Friday, February 23, 2018
Colleges

Miami looks to end 'inexcusable' losing streak to FSU

Braxton Berrios grew up in North Carolina, where more often than not, it's college basketball, not football, that reigns supreme.

That doesn't mean he wasn't paying attention to the annual rivalry showdown between Miami and Florida State, two of the most recognizable teams in college football, especially since he grew up a Hurricanes fan.

The fact that Miami has lost seven in a row to Florida State — including three games while he's worn Miami's orange and green — irks Berrios, deeply.

And so, with the 13th-ranked Hurricanes preparing to once again take the field against the Seminoles on Saturday afternoon in Tallahassee, the senior receiver didn't mince words when talking about the matchup and Miami's need to, somehow, find a way to snap that maddening losing streak.

"It's a great rivalry. Everybody knows that. We say it's the best rivalry in football. Ohio State and Michigan say it's the second-best rivalry in football, so take it as you wish," Berrios said. "But it's inexcusable to have lost to them seven straight times. Especially the ways we've lost and how close most of the games have been. At least when I was here, we've lead in every single fourth quarter, and so in one word it's inexcusable."

Berrios isn't the only Hurricane upset about how the last matchups in the series have played out. Fellow senior Kc McDermott has endured the same three losses. Worse, McDermott's older brother Shane— who was at Miami from 2010-14 — never experienced a win over the Seminoles, either.

And all those years of disappointment have fueled the Hurricanes, who enter this year's matchup in a position they haven't always been in during recent seasons.

The Hurricanes (3-0, 1-0 ACC) have risen steadily in both major polls. Their defense is regarded as one of the best in the ACC, and quarterback Malik Rosier, who was named the starter in training camp, has grown into a steady, reliable player who is more than capable of leading the offense.

There's talent on both sides of the ball with preseason All-ACC running back Mark Walton lining up behind Rosier and receivers such as Berrios and Ahmmon Richards catching passes.

Florida State, meanwhile, has endured one of the its most brutal starts in recent history. The Seminoles dropped two of their first three games, lost starting quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending knee injury in their opener against Alabama. If not for a late 40-yard touchdown pass from freshman James Blackman to former Wharton High standout Auden Tate last week in Wake Forest, the Seminoles would have been 0-3 for the first time since 1976.

All of that has many outside of Coral Gables and Tallahassee penciling the Hurricanes in as winners on Saturday. However, Miami's players and coaches know better, especially after having their hearts broken in each of the last three games, all of which Florida State won by fewer than six points.

"Florida State is never down," Kc McDermott said. "One thing that I was told my freshman year is, 'It's hard to win a college football game, no matter who you play.' FSU is never a 'down' team. They may have a bad game here and there and they may have unfortunate issues that arise, but they are always going to — especially with us — come out playing tough. They are going to give us their very best, and we have to be prepared for it. We have to give them our best and that's part of what the rivalry is."

For Miami, a key Saturday will be the health of Walton. The junior, who is averaging an ACC-high 9.2 yards per carry, has been a force, but has struggled with an ankle injury. Although Hurricanes coach Mark Richt says Walton has practiced this week, his effectiveness will be key, especially with the team that has posted the higher yards-per-carry average winning seven of the past 10 matchups, regardless of the overall rushing totals.

And while the Seminoles' offense has struggled, its defense returns talented playmakers including Matthew Thomas, Derrick Nnadi, Tarvarus McFadden, Derwin James and Josh Sweat.

They'll challenge Miami in a way the Hurricanes haven't been challenged this season. Weathering that push will go a long way to helping Miami, finally, break through.

"The bottom line is we're trying to win the Coastal (Division). This game counts. When you have your goals set, your goal is to end up In Charlotte and play in the (ACC) Championship Game and win it," Richt said. "But in order to do it, you have to have the best record in the league. This is a league game, and that means a lot from the get-go. But we all know that it's a rival game. Rivalry games are important. They're better rivalries when there's some winning and losing on both sides, and that hasn't happened lately."

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