No UM students. No FSU coach. Few fans. But plenty of electricity in dramatic rivalry

Susan Miller Degnan
·5 min read

It’s among college football’s fiercest rivalries, and despite this strange, unpredictable year, it will continue for its 65th installment in prime time on national television.

The No. 12 Miami Hurricanes (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) face the unranked Florida State Seminoles (0-1, 0-1) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (ABC) at Hard Rock Stadium. And no matter how different it seems because of the COVID-19 pandemic — a 13,000 attendance limit, no FSU head coach (more on that later), no UM students, no marching bands, and no alcohol at an event which usually spurs its share of inebriated, supercharged fans— of one thing you can be sure: four-quarters of heart-and-soul drama.

“Fifty years from now,’’ said UM tight end Brevin Jordan, “people are going to be asking, ‘Hey, man, did you beat Florida State?’

“I’m just so excited.”

Make that Jordan and UM fans and FSU fans and dozens of former and current players who grew up with each other and wait for this ACC matchup all year. As always, there are bragging rights on the line, which is significant when you’re from football-rich South Florida.

“Growing up all I knew is the Miami Hurricanes and that they don’t lose to Florida State,’’ said Canes cornerback DJ Ivey, a junior out of South Dade High. “That’s all Coach Diaz preached. we don’t lose to Florida State. I’m 2-0. I plan to be 4-0.’’

Streaky fun

Actually, the Canes have lost plenty to FSU, and in spurts, as this series tends to be defined in streaks. The Hurricanes lead the series 34-30, with UM on a three-game winning streak. But the current streak, which began at FSU in 2017 (UM scored the go-ahead touchdown with six second left), was preceded by a seven-year FSU winning streak.

In 2018, the last time UM played FSU at home, the Canes won by one point after trailing by 20 in the third quarter. Last year, Miami, fueled by nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss, held FSU to 203 total yards to win 27-10.

“You gotta play four quarters because this rivalry can go any type of way,’’ said FSU senior linebacker Emmett Rice, who was injured for the game at Hard Rock two years ago but grew up in Miami Gardens and played at Norland High in the shadow of the stadium. “This means a lot just because I get to put on a show in front of my home town.”

As of Thursday, Miami, which had an impressive 47-34 win last Saturday at then-No. 18 Louisville, was favored by 11 points, a huge point spread for this rivalry. FSU lost its home opener 16-13 to Georgia Tech, and has had two weeks to prepare for the Hurricanes.

FSU coach has COVID-19

Last year, FSU coach Willie Taggart was fired the day after the Seminoles’ loss to UM. On Saturday, his replacement will be nowhere in sight. FSU coach Mike Norvell last weekend disclosed publicly that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. He is asymptomatic, and spent the week isolated, but continued to coach and communicate remotely to his players through video technology, even watching practice and speaking with his assistants.

Norvell’s tight ends coach Chris Thomsen will coach the Seminoles on game day.

FSU junior tight end Camren McDonald, who had four catches for 41 yards against Georgia Tech, was impressed with how Norvell was “still able to affect the team’s energy from behind the camera.”

“You couldn’t even really tell the situation is getting to him,’’ McDonald said. “He responds to adversity very well. And that’s contagious for the team.

“All the moving pieces that 2020 has had to this point, you gotta expect the unexpected. Normal? No. 2020 normal? Yes.”

Hard Rock subdued

The atmosphere at Hard Rock will be unlike any game historically between the Canes and Noles. The UM fan base, not known for filling the stadium, shows up in droves for FSU. And while the crowd appeared smaller than the 8,000-plus announced for the opener, even the 13,000 expected Saturday will be unable to match the roar normally reserved for this game — whether or not crowd noise is pumped in.

ESPN’s College GameDay will air live from 9 a.m. to noon outside the stadium, but no spectators are allowed.

“You know, it’s hard to predict,’’ UM coach Manny Diaz said of the atmosphere. “I suspect it will be a little juicier than it was for the UAB game. I will say this: The fans that go, we need them. It felt like a game at Louisville on Saturday night, you know, big-time atmosphere Saturday night, the ABC national telecast. And however many they let in, or people can sneak in, or however they get there, as long as they stay distant and wear a mask and make all the noise they can, I think it will benefit our team.’’

It won’t be announced until game day who might not play for Miami, either because of injury, sickness or suspension — UM won’t reveal the reasons. But the starting lineup is expected to stay the same, with graduate transfer D’Eriq King experiencing his first UM-FSU showcase.

Fourth-year FSU junior James Blackman, who only attempted two passes against Miami last year because graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook started instead, will get his shot Saturday after starting in the 2017 game that ended FSU’s winning streak.

King was asked this week if it will be disappointing to not have the classic UM-FSU atmosphere.

“Yeah, I would say so,’’ King said. “I know they’re going to be ready. I know we’re going to be ready. It’s still one of the biggest games of the year for us every single year. As soon as we get the schedule, everybody looks at the Florida State game.

“Yeah, it would be pretty cool to have a packed house and all the fans there cheering you on, but like I said, as far as everybody on the field, that will take care of itself.”

Or, as UM freshman tailback Jaylan Knighton, who once was committed to FSU, said more succinctly: “Main thing, just dominate.’’