Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

October 02, 2018 at 9:21 pm.

Florida State heads to No. 17 Miami, looking for upset

Growing up in Bradenton, Fla. — a city located practically in the middle of Tallahassee and Miami — Florida State head coach Willie Taggart had to pick a side in his household of rabid football fans.

And he chose the Seminoles.

Now many years later, on Saturday, he’ll participate for the first time in what Taggart calls “one of the biggest rivalries in college football.”

“When I was growing up, that game pretty much came down to the national championship game there for a while,” Taggart said Monday. “We were all watching TV to watch the Canes and the Noles play. It’s one heck of a rivalry.”

It’s a rivalry that’s been lopsided in recent years in favor of the Seminoles, who are 7-1 against the Hurricanes over their last eight meetings. Miami snapped Florida State’s seven-game win streak last season with a 24-20 victory in Tallahassee. A win by Florida State in 2017 would’ve evened the all-time series at 31-31, but Miami’s victory pushed the record to 32-30 in favor of the Hurricanes.

When Taggart took the job at Florida State last December, he spoke during his opening press conference about rekindling the Florida State glory days full of “bad asses and war daddies” who used to battle Miami every year in a game that often propelled one team on the road to the national title.

But so far, it’s Miami (4-1 overall, 1-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) that has looked like they’re closer to those days than Florida State (3-2, 1-2). Taggart, however, knows this is the kind of game that could turn the tables. And the Seminoles are definitely upset-minded.

“It’s going to be physical. You’re going to see some big hits. Some big plays. Guys flying around. It’s a game you don’t necessarily have to get guys fired up for. They understand the importance of this game,” he said. “And think about here in the state, this is kind of like where it starts when it comes to winning a state championship. It starts with this game here. So our guys understand the importance. I’m excited about it. This is why you signed up to come to a place like Florida State to play in games like this.”

Both teams are coming off victories. For Miami, beating North Carolina 47-10 last week marked the Hurricanes’ fourth win in a row since losing to LSU in Week 1. Florida State came back to defeat Louisville 24-21 on the road for its second straight victory — and first in conference play — last Saturday.

That win could prove to be a turning point in the Seminoles’ season, which started with an embarrassing home loss to Virginia Tech on Labor Day night on national television in primetime, followed by a narrow win against FCS opponent Samford and then a second bad loss to a Syracuse team that had to use a freshman quarterback for the entire second half.

But Taggart said he saw something in his guys last Saturday that proved that even though the year started poorly, no one gave up on this season or each other.

“Man, what a win. Good win for our football team. I think our football team took another step (coming back to beat Louisville),” he said. “It was really good to see how resilient those guys were — to go out and fight till the end and make winning plays. They stuck to it and they stuck together. It was so great at halftime, them believing in the team and saying, ‘We’re not leaving here without a victory.’ Guys made the plays when we needed it and found a way to win.”

One of those guys was Florida State receiver Nyqwan Murray, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass.

“It was a big step forward for this team. Great team win on the road,” Murray said. “Walk off touchdown, it’s pretty amazing.”

Now Murray, who grew up in Orlando and has several friends (and rivals) on Miami’s team, just hopes that momentum carries over. He told this week that he’s been listening to Hurricane fans since last year’s win talk trash, and he’s ready for that to end.

“Losing to these guys, I had to hear it all year, everybody talking crazy,” Murray said. “I’m not trying to deal with that this year.”