoming games and falls two games out of contention in the division, such that high-end aspirations are no longer realistic, then the rationale behind Perry’s ascension makes total sense.

If Miami loses before the Virginia Tech game and can no longer maintain a prominent presence in the Coastal race, THAT is the time when the “play Perry for 2019” argument must win the day. That is when Richt has to give up this season in order to prepare for the next one…

.. but not until then.

Yes, N’Kosi Perry needs more playing time, but Miami and its coaching staff shouldn’t give up on 2018 just yet. It is a little too early for that.

Rosier can start. Perry could play a few drives or even a quarter. As long as Miami stays in the Coastal race, Richt owes this year’s team his best shot. Only if things get worse should Richt think about sacrificing what is left of 2018 in service of 2019.

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Miami Hurricanes

Miami loss casts dark cloud over Mark Richt

Matt Zemek

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It is true that in 2017, Mark Richt did more for Miami football than his two immediate predecessors did in nearly a full decade. In one resplendent season — ending in an Orange Bowl bid — Richt eclipsed both Randy Shannon and Al Golden. For a brief time, “The U” was back. For that alone, Richt has given his alma mater a gift.

However, the mandate for any coach at Miami is not to have one great season, but to keep the program at the top of the college football pyramid, to make big games and splashy occasions a regular annual part of fall Saturdays.

Why is Miami’s loss to Virginia in Week 7 of the 2018 season so painful? Sure, it’s the loss of a game in the standings to ACC Coastal Division leader Virginia Tech. Yes, it’s the loss of a game which basically forces Miami to win out to have any chance of making a “New Year’s Six” bowl this season — good luck with that. Of course, the loss stings because a 10-win regular season is now extremely unlikely. This team will have to be flawless over the next several weeks to make that happen.

Yet, what is by far the most damaging aspect of this major setback in Charlottesville — a sloppy, feeble and dumb 16-13 decision endured at the hands of the Cavaliers — is that it reinforced every last doubt about the 2018 Canes and the larger Miami program.

Typically, a win over Florida State — especially after being down by 20 points in the second half — would send Miami soaring with confidence into the rest of its season. In a context when Miami-FSU mattered, the outcome of that game would represent a springboard for the winner. If one of college football’s most important rivalries from 1987 through 2005 had truly regained in 2018 the importance it once owned, Miami would have become not just a new team this season; it would have become the team it was meant to be, the team it was expected to be at the start of this season.

If Miami beating Florida State truly was the in-season catapult to greatness it annually proved to be back in The U’s glory days, this season would become a lot like last season:

Double-digit wins. A division title at a time when chief competitor Virginia Tech is in a down year. Another date with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. A big bowl game — the “New Year’s Six.”

If beating Florida State still contained the stature and cachet and value of the olden days, Miami would have turned its attention to Virginia, brought its working boots, and kicked the ever-loving daylights out of the Cavaliers, who are not terrible, but hardly rate anywhere close to their best years under George Welsh nearly 30 years ago.

If Miami was still MIAMI — the way it was last year — and if beating Florida State still carried anything close the level of resonance and importance it once did, this game on Saturday night in Charlottesville would have been taken care of with businesslike efficiency.

Miami would have gotten off to a solid, decisive start, or at the very least, punched back if UVA landed an early blow. Miami would have prevented a sluggish first three quarters, removing the burden of having to scramble desperately in the fourth quarter to make something happen. Miami would have been sharper on offense, with better play from either N’Kosi Perry or Malik Rosier, whoever was given the keys to the offense.

Miami would have served notice that it was a restored team. It would have shown that the Florida State game snapped the Canes back into a state of focus… and the look and feel of a high-quality team which had found its bearings.

Instead, Miami did……… THAT.

Whatever THAT was.

Instead, Miami didn’t control the line of scrimmage. Instead, Miami tossed three interceptions. Instead, Miami dug itself a familiar hole heading into the fourth quarter. Instead, Mark Richt didn’t make any profound adjustments. Instead, brain-dead decisions and penalties doomed the Canes just when they were on the cusp of giving themselves a chance to steal another win in the final minutes.

This was so reminiscent of Richt’s days at Georgia, when any big win — any sign of improvement and restoration — was immediately followed by a deflating loss which shattered aspirations of playing in the most important games of the year: a conference title game and a prestigious bowl game. So often at the University of Georgia, Richt would stub his toe on a game like this. His team might still have gone 9-3, but that meant an Outback Bowl instead of the Orange Bowl or the Sugar Bowl. Georgia played in a largely irrelevant bowl game and did not reach its highest goals, the goals the fan base and the national pundits both expected.

It is true that even the best coaches have a tough time winning big every single season. There will be individual years which slip through the fingers of programs. The pieces of the puzzle simply aren’t found in time to maximize results. It happens… and only three programs right now — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State — seem to exist above that level of organic chaos.

Yet, this year seemed to give Richt a roster talented enough to sustain what had been built last year. This year offered Miami and its fans the promise of consolidating 2017’s gains and making Miami a more entrenched power, a program which could stick around as opposed to making an appearance but then reverting to its previous decade of mediocrity under Randy Shannon and Al Golden.

Maybe Miami will still bounce back. Maybe Miami will still win at Virginia Tech and make a late surge to steal the Coastal Division. Those scenarios are still within the realm of possibility. That much can and should be acknowledged at this point.

However, this past Saturday against Virginia was so important because Miami needed to show itself — more than the rest of the nation — that the Florida State game was a turning point and a sign of real growth. Miami needed to prove that it was ready to take hold of the ACC Coastal and its season in general. Miami needed to demonstrate that it had rounded into form or, at the very least, was on the cusp of doing so. Such a demonstration would have been more than enough to beat Virginia.

Miami fell short. Well short.

The Canes basically have to run the table over the next month and a half — let’s not think they have a snowball’s chance in hell against Clemson in December — to get anywhere close to where they want to go.

Given what we have seen all season, and given what we just saw in Charlottesville against UVA, is that a realistic expectation? Not right now.

This looks like an 8-4 season at best, the kind of season which all too often emerged for Mark Richt at Georgia, precisely when his teams were expected to do better.

This is not how The U becomes the annual powerhouse it used to be. This is not how the restoration of the juggernaut of Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis, and early-period Larry Coker returns to the scene.

This was a loss which casts a shadow over a program. Mark Richt has a lot of work to do to make the sun shine brightly again in Coral Gables.

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Miami Hurricanes

Epic second half comeback for Miami over rival FSU

Florida Football Insiders

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

There have been a lot of memorable games and finishes in the Miami-Florida State rivalry. And Saturday belongs right in the middle of the honor roll.

After being completely outplayed and spotting Florida State a 27 – 7 lead, the Hurricanes stormed back for a wild 28 – 27 victory at Hard Rock stadium.

Quarterback N’kosi Perry threw three second-half touchdown passes to lead the comeback after Florida State had led by 20 points five minutes into the 3rd quarter.

But the real heroes were on the defensive side of the ball for coach Mark Richt’s team. The Canes broke out the “Turnover Chain” with two critical turnovers on a fumble recovery and an interception of a short Deondre Francois. That pass was snatched by Hurricanes linebacker Michael Pickney (above) helping turn the entire game around.

Miami scored two quick touchdowns off of those turnovers and the comeback was on its way. The Noles could only muster 200 yards of offense on the day and did not score an offensive point in the second half.

And the Canes also had the football gods smiling on them, as the comeback was not without controversy.

This after a key moment midway in the 4th quarter. That’s when Florida State appeared to have hit Miami with a trick play touchdown-only to have it waived off by a penalty and, then, not overturned by replay review. QB Deondre Francois’ pass behind the line to D.J. Matthews appeared to be either even with him or a little backwards. However, the officials threw the flag and the replay review official did not overturn the second pass being illegal to Keith Gavin, who would walk in the endzone. Florida State would have led 34-21.

In the end, Perry was good enough for the Hurricanes despite completing only 13 of 32 passes for the game. And Miami’s run game was able to help them pick up critical first downs late and run out the clock.

It’s the first time since 2003 – 04 that Miami has beaten Florida State in back-to-back games. And, this loss will sting for a long time for Florida State fans, who looked like they were going to get to celebrate an unexpected win after the Noles were a 13-point underdog on Saturday.

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