Mark Richt can’t let this opportunity past him or the Miami Hurricanes by. It’s hard to fathom one of the most high-profile college football programs being a non-factor on the national stage for over a decade, but this is what Richt was hired to fix.
If the “U” is going to stop being so pathetically average, at least by its previous gold standard, then the first order of business must be ending a seven-year losing streak to its biggest rival, Florida State, on Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Nobody can talk about UM being back without the ‘Canes regaining a foothold on this series, which it pretty much owned (21-14) even when FSU legend Bobby Bowden was roaming the sideline from 1976-2009. For myriad reasons, Miami has now endured the longest losing streak to any annual opponent since Jimbo Fisher took over for Bowden in 2010, which Richt admits must change quickly.
“I’ve been here a year of it, and our players have been here one, two, three years of it, so it’s time to make this a true rivalry,” said Richt. “Our fans have suffered through it more than anybody because they have been here the longest through it all. We owe it to them to make them feel better.”
Circumstances may never be more ideal than now for UM to exorcise its Seminole demons. FSU is as vulnerable as it’s been since maybe Fisher’s first year (2010), and it goes beyond losing quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Alabama.
The ‘Noles are an offensive mess in every way imaginable, and it has little to do with replacement quarterback James Blackman being a step down in experience or proficiency from Francois. The true freshman has little or no help. His surrounding cast might have adequate recruiting stars by their name, but its cohesion as a unit is highly suspect.
Check out FSU’s woeful national offensive rankings – 115th in points (18.0), 118th in total offense (300.7 yards), 121st in rushing (97.7 yards), 88th in passing (203.0 yards), 126th in sacks allowed (4.0 per game), 125th in third-down conversions (.286) and only three touchdowns in 12 red-zone attempts.
This is only a three-game sample size, and the Alabama defense will tend to bring anybody’s numbers down. But you never see a Fisher offense being that incompetent across the board. The ‘Noles are putting way too much pressure on their defense to carry them and that burden can be suffocating, evidenced by the fact it was one bad play away against Wake Forest from being 0-3.
This isn’t anywhere close to the FSU machine Richt saw when he was Bowden’s QB coach or offensive coordinator (1990-2000). It’s a big-name program ripe to be plucked at the moment because the offense has no juice.
Plus, Miami no longer has to worry about stopping the biggest non-quarterback force in series history, FSU running back Dalvin Cook, now on the injury shelf with the Minnesota Vikings. He accounted for 588 yards on 62 touches and six TDs the last three years, doing almost as much damage to the ‘Canes as Herschel Walker did to Florida during his three-year run at Georgia.
“Dalvin has had significant roles in this game and every year he played in it, he made big plays,” said Fisher.
Unless FSU’s suspect offensive line can give Blackman time to make a deep connection or two, a running game averaging 3.05 yards per carry may struggle again. The only advantage the ‘Noles have on Miami right now is having played a better schedule, but that will be negated unless Fisher can push the right play-calling buttons to gets his offense going.
While winning this rivalry game is important on both sides, the ‘Canes have more at stake. They have to stop this slide, continue the momentum that Richt’s hire generated. Beating this FSU team doesn’t mean No. 13-ranked UM is necessarily back as a national player, but a loss would call into question if the ‘Canes are as close to being an ACC contender as some think they are.
Remember, Miami has lost at least three conference games in 12 of the 13 years it’s been in the ACC. Incredible as this sounds, the ‘Canes have never won the lightly-regarded Coastal division. It just didn’t seem possible that could happen when UM joined the league in 2004.
Think about this: Miami hasn’t won a matchup of top-5 teams since beating third-ranked Virginia Tech on the road in 2005. It hasn’t created a real buzz since getting off to a 7-0 start in 2013, only to follow with three consecutive blowout losses.
Richt was hired to restore UM to its glory years, or at least elevate the ‘Canes back into the national conversation. That can’t happen without undoing the stranglehold FSU has on them.
Gene.firstname.lastname@example.org: (904) 359-4540