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TWO UNBEATEN, TOP 10 TEAMS
A frenzied crowd of more than 83,000.
Prime time on Saturday night before a national ABC television audience.
Miami at Florida State feels like … well, Miami at Florida State. It feels like old times, and it is a feeling FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher hopes to experience annually for years to come.
“We’re prominent again, and we’re consistent on being up there again, We’ve been up there for a good while now … and hopefully we can stay there,” Fisher said. “That goes back to me talking about not (just) the team you have, but the program you have – and there is a difference. Teams come and go, but programs sustain he test of time, and they’re able to handle the duration of things. That’s what we want to be – a great program.”
The last time Florida State and Miami met when both were undefeated this late in the season pre-dates both schools’ entrance into the Atlantic Coast Conference. In 1991, Florida State won its first 10 games and was the top-ranked team in the nation, while Miami won its first eight games and was ranked No. 2 when the teams collided in Tallahassee. The Hurricanes escaped with a 17-16 decision en route to their fourth national championship in the famed “wide right” game, when FSU kicker Gerry Thomas missed a potential game-winning 34-yard field goal.
This year’s meeting will mark the second time on center stage in the past two weeks for the Seminoles, who passed their first test in grand style with a 51-14 win at third-ranked Clemson on Oct. 19. Now FSU owns the No. 3 national ranking and a place in national championship conversation.
But here come the Hurricanes, who currently own a 7-0 record to match that of the Seminoles and the No. 7 spot in this week’s BCS standings.
ESPN’s GameDay has taken due note and is setting up shop for the third time this fall on an ACC campus. And while FSU’s game with ACC Atlantic Division counterpart Clemson could rightfully be termed a “rival game,” this is Miami – and all the in-state intensity that comes with.
Fisher was asked if he worried that some of his players – particularly the Florida natives – could become too emotionally wrapped up in Saturday’s game.
“I think it depends on each individual’s maturity, how individuals handle situations in that regard,” Fisher said. “Sometimes you can get too high or put too much pressure on yourself, but hopefully, the maturity of some of the guys that we have when they’re in that situation, they won’t do that.”
Besides, said Fisher, he has more tangible things to worry about in regard to Saturday night.
“They’re a complete dynamic,” Fisher said of the Hurricanes. “They can run on offense (or) they can throw it. They create big plays. They can pound you if they want to. Defensively, they’re very multiple … In their kicking game, they have explosive players to cover with and to run the ball with, and they kick it well.
“I don’t know if there is any one thing that scares me the most. What scares me the most is that they’re a good football team, and you’re going to have to practice well and execute.”
U HAVE A PLAN?
It didn’t take long into his weekly press conference before Miami third-year head coach Al Golden took what literally might be the million dollar question.
Has he found the solution for containing Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston?
“I’d be worth a lot more if I cracked that code,” Golden said.
Winston, who has been named the ACC Rookie of the Week following five of the seven games that the Seminoles have played, currently ranks second nationally in pass efficiency rating at 207.0. That is the third-best mark in this century for a quarterback after the first seven games of a season. For good measure, Winston has already thrown for 2,177 yards and 23 touchdowns while completing right at 70 percent of his passes.
“He’s mature beyond his years,” Golden said. “(But) it’s a great challenge and an opportunity. It’s nothing to be nervous about or anxious about. We have to prepare, and we have to have a really good game plan and execute it against this young man, because he is really talented.”
If Saturday night’s game is tight at the end, the Hurricanes have experience handling the situation. Miami’s last two wins – a 27-23 decision at North Carolina and last Saturday’s 24-21 victory over Wake Forest – both came after Miami faced fourth-quarter deficits and scored go-ahead touchdowns with less than a minute remaining.
“It’s really all about you extracting what you can extract that’s positive from each of those games,” Golden said. “Certainly, winning late in those games, overcoming adversity, things not being perfect - all those things we extract. The biggest thing is – are we learning? We have to learn a great deal and improve individually a lot from last Saturday to this Saturday to have a chance in Tallahassee.”
The Hurricanes have found margin for error in some of their games this season, but Golden said that will not be the case on Saturday night.
“You cannot have breakdowns on special teams, you cannot turn the ball over, you cannot have penalties,” Golden said. “All of those elements are factors in this game.”
FRIENDS AND FOES
Nothing underscores the intensity of the Miami-Florida State rivalry more than the players facing each other this Saturday who played against each other in high school or who were high school teammates.
Miami starting offensive guard Brandon Linder and defensive lineman Jelani Hamilton and Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, wide receiver Rashad Greene, long snapper Danny Adams and offensive linemen Austin Barron and Bobby Hart all were teammates at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Ft. Lauderdale. A third Miami player, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, also played at St. Thomas, but will miss the game due to injury.
There will be another in-state rivalry boiling earlier on Saturday, when North Carolina makes the 23-mile ride over to Carter-Finley Stadium for its 103rd meeting with the Wolfpack.
“That’s what makes college football so great, the rivalries that you have,” said North Carolina second-year head coach Larry Fedora. “The fans, the ‘hatred’ for one or the other, just the, I don’t know – that’s what’s fun about college football, it really is – just the excitement that rivalries give.”
Fedora’s first year in Chapel Hill saw North Carolina break a five-game losing streak in the series, as Gio Bernard’s 74-yard punt return in the fading seconds lifted the Tar Heels to a 43-35 win. Fedora said he received the expected congratulations from alumni and fans – but not as much as one might think.
“Not as much as I heard before (the game) about what needed to be done,” Fedora said. “I heard a lot more before, I can assure you.”
No one in the NC State fan base has to tell first-year head coach Dave Doeren how important this weekend’s game with North Carolina is to Wolfpack Nation.
No one has to, but that hasn’t stopped them.
“The day I was hired, it was kind of expected,” Doeren said. “Everyone tells you good luck, and three or four people will tell you to ‘Beat Carolina.’ Every place I’ve coached there were games that people would tell me were their favorite games, but this is obviously the one that stands out.”
In one sense, the timing of the game could be good for the Wolfpack, which is coming off a game in which it spotted third-ranked Florida State 35 unanswered points in the first quarter en route to a 49-17 loss. With that Tar Heels looming next on the schedule, moving that loss and restoring morale should not be all that difficult task for Doeren and his staff.
“Playing a rivalry game the next week helps that,” he agreed. ”I had already put something (about focusing on the UNC game) on every kid’s locker win or lose. I was preparing them, whether we beat Florida State or we didn’t.”
And Doeren didn’t consider the trip to Tallahassee a total loss for his team, which continued to battle gamely despite the disastrous start.
“I think the guys all know that the game got away from us in the first quarter, and it was a lot different game after that,” Doeren said. “I know they took some of their guys out, but we were able to force three turnovers, move the ball and do some things to make it a little better football game. The guys were down about it, but they weren’t out. They still have five games left and a lot to play for our team.”
SELECT COMPANY FOR McNABB
Halftime of Syracuse’s home game against Wake Forest on Saturday will feature a ceremony honoring former Orange great Donovan McNabb. The record-setting quarterback, who went on to NFL stardom, will see his No. 5 jersey retired.
"All of our kids know who he is, they know what he's about,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. “We have a handful of kids from the Chicago area, so they'll be excited to meet him. It's just always great when you can bring in a former great player who also was also a really great student. He's a true student-athlete coming back, we're honoring him and it's giving us a chance to get around a guy who knows what it takes."
McNabb joins an elite group of Syracuse jersey retirees that includes Larry Csonka (No. 39), John Mackey (No. 88) and Don McPherson (No. 9). The legendary No. 44 worn by Jim Brown, Floyd Little and Ernie Davis, among others, is also retired.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
There was little time for Wake Forest to dwell on last weekend’s gut-wrenching 24-21 loss at seventh-ranked Miami. The Demon Deacons are hitting the road again for this Saturday’s ACC game against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.
Road trips have been a mixed bag so far this season for the Demon Deacons, who are 1-3 away from home. Head coach Jim Grobe gave his team low marks for its 24-10 loss at Boston College and 56-7 setback at Clemson in September. But Wake Forest defeated Army by two touchdowns on the road and acquitted itself more than well at Miami despite the loss.
“We didn’t win the game, and we can’t be too happy about that,” Grobe said of the trip to Miami. “But at the same time, the effort to win the game was as good as it could have been. We just came up a little short against a really good football team. So the good news is our guys are playing real, real hard right now, but we’re not happy with not coming out with a win.”
Saturday’s meeting will be the first ACC game between Syracuse and Wake Forest, but the Demon Deacons visited the Carrier Dome just two years ago, dropping a 36-29 decision in overtime.
“Everywhere we go, it’s tough to play on the road,” Grobe said. “Hopefully, Miami was a step in the right direction as far as our intensity level. I didn’t feel like we had that at Boston College and we certainly didn’t have it at Clemson. I felt like we picked it up at Army. But no matter how good a football team we are, we know every team we play in this league is a tough team. Playing on the road compounds all your problems.”
SENSE OF FAMILIARITY
Georgia Tech opponents frequently talk about the difficulty of preparing for the Yellow Jackets’ option, run-oriented offense within a limited time frame. But when Pitt travels to Atlanta for this weekend’s ACC game, the Panthers might have a leg up in terms of preparation.
Pitt will be facing Georgia Tech one week after last week’s 24-21 loss at Navy, where Paul Johnson spent six seasons as head coach immediately prior to taking the reins at Georgia Tech in 2008. Navy is now coached by Ken Niumatalolo, who played quarterback at Hawaii when Johnson was offensive coordinator there and then worked under Johnson as an assistant coach.
In other words, the Panthers can expect to see much of the same style offense this weekend as they saw last weekend. Georgia Tech also received a sneak peek of how Pitt might try to scheme defensively, but Johnson is not certain it all balances out.
“If I’d had my rathers, I would have rathered them not played Navy,” Johnson said.” It probably benefits them a little more to get the speed of the offense. (Navy-Pitt) was a hard fought, physical game. It’ll give them a chance to see what they liked about it and what they didn’t; what they want to add and what they throw out.”
Pitt coach Paul Chryst agreed there are pros and cons.
“There is some benefit to having faced (the triple-option) so we can make corrections and clean it up,” Chryst said. “There are also disadvantages because you put a lot on film for them to prepare for, too. The bottom line is we have to go out and have a great week of preparation so Saturday we can go play the game. It still comes down to what the players know and what they can execute.”
RUNNING WITH A PURPOSE
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd needs 16 rushing yards in Saturday’s game at Virginia to become the first quarterback in league history to reach 10,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.
The reigning ACC Player of the Year did not reach the latter figure simply by scrambling and ad-libbing throughout his collegiate career. When Boyd has run the football for head coach Dabo Swinney, it usually has been very much by design.
“That’s what we do,” Swinney said. “That’s our philosophy. That’s why I went to what we do. We are always going to run the football. I believe there is a distinct advantage when you have a quarterback who can run the football. When you get in goal-line and short-yardage situations and everybody loads the box, you gain an extra hat when the quarterback runs the football.
“It is just a numbers game. It is just a philosophy. and it is the reason that we have won a bunch of ballgames. We have been in the top 10 for 10 weeks now. One of the main reasons for that is because our quarterback is a weapon. That’s just what we do.”
ALL HANDS ON DECK
Virginia will be meeting Clemson for the first time on the football field since 2009, meaning Cavaliers’ fourth-year head coach Mike London will be facing the Tigers for the first time as head coach. But his staff includes Tom O’Brien, who saw the Tigers as a regular Atlantic Division opponent for eight seasons as the head coach at Boston College at NC State. London can also turn to defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, whose long resume most recently included a three-year stint at NC State and a trio of recent games against Clemson.
“You rely on a staff that has had experience dealing with different things and different people and situations” London said, (It’s) always important when they can impart some of that, what they've learned and what they know, and share it with the staff … Having veteran coaches is definitely a plus.”
ACCENTUATING THE POSITIVE
Despite coming out on the short end of a 34-10 score last weekend at North Carolina, Boston College first-year head coach Steve Addazio saw his team rush for over 200 yards offensively and register nine tackles for lost yardage, including five quarterback sacks.
“There are some great looking things when you watch the tape, on both sides, but it is terribly inconsistent and we need to be consistent,” Addazio. “We played hard and we did some really good things, but that’s not how we win and that is why we didn’t win that game. It is just the facts of the matter.”
Boston College plays host to Virginia Tech on Saturday, and the Hokies feel some of the Eagles’ pain. Head coach Frank Beamer ‘s team is coming off a 13-10 loss to Duke in which it intercepted four passes and limited the Blue Devils to 198 total yards.
“A little bit of this, a little bit of that,” Beamer said in summing up Virginia Tech’s struggles. “I thought we did some things a little better, and there were also some things we didn’t do. It still gets down to making plays at the right time and we just didn’t get it done.”
With the road trip to Boston College looming, lifting the Hokies’ spirits has been an agenda item this week for Beamer and his staff.
“I’d be disappointed if they weren’t down. It was a disappointing loss,” Beamer said. “The other side of it is to find out what went wrong, figure that out and get it right and then go out and play better this week. We’re going to have to play better, there’s no question about it.”