NCF Nation: 2013-FSU-Miami

Freeman sparks emotional win for FSU

November, 3, 2013

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Devonta Freeman's voice is usually quiet, subdued. But when he speaks, his teammates listen.

Freeman provided a voiceover for a video Florida State watched in advance of its showdown Saturday against No. 7 Miami. He told his teammates he loved them, that he’d fight for them, that he’d carry them.

The message resonated with quarterback Jameis Winston, who pulled Freeman aside before the game to exchange an emotional embrace.

“From then,” Winston said, “I knew he was ready.”

Winston struggled early, throwing two first-half interceptions, but just as he’d suspected, Freeman picked up the slack. Freeman, a Miami native, finished with 176 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, carrying the load in Florida State’s 41-14 win against the Hurricanes.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman, Giorgio Newberry, Bryan Stork
AP Photo/Steve CannonFlorida State running back Devonta Freeman (8) celebrates with tight end Giorgio Newberry (4) and offensive linesman Bryan Stork (52) after scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
It’s the second win over a top-10 team in the past three weeks for No. 3 Florida State. The two victories have come by a combined score of 92-28, but they played out in far different fashion.

Against Clemson on Oct. 19, Winston was the star, throwing for 444 yards and accounting for four touchdowns. Against Miami, however, Winston stumbled early, misfiring on a handful of first-half throws, including two deep balls down the middle that the Hurricanes picked off, then turned into points.

“I was very high emotionally and sometimes you can’t let the emotions affect the way you play,” said Winston, who admitted he was eager to complete the deep ball rather than settling for shorter routes in the early going. “I was in the game emotionally and mentally, but the emotions took over the mental part of it.”

But if the emotions rattled Winston, they fueled Freeman.

The junior tailback grew up in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods, but he wasn’t heavily recruited by the Hurricanes until late in his senior season of high school. He never wavered in his commitment to Florida State, but he’s always held a grudge.

“Every time I get a chance,” Freeman said, “I want to destroy them.”

Freeman did plenty of damage Saturday.

His 5-yard touchdown run capped Florida State’s first drive. His 48-yard reception -- a dump-off pass followed by a long run -- provided the game’s biggest play, swinging momentum back in Florida State’s direction after Miami held tough early. But it was his powerful, punishing runs throughout the game that drained time off the clock and set the standard for how Florida State enforced its will against the overmatched Hurricanes.

“I wanted to let people know we’re hard-nosed,” Freeman said. “We’re coming.”

Freeman scored again late in the third quarter, effectively ending any comeback hopes for Miami. His 29 touches were a career high, and his punishing hits on Miami defenders provided a spark for his teammates.

"He's one of those guys, he's got the heart of a lion," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "We feed off him."

After each big run or physical hit, Freeman celebrated. He flashed the Miami “U” with his hands, signaled a “305” as a nod to Miami’s area code.

For Freeman, each play was personal, a message he wanted to send.

In three career games against the Hurricanes, Freeman has 343 total yards and five touchdowns.

“This game, I had more of a chip on my shoulder,” Freeman said. “Just to let everybody know, I’m from Miami -- including the kids in my neighborhood, to show them you don’t have to be in Miami to do something special. You can go anywhere and do something special and still rep your hometown. That’s kind of what it was.”

Freeman kept Florida State chugging along early, but Winston responded late.

At halftime, Winston promised his teammates he wouldn’t turn the ball over again. In the second half, he threw just two incompletions.

The turning point, however, may have been an on-field skirmish between FSU tackle Bobby Hart and Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo. Clinging to a seven-point lead midway through the third quarter, Winston completed a pass to Kenny Shaw for 26 yards to the Miami 5. On the play, FSU tackle Cameron Erving blocked Chickillo to the ground. Hart then pounced on Chickillo, who ended up underneath the Florida State lineman. Chickillo grabbed Hart’s face mask without letting go, and as officials tossed flags, the two players argued. Eventually both teams were posturing on the field before coaches intervened.

Before Florida State lined up for its next play, Winston shouted at each of his teammates, pounding his fists in the air and slapping hands with his linemen.

“That’s me telling the guys, 'It’s on,'” Winston said. “We’re not taking no prisoners. We don’t care about those guys anymore. At first, we respected them because they’re a great team with great players. But after that skirmish, it was over. All that nice stuff, all the game day and that stuff of them being compared to us, it was over. We know we had one goal, and that was to beat them bad.”

Winston proved his point. What began as a close game ended as a 27-point victory. Miami’s only points came off turnovers, and Florida State dominated at virtually every level, nearly doubling the Hurricanes’ total yardage.

It was exactly what Freeman had predicted before the game. It was, Freeman said, a message delivered.

“I told them, [the Hurricanes] aren’t like us,” Freeman said. “We’re different. We grind different.”

#CampusConnection: Canes-Noles Live

November, 2, 2013
For the first time in nearly a decade, Miami and Florida State meet as top-10 teams. The rivalry matters again -- in both the BCS and Heisman races -- and we’ll be watching intently Saturday night.

Head on over to Campus Connection at 8 p.m. ET and follow the game along with five of our reporters, including Mark Schlabach, Andrea Adelson and David Hale on site at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Video: Corso's Pick: Miami-Florida State

November, 2, 2013

Lee Corso makes his prediction for Miami at Florida State.

Video: Countdown to Kickoff

November, 2, 2013

"College GameDay" remembers the spirit drum that Florida State beat for 72 straight hours leading up to their matchup with Miami 20 years ago.

Video: Van Pelt on Duke Johnson

November, 2, 2013

Scott Van Pelt visits Miami RB Duke Johnson to talk about the reputation of the Hurricanes, his relationship with his mother and the showdown with Florida State.

Video: Winston leading by example

November, 2, 2013
"College GameDay" profiles Florida State QB Jameis Winston, who has gone from redshirt freshman to Heisman candidate and leader of the Seminoles.

Video: ACC Weekend setup

November, 1, 2013

Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich preview Saturday's Miami-Florida State headliner in Tallahassee and discuss whether the Hurricanes have any chance to win.
The big game between No. 7 Miami and No. 3 Florida State is almost here. So what does each team have to do to win Saturday in Tallahassee? Glad you asked. ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and David Hale give you the breakdown.


[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Lane Turner/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesJameis Winston has to be on his game against a Miami pass defense that has been outstanding this season.
1. Jameis Winston. Miami’s pass defense has been exceptional this season. The Hurricanes have allowed just six passing touchdowns, and they’ve been especially tough on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 28 percent of their throws, with just one touchdown and five interceptions. The antidote for all that? Winston has thrown at least three TDs in each of his ACC games so far, and he’s converting a nation-best 68 percent of his throws for first downs, averaging 12.5 yards per attempt (third nationally) and has five touchdowns passes with just one pick.

2. The rejuvenated defense. It took the Seminoles a while to adjust to new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s scheme, but they seem to have things pointed in the right direction now. They ended September by allowing 200 yards rushing to Boston College, and for the month, they coughed up an average of 152 yards per game on the ground. In October, however, they’ve trimmed that average by nearly 40 yards (against better teams). Moving Christian Jones to defensive end and getting Mario Edwards Jr. healthy has been a big part of the improvement, but much of the difference is simply experience in the new system. Add in FSU’s aggressive blitzing strategy against a quarterback who’s battled an ankle injury all season, and there’s a good chance the Seminoles’ D could have a big day.

3. The intangibles. The numbers already suggest a pretty clear advantage on the field for Florida State, which enters the game as a three-touchdown favorite. But more than that, all the off-the-field markers are tipped in FSU’s favor, too. Seniors like Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks and Telvin Smith are eager to wrap up a 4-0 career against their archrivals. Florida State is expecting a sellout crowd at Doak Campbell for the first time this season. It’s a big-game environment, but FSU already knows that feeling, having played two prime-time games already, including one against Clemson just two weeks ago.


1. Duke Johnson and the run game. The Hurricanes have relied heavily on their run game all season, specifically to pull out comeback wins in the fourth quarter of their past two games. Miami is averaging 214.7 yards per game on the ground this season -- its highest total going back to 1960. In fact, Miami has averaged more than 200 yards rushing just twice in that time span. Johnson leads the way with a league-high 6.7 yards per rush. Dallas Crawford runs hard, too, and he won the North Carolina game for the Canes. Do not overlook this offensive line, either. Miami only has one underclassman in its starting lineup and presents the best line the Seminoles have seen to date.

2. Stephen Morris is finally healthy. Morris is the healthiest he has been since the start of the season after playing through a lingering ankle injury in the past five games. That injury forced him to change his footwork and mechanics, and it did not allow him to take snaps under center as much as Miami wanted. The Canes are hoping a healthy Morris means fewer mistakes and better decisions. "Definitely need to be better on first-down efficiency, making the right decision on first down," Morris said. "Setting up an easy second and third down is huge for us, and when we get into our third down, our money downs, we have to stay on the field. I need to make better decisions, I need to see the field better, and especially in the red zone, converting touchdowns instead of field goals."

3. Improved pass defense. As was mentioned above, Miami is much better defensively this season than last. One of the biggest keys to slowing down Winston is not so much flustering him or blitzing him, because he does well under pressure. Rather, the Hurricanes need to take away the guys who make plays for him. In this instance, Miami must do an excellent job covering receivers Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, along with tight end Nick O'Leary. That means tackling well and not allow those guys to get behind them for a big play. Miami has forced 19 turnovers in 2013, second-highest in the ACC and better than Florida State. Of those, 12 are interceptions, which is tied for No. 12 in the nation.

Video: Drive to the national championship

October, 31, 2013

Todd McShay looks over the latest BCS standings and previews the biggest game of the week when Miami visits Florida State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on ABC).

Miami quarterback Stephen Morris came into the season on the verge of taking his game to the next level.

He ended 2012 with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last four games. He had a great summer and impressed NFL scouts with his performances at various camps. A senior going into his final season, he had firm command of his team with expectations higher than they had been in some 10 years.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesMiami QB Stephen Morris got NFL scouts' attention with his strong arm and deep-ball accuracy.
But Morris has not played at an elite level yet. Rather than take his place as the top quarterback in the state, he has had to watch Jameis Winston dazzle the nation in Tallahassee, and even UCF quarterback Blake Bortles turn heads in Orlando.

When Miami and Florida State play Saturday, Winston will be on center stage.

Morris will be an afterthought.

None of that concerns Morris, though. He recognizes he has work to do to get better, and he shrugs off his stat line and the notion that the quarterback matchup this weekend is titled heavily to the other side.

“I’m not concerned about having 3,000 yards, 4,000 yards. I’m all about my team. I could care less if my stats are bad at the end of the games as long as we got the win,” Morris said in a recent interview. “I want to improve in so many aspects of the game, but overall we’ve been OK. We need to do a lot better.”

That starts with Morris. Rather than use a lingering ankle injury as an excuse, he only talks about how he is feeling when directly asked. Morris was initially hurt against Savannah State on Sept. 21, then aggravated the injury the following week against USF. In the wake of that win against the Bulls, Morris accused USF players of being “dirty” for trying to pull at his ankle at the bottom of piles.

Morris has not been 100 percent since, and says the ankle is something he has to “mentally get over. I’m feeling stronger and stronger every day, so that’s always a positive.”

“He never really had a chance to put up numbers,” offensive coordinator James Coley said. “He’s been playing hurt every week. As a quarterback, your right foot is your plant foot. You end up developing habits because you’re not going full speed in practice, and now finally he’s full speed, so I’m very excited for him. I’m excited to see him go out there and really take advantage of his athleticism, and his ability to plant and step and throw because he’s got a big arm.”

The big arm is what had scouts buzzing over the summer. Morris does have some nice touch on his deep balls, and throws great fades, too. But he has struggled with shorter and intermediate routes. The low point this year came in the come-from-behind win against North Carolina, when he had zero touchdown passes and four interceptions because he tried to do too much.

On the season, Morris has just 10 touchdown passes to eight interceptions -- more than he had the entire 2012 season. He is completing 59.9 percent of his passes, just a tick better than last year, and is on pace to throw for fewer than the 3,345 yards he posted a year ago.

Support for Morris has never wavered, though. Teammates texted him words of encouragement after the North Carolina game, and coach Al Golden has defended him at every turn.

Last week in a win over Wake Forest, Morris did not have an interception.

“I think he looked better this past game than he has looked,” Golden told reporters in Miami. “He moved better. In the pocket, he moved better in terms of when we moved the pocket on him. He looks different. His personality is coming back, he’s not worried about it. There is no anguish over anything. He’s starting to feel good and get back, and we’re excited about it.”

This would be the perfect week for Morris to get healthy. Miami needs him to play well to have any shot at pulling the upset.

“The game’s not about me, or what I’m trying to do or the next level,” Morris said. “I’m focusing right now on my team, and doing all the little things right to help us win.”

That means a near-flawless game.

ACC reporter Heather Dinich contributed to this report.

Winston gets first taste of FSU-Miami

October, 31, 2013

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jameis Winston dispensed with the formality of NC State in less than 15 minutes of action, exploding for 35 points in the first quarter before he and the rest of the offense took seats on the bench for the entirety of the second half last week.

After the game, there was little point in dissecting the carnage. Instead, focus quickly shifted to the next opponent, the arch nemesis from down south, the next installment of a rivalry against Miami in which Winston, Florida State’s most recognizable star, wasn't entirely well-versed.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Steve CannonJameis Winston has been mostly all smiles in big games this season.
“What is it, wide left or something?” Winston said. “Wide right?”

Actually, it’s both. But given his Heisman-caliber start to the season, Winston can be forgiven for being a bit rusty on the details.

He’s an Alabama native, after all, but the Florida State quarterback now understands the nature of this week’s game. Winston has been taught the significance from his teammates, the ones who grew up in south Florida, the ones who've heard the phrase “wide right” from taunting neighbors for years.

There’s a lot on the line, and Winston’s fully appreciative of that.

“You come to Florida State to play in the Miami and Florida games and national championships,” Winston said. “We’re playing against the enemy right now.”

The bulk of what Winston knows about the history of the rivalry comes from a documentary he’d watched on Miami, when Florida State was pegged by Hurricanes players as the “little brothers” eager to steal Miami’s spotlight.

There hadn't been much spotlight to steal during the past decade, though. This is the first time the two teams have faced off with both ranked in the top 10 since 2004 — when Winston was just 10 years old. But with two undefeated seasons and National Championship implications on the line, there’s ample significance for this year’s showdown.

“They said how Florida State stole the swag from Miami,” Winston said of the rivalry’s history. “That’s going to be a big thing, with us trying to bring the swag back and Miami trying to get the swag back. It’s going to be a big thing.”

Through seven games this season, Winston’s had plenty of swag. He’s among the nation’s leaders in virtually every passing category, and he’s a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. In each of his first five ACC games, he’s thrown for at least 292 yards and three touchdowns. In his first matchup against a top-10 opponent, two weeks ago in Clemson, he turned in perhaps the best performance of his young career, throwing for 444 yards and accounting for four touchdowns.

But Miami presents a new challenge, and Winston knows the task this week will be tougher because of the names on the front of the uniforms as much as the names on the back.

“When you have a great team, by it being a rivalry, those great players are going to turn into amazing players,” Winston said. “It’s going to be a battle. We are expecting it to be a good game. There is a lot of pride on this game just because of what they have to lose and what we have to lose.”

For the season, Miami ranks 10th nationally in opposing quarterback rating. The Hurricanes have allowed just six passing touchdowns all year, third-fewest in the country. The 6.2 yards per attempt Miami has allowed is the best of any opponent Winston has faced to date.

Of course, Clemson’s defense looked sharp before facing Florida State, too. Maryland was off to an undefeated start, but Winston disposed of the Terrapins’ defense with minimal effort. NC State had held up well against the pass before Winston hung 35 on the Wolfpack in the first quarter a week ago.

There’s plenty of history to this rivalry, but Winston isn’t overly interested in the specifics. He has another chapter of the rivalry to write this week, and he’s eager to add those bitter rivals from the south to his growing list of vanquished adversaries.

“It’s a big rivalry but it’s going to be like we are in the backyard,” Winston said. “It’s like a brotherly game, and we want to beat our brother.”

What to watch in the ACC: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
For the second time in three weeks, the ACC has the national stage with a top-10 matchup. Florida State and Miami will be the headlining act, but there’s plenty to watch across the conference in Week 10.

1. Winston in a rivalry: We’ve seen Jameis Winston embrace the big stage of his first spring game, his first regular-season game and his first top-five game. Now the Florida State quarterback gets introduced to his first true rivalry game when the Seminoles host No. 7 Miami. Winston has thrown for at least 290 yards and three touchdowns in all five of his ACC matchups, and another big performance against a longtime rival on a national stage could go a long way toward winning over Heisman Trophy voters.

2. Return of the rivalry: There’s plenty more to watch in this rivalry game than just Winston, of course. It’s the first time in nine years that FSU and Miami are both ranked in the top 10 at the time of their meeting, giving the ACC a matchup it dreamed about when the Hurricanes first joined the league. For FSU, it’s a chance at another marquee victory as the Seminoles try to sway voters in the razor-thin BCS standings. For Miami, it’s a chance at a signature victory in the Al Golden era and an opportunity to go 4-0 against in-state opponents.

3. Johnson versus FSU defense: Perhaps the most intriguing matchup in Saturday’s top-10 showdown is Miami’s Duke Johnson going against the stout Florida State defensive front. Johnson was the hero in last Saturday's rally over Wake Forest, carrying a career-high 30 times and scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns. FSU’s defense has improved dramatically in the past month, particularly up front. Still, the Seminoles' success came largely against spread offenses. Johnson and Miami bring more of a power attack. Boston College gained 200 yards on the ground and scored 34 points against the Seminoles in September with its power-based approach.

[+] EnlargeBryn Renner
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesBryn Renner and North Carolina have shown signs of life heading into their matchup against in-state rival NC State.
4. That other rivalry: Well outside the spotlight of FSU and Miami’s top-10 matchup of in-state rivals is North Carolina and NC State. The two programs are a combined 1-7 in ACC play this year, serving as two of the conference’s bigger disappointments. But for two schools separated by only 25 miles, there’s always a lot at stake. UNC finally showed signs of life in last Saturday's victory over BC, while NC State continued to fight even after FSU jumped out to a big lead. Neither program will be taking this week's showdown lightly.

5. Doubting Thomas: It’s been a rocky two years in Blacksburg for Logan Thomas, but last week’s disaster against Duke might have been a low point. Virginia Tech dominated the game by virtually any statistical measure, but the Blue Devils still emerged with a 13-10 victory, at least in part due to another shaky performance from Thomas, who threw four interceptions, including a game-clincher late in the fourth quarter. Thomas will look to rebound this week against a Boston College pass defense that ranks last in the ACC in QB rating allowed.

6. Williams versus Hokies: The conference’s leading rusher faces off against the ACC’s best rushing defense as both sides look to remedy ugly Week 9 losses. Virginia Tech is allowing just 2.6 yards per carry and has given up just five rushing touchdowns. Andre Williams scored five times in one game against Army, and he’s one of just six players nationally to have cracked the 1,000-yard mark.

7. Battle for a bowl: Wake Forest and Syracuse face off at the Carrier Dome in a game that could push the winner toward bowl eligibility and leave the loser with long-shot odds at a postseason berth. With a loss, Wake would need to win two of its final three games (FSU, Duke, Vanderbilt). Syracuse would need three of its last four (Maryland, FSU, Pitt, BC). The Deacons are playing better football at the moment, but both teams have much to lose.

8. Clemson’s playmakers: After a rocky performance against Florida State, Clemson’s big three responded with monster performances in last Saturday's victory over Maryland. Tajh Boyd collected his 15th career 300-yard game, Sammy Watkins reeled in 14 passes for 163 yards and Roderick McDowell rushed 30 times for 161 yards and two TDs. The trio gets a crack at Virginia this week. The Cavaliers have allowed at least 468 yards of offense to five of their past six FBS opponents.

9. Pitt versus the option: If nothing else, the beleaguered Panthers will at least be ready for what’s in store when they travel to Georgia Tech this week, having just faced Navy, which runs a similar option offense. But that Navy game didn’t go too well -- Pitt allowed 220 rushing yards in a 24-21 loss -- and Georgia Tech appears to have righted the ship after a rocky stretch. Tech has won its past two games by a combined 91-25, racking up 788 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs in the process.

The routine task of breaking down game film of an opponent was “different” this week for Miami offensive coordinator James Coley.

As Coley studied No. 3-ranked Florida State’s defense in preparation for what is arguably the biggest game on the Hurricanes’ schedule, Coley caught himself thinking about the days he recruited so many of those players as an assistant on the Seminoles’ staff.

“It’s different from when you watch other teams,” said Coley, a 1997 graduate of Florida State. “You know the history behind every player. Some of the guys as seniors, you remember them as freshmen, or guys that I recruited, like Lamarcus Joyner, you watch him and at the same time there’s a thought process of, ‘OK, what does he do well?’ and then in the back of my mind it goes back to, ‘Oh, man, I remember recruiting this kid.’ There’s a pride factor. I’m happy for them.”

(He’d also like to win on Saturday -- nothing personal.)

With the exception of the relationships he built with his former players, Coley said there hasn’t been any time this week to get emotional about returning to his alma mater, where he coached for five years before being hired by Al Golden as the rival Canes’ offensive coordinator. Two of the biggest selling points in leaving Florida State were the opportunity to call plays, which he didn’t do for the Noles in three seasons as the offensive coordinator, and returning to his hometown of Miami, where he grew up near the Orange Bowl cheering for the Canes.

“I think it’s all business,” Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said. “When you get to this point, you understand coaching at this level is business. Coach Coley saw a great opportunity to come down here, call his plays and do everything he wanted to do as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and he took it. Coach Golden did a great job of finding him.”

James Coley
Getty ImagesJames Coley knows all about the Miami-FSU rivalry, but will be seeing it for the first time from the Hurricanes' vantage point Saturday.
Given Coley’s ties to both Florida State and Miami, he has a unique perspective of the storied rivalry. Just a year ago, he was sitting in staff meetings with FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. He spent two years on Bobby Bowden’s staff. Yet Coley said there’s never been a moment this week where he’s shared any insider trading secrets with other assistants -- because he doesn’t have any. Florida State has since replaced six assistants on staff, including Coley.

“Everybody thinks Coley is giving out the goods,” he said with a laugh. “You know the players, but they’re not running the same stuff, so it’s not the same deal.

“If they still had Mark Stoops, and Eddie Gran was on special teams, and stuff like that, I would’ve had a lot of input,” Coley said. “But they have a brand-new defensive staff. I’m sitting there and I’m watching the defense, and I’m trying to figure out, ‘OK, what are they trying to do with this?’ It’s different from what I saw last year being in the program. And the offense, they’re not running the same stuff they ran last year. They’ve got a different quarterback. With a different quarterback there’s always a different dynamic.”

This will be Coley's first trip to Tallahassee since he moved his family to his hometown in March. He and Fisher have only exchanged a text message since Coley left, but the two of them remain friends.

“Coley's done a great job,” Fisher said. “I've always said Coley's a great offensive mind. He's a very good coach, a great recruiter, and he's got a great future in this business."

So far, Miami’s offensive numbers have only improved under Coley’s watch. The Canes have increased their averages in scoring offense, rushing offense, passing offense and total offense from a year ago. The most dramatic increase was in rushing offense, where Miami improved from 144.75 yards per game to 214.7 this year. The Canes have rushed for over 200 yards in all but two games this year -- Florida and South Florida. Miami has also boosted its scoring average from 31.42 points to 39.6.

Miami coach Al Golden said both of his coordinators have full autonomy of the play-calling.

“I always want my coordinators to feel the game, and James does a great job of really preparing, especially in the final 48 [hours] of just seeing the game, being able to conduct the game, being able to set up what he wants to set up -- run to pass or pass to run,” Golden said. “I don’t like to disrupt that. What I like to do is have a lot of input early in the week, especially from a defensive standpoint, trying to share with the offensive staff what the team’s philosophy is and what they’re trying to do to us.”

Golden can relate to Coley’s situation this week. He left a job as linebackers coach at his alma mater, Penn State, to become defensive coordinator at Virginia, and had to coach against the Nittany Lions.

“I did the same thing,” Golden said. “James is operating with class. He’s just worried about coaching the quarterbacks and orchestrating the offense. He’s not talking about anything else, not worried about anything else. I’m sure there’s a lot of young people up there he made a difference in their lives, he gave them their all. I’m sure they were disappointed when he left, but that’s the sign of a good coach.”

Coley has already left Tallahassee once. This time, when Coley heads back south, he’s hoping to leave with a win.

Are Florida State and Miami back?

October, 30, 2013

Back /bak/, adv. Expressing a return to an earlier or normal condition.

Miami and Florida State have returned to the Top 10, a home from a bygone era that continues to influence both programs still today.

Because the natural question before us headed into their showdown Saturday is one that has trailed both programs for close to 10 years now:

[+] EnlargeJacobbi McDaniel
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIFlorida State has enjoyed more recent success, and has won three straight games over Miami, but the games have not carried the weight they once did.
Are the Hurricanes and Seminoles back?

Furthermore, what does it even mean to be back?

College football has waited on their return to prominence after a dominating 20-year stretch that put both programs on the national map. Twelve times between 1987 and 2004, Miami and Florida State met as Top 10 teams -- including a whopping seven consecutive meetings. National championship implications became the norm, not the exception. The programs combined to win six national titles in that time span and played for six others.

Both set standards that today seem unsustainable. College football has changed since Miami and Florida State rose in the mid-1980s. Their recruiting territory is no longer truly theirs; neither is their philosophy to win with athletes and speed. Everybody else has caught up to the once-trailblazing programs.

Since 2004, Miami and Florida State have combined to play in two BCS games. Miami has won zero conference titles. Florida State has won two. Yet every year, thanks to the weight of history, the inevitable question has been asked of one program. Sometimes both.

Are you back yet?

So seeing both unbeaten this late in the season, ranked in the Top 10, with national title implications again on the line has revived the irresistible notion that both are, indeed, back. But neither side believes as much. Not when their recent history speaks more to unmet expectations than championship rings.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t say we’re back because we’re not the past,” Miami tight end Clive Walford said. “I have a lot of respect for what happened in the past, but we’re trying to build our own new legacy. We’re a whole new team, with a different mindset. And we’re just trying to win every game, that’s all.”

To be sure, the Miami of today is a distant cousin to the Miami of yesteryear. They have the same name, but they bear little resemblance. What Walford says is true. This Miami team is not the past. There are no larger than life personalities. There are no household names. There are no All-Americans. There are no swaggering, trash-talking, in-your-face, we-don’t-care-what-you-think players roaming that sideline.

All those qualities that made the U one of the most despised teams outside South Florida? This team embodies none of them. Not one quote has made a bulletin board in Tallahassee. When given the opportunity to talk some smack, Miami players have politely declined and given clichéd quotes about this being just another game. Do the Canes feel disrespected knowing they are 21-point underdogs? This is as close to an inflammatory quote as you will get.

“It doesn’t really matter about whether someone respects us or not,” Miami running back Duke Johnson said. “We don’t care. We’re just here to play football and do it the way we’re being taught to.”

All of this is by design, the way Miami coach Al Golden wants it. He has his players believing in “the process,” so much so that a week generally filled with friendly back-and-forth has been doused with cold water.

In this way, Miami might never be back. But it does not have to embody an old persona to win championships. That is the key, of course. Miami has not won championships recently. Then, and only then, can Miami begin taking steps on the road back.

Quarterback Stephen Morris is not toeing a line when he says, “When you bring up the term back, our biggest thing is let’s talk about that at the end of the season.”

Florida State is closer than Miami is given what it has done over the last two seasons. The Noles won the ACC last season and went to a BCS game. They are No. 3 and more closely resemble the Florida State teams of the past -- with a dynamic quarterback in the Heisman race and NFL talent up and down its roster. But there remain skeptics who are not quite sold. Not until they see the Noles put a complete season together, and then stack them on top one by one, the way they used to.

"Is Florida State back on a national stage? Right now we are," Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. "Like they were in the ‘90s and late ‘80s, I guess we’re doing the same things those guys were able to do. But as far as being back? What’s in the past is in the past. We just have the responsibility of carrying the respect, the tradition and the legacy around here.”

There is no question both teams are trying to forge their own identities, and their own legacies. Whether or not their rise back up continues, the past can never truly be in the past for Miami or Florida State.

Florida State reporter David Hale contributed to this report.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Devonta Freeman finished last year’s Miami game with his teammate’s initials scrawled on his wrist tape.

Chris Thompson had been Florida State’s most explosive offensive player before blowing out his knee on a 32-yard reception early in the second quarter. At halftime, the remaining Seminoles running backs decided to dedicate the rest of the game to their fallen teammate.

It was a fitting tribute. Freeman carried 10 times in the game for 70 yards. No carries went for a loss and two finished in the end zone. A 10-3 Miami lead at the time of Thompson’s injury turned into a 33-20 Florida State win, with the Seminoles rushing for 218 yards.

But Freeman didn’t need the extra motivation. It was Miami. It was home. It’s the game he’d been waiting for.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesDevonta Freeman is emerging as a leader for Florida State, and as a player from Miami, this week is extra special.
“I’ve always got a chip on my shoulder, but it's an even bigger chip on my shoulder knowing that more people from Miami are going to be watching,” Freeman said. “It’s always going to be that edge about it. This is Miami.”

Thompson’s injury was a gut punch a year ago. He was a feel-good story after working his back from a broken bone in his back that cost him the bulk of the 2011 season. He was on pace to cruise past the 1,000-yard mark, something no FSU runner had done in 16 years. He was the hard-working heartbeat of the Seminoles' ground game, and his loss seemed enormous.

A year later, a familiar story is being told, but it hasn't earned the same spotlight. Freeman lacks Thompson’s injury-riddled back story, but the path he’s traveled was every bit as challenging. He’s now on pace to finally end that 1,000-yard curse, yet his offensive prowess is widely overshadowed by his nationally renowned teammate, Jameis Winston. And Freeman is every bit the emotional leader that Thompson was; he just does the bulk of his work away from the cameras and microphones, with a quiet confidence more befitting his reserved personality.

“His heart is about as genuine as the day is long,” Jimbo Fisher said. “He’ll do whatever you ask him. Whatever you want him to do and however you want him to do it, he says, ‘Yes sir,’ and goes 100 miles per hour.”

Freeman’s numbers tell part of the story. He’s rushed for 580 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that figure to lead the team for the third consecutive season. He’s used his speed to avoid defenders, but still has picked up nearly 200 yards after contact. He has scored on short runs and long runs, has been exceptional outside the tackles and between them and has caught passes in key situations. He said the plays he’s most proud of are the ones when the ball isn’t in his hands.

He’s been Florida State’s ultimate offensive Renaissance man, and yet so often, Freeman still managed to fly beneath the radar.

“He’s not as fast as me, not as big as James [Wilder Jr.],” Karlos Williams said. “But I believe he’s the best of the three because of the way he carries himself.”

The truth is, Freeman isn’t much interested in the spotlight. He’s in the weight room before most of his teammates and he’ll stay on the practice field even after everyone else has gone. During position meetings, he snags a seat in the front row, peppering position coach Jay Graham with questions to ensure his teammates learn the answers. He’s the four-star recruit in a backfield of five-star talent, the quiet leader amid a group of social butterflies.

“Devonta can be a high-energy guy, but it’s never been that crazy, let’s get everything pumped up. He leads by example, by his energy on the field,” Williams said. “It comes from where he’s from, the high school he came from. He comes with an edge.”

But if Freeman is used to toiling in the shadows, this week provides the lone exception. Miami is home, and the Hurricanes’ roster is filled with familiar names.

Freeman grew up in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods, and he understands what’s at stake in a rivalry. This year, in particular, with so much on the line, Freeman isn’t interested in going unnoticed. He’s out to deliver a blow.

“It's going to be back to that old Miami – two top-10 teams,” Freeman said. “It's going to be a dog fight.”

Florida State should be well prepared for the fight. Williams has been explosive since moving from safety to tailback. He’s scored seven times on just 44 rushes, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry. Wilder’s season has been marred by injuries, and he sat out last week with concussion symptoms. He returned to practice Monday, however, and should be ready for Miami.

But it’s Freeman who promises to carry the load.

Freeman doesn’t look for the spotlight and doesn’t want a bigger share of the carries. But each year against Miami, it’s a chance to see how he measures up, to see how far he’s come.

“I can feel myself getting better,” Freeman said. “I’m running way better than I was three, four weeks ago. That's a big improvement for me, but I know I've still got a lot of work to do.”