MIAMI — As No. 12 Miami steamrolled Florida State to a 52-10 blowout at Hard Rock Stadium, an intriguing question arose on social media: Are the Seminoles this bad, or are the Hurricanes that good?
The answer: Yes, but more of the first part than the second.
To see the extremes and how the balance has shifted in this historic rivalry, zoom in on Saturday night’s defining sequence — one that encapsulates almost everything that is wrong in Tallahassee and shows why the Hurricanes (3-0, 2-0 ACC) are soaring into a matchup at No. 1 Clemson in two weeks.
After Miami muffed a punt in the second quarter, FSU (0-2, 0-2) took over with good field position and a chance to cut the 21-3 deficit. That’s when three of the Seminoles' long-standing problems surfaced on one disastrous trick play (that didn’t trick anyone).
The idea was for change-of-pace quarterback Jordan Travis to take a reverse and throw it downfield. But slow-developing plays require effective blocking to work, and FSU’s line hasn’t blocked effectively in years.
Center Maurice Smith tried and failed to contain Miami defensive lineman Nesta Jade Silvera. A chip from tackle Devontay Love-Taylor didn’t stop him, either. Silvera powered through and started to bring Travis down. That’s when one of FSU’s other recurring issues surfaced: Bad decision making.
Instead of taking the sack, Travis tried to throw it away … but threw it right at Miami defensive end Jaelan Phillips. The five-star transfer from UCLA came up with a juggling interception. It was a lowlight-reel blooper, like Jameis Winston slipping and fumbling backward in the Rose Bowl rout by Oregon.
The play, as poorly executed as it was, is the symptom of a larger problem at FSU. If the 'Noles had a reliable quarterback, they wouldn’t need to resort to gadgetry. But they don’t; non-stop coaching turnover has stymied James Blackman’s development, and Willie Taggart’s failure to sign a quarterback in either of his two recruiting classes means FSU doesn’t have any better options than Blackman scrambling for his life or Travis trying a trick play.
“I hurt for everyone,” first-year FSU coach Mike Norvell said from his home, where he’s quarantining after testing positive for coronavirus. “It’s sickening to have to live through that.”
That one blunder was an inescapable reminder that these 'Noles look nothing like the ones that went to five consecutive major bowl games from 2012-16. What followed showed how these 'Canes look nothing like the ones that lost to a pair of Conference USA teams last year.
On the third play after Phillips' interception, Miami quarterback D’Eriq King took the snap and rolled right. As behemoth Marvin Wilson slammed into him, King fired a spiral 48 yards through the air that hit a wide-open Dee Wiggins perfectly for a touchdown and a 25-point lead.
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“I just tried to put it up there to make a play,” King said.
Miami’s offense had only eight passes of at least 40 yards all of last season. That was King’s third through 10 quarters. The days of the Hurricanes' defense savoring the turnover chain while their offense stalls are over.
While it’s still too early to claim that The U is back, this Miami team is more explosive than the 2017 team that went to the Orange Bowl. If the 'Canes look as sharp as they did in the first half (when they scored every drive their offense touched the ball), they might be able to hang with mighty Clemson.
Then again, this rout came against an FSU team that will likely go down as the worst since Bobby Bowden took over in 1976.
And that’s where Saturday’s blowout — Miami’s biggest win in the series since a 47-0 rout in ’76—leaves us. With an FSU team that has fallen to historic lows unable to stop a Hurricanes team that has a chance to be one of the program’s best in two decades.
• Saturday night was the first game I’ve experienced where I really noticed the pandemic weirdness. Florida State-Georgia Tech felt like a spring game, which is fine for a ho-hum opponent. But FSU-Miami is supposed to feel electric. It didn’t, and the lack of buzz was unavoidable.
• At least FSU got creative with its limited quarterback options during the off week. James Blackman started, but Jordan Travis lined up at receiver, quarterback and running back during the first series to help the Seminoles start with a field goal.
• Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but penalties remain an enormous issue for FSU. The Seminoles chose to go for it on fourth and goal from the 3 on their first drive … until a false start pushed them back 5 yards. Those are the kinds of mistakes FSU needs to erase if it’s going to get back to national prominence.