After rising to the top of the heap as a major power in the early 1980's and proceeding to claim four national championships through 1991, the Hurricanes endured a losing season in 1997 and the wrath of the fans and media alike because going 9-3 just wasn't good enough.
All this while the Florida State Seminoles, the Hurricanes intrastate rivals to the north, were going 66-7 from 1995 through the end of the 2000 season, which included participating three times in the national championship game.
But one of those seven losses suffered by the Seminoles came at the very hands of the Hurricanes. Winless against the Seminoles since the arrival of Butch Davis, the Hurricanes finally broke through with a 27-24 victory at the Orange Bowl in 2000. It was victory No. 3 of a winning streak that now stands at 27, the longest in the country. And it also ignited the Hurricanes return as legitimate national title contenders.
Almost 24 months later the Hurricanes are shooting for their second consecutive national title as they deal with talk about what might just happen if they face the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals, while the Seminoles are trying to shake off a slow start and plenty of critisism being fired from every direction.
The 5-0 Hurricanes, currently ranked No. 1 in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches polls, will attempt to remain on top this Saturday when they host the No. 9 Seminoles (5-1) at the Orange Bowl in another installment of the country's hottest college football rivalries.
"Boy, I don't care what they're record is or where they're at in the polls. If you can't get up for Florida State you don't belong on this football team," said Miami senior center Brett Romberg. "This is what it's all about right here. You can say they're having a down year or that they just don't have the talent anymore, but our football team understands what is on the line. If we want to win another national championship, we have to beat Florida State. No question about it."
Miami is only 6-6 against the Seminoles since 1990, but has come out victorious in the last contest. And if there is ever a year for that trend to continue it just might be this one. Despite a top-10 ranking and victories in five of six games to start the season, the Seminoles have been plagued by an inconstant defense, questionable decision-making by sophomore quarterback Chris Rix and the inability to sustain long drives.
The Seminoles, ranked 57th in the nation in total defense and allowing 364 yards a game, are coming off a 48-31 victory over Clemson, Oct. 3. But the Tigers put the vulnerability of the Seminoles defensive unit on full display by totaling 471 yards of offense. A week before against Louisville, their only loss of the season, the Seminoles gave up over 200 yards rushing, including a game-winning 25-yard run in overtime.
But although the Florida State run defense has cracked in critical situations, they have only allowed 830 yards on the ground for 3.0 yards a carry. That pales in comparison to the passing defense, which has surrendered 1,550 yards through the air for 8.3 yards a pass and has been beaten deep a handful of times. Junior defensive back Stanford Samuels, who attended Miami Carol City High, was on the defending end of a Louisville touchdown in the Seminoles 26-20 defeat.
Linebacker Kendyll Pope leads the Seminoles with 58 tackles, while Mike Boulware has 42. But despite the breakdowns in the Florida State secondary, Miami head coach Larry Coker is still weary of a defense that is capable of putting pressure on the opposing quarterback. Coker said that if the Hurricanes offensive line doesn't do a solid job of protecting UM quarterback Ken Dorsey, the Seminoles have the players on defense to create a game-turning play.
Senior defensive end Alonzo Jackson has a team-leading five sacks and Kevin Emanuel has four. Keeping them off Dorsey will be one of the keys to the game, according to Coker.
"Well, they're putting a lot of pressure on (the quarterback). The front is doing very good," said Coker. "The secondary has been kind of their Achilles heel so far. Their secondary has had some breakdowns."
"Honestly, I haven't studied Florida State that closely. But I know this- they've always been able to put great pressure on with the front people. It's hard to get open when you do that. The thing that helps us, and probably helps them also, is our style on defense. Our receivers in practice have to work against the defensive backs with pressure, the blitz and all those types of things. And that's the type of play we'll get from them."
Coker didn't divulge any of the Hurricanes game plan for the Seminoles. But it's not to difficult to imagine that the Seminoles defense will have to deal with a heavy load of UM sophomore running back Willis McGahee, who has been the most consistent player on offense all season. McGahee leads the Hurricanes with 640 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
After just 60 yards against Florida A&M in the season opener, McGahee torched the Florida Gators defense for 204 yards on 24 carries. He followed that performance up with consecutive 100-yard rushing games in victories over Temple and Boston College. Last week in Miami's 48-14 victory over Connecticut, McGahee ran for 107 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries. McGahee also has nine receptions for 139 yards.
"Obviously, Willis is a big part of this football team," said Coker.
But I'm sure Florida State is going to be prepared to combat that. We have to pick out spots and put Willis in the best situations possible."
Coker is also preparing to see how the Hurricanes can contain FSU running back Greg Jones, who is averaging 105.5 rushing yards per game and the leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in the category. Jones is coming off a 165-yard game against Clemson. Florida State will likely ride Jones considering the uncertainty of Rix. Rix (78 for 136, 1,085 passing yards) has encountered trouble reading defensives and finding open receivers this season.
Coker is concerned about what Jones is capable of doing.
"I think it's a major concern," said Coker. "I think they're a mirror image of us, or what we try to be. I watched the Clemson game, and they couldn't tackle him. He just ran through the entire team, it seemed like. I know the Clemson coach (Tommy Bowden) said at halftime that they needed to tackle him, but they didn't get it done. It's a real concern."
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