CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Since opening at Louisville two months ago, the Miami Hurricanes have stressed 12 one-game missions. Each week, a new opponent poses a different challenge.
But this Saturday threatens the mantra with added stakes: In-state rival and No. 2 Florida State visits Sun Life Stadium for a primetime matchup having won 25 straight games.
Players will find familiar faces on the other sideline, guys they grew up with both on and off the field. The Seminoles can smell another shot at a national title. Miami’s Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division hopes are dim but still alive.
"I hope we’re excited," head coach Al Golden said. "It’s a great opportunity, it’s a great challenge, but none of that’s going to help us execute on any given play during the course of that game. This is obviously a team that’s executing at a high level that we’re going against that’s 25 straight now. That’s elite. You’ve got to execute at a high level, and (it) really doesn’t matter whom you grew up with or whom you played high school with. You’ve got to get the job done, and that’s what our guys have to stay focused on this week."
The stakes are higher, meaning each play gets magnified whether it goes for a positive or negative outcome. The margin for error is slim against one of the nation’s top teams. Over the past three games, Miami’s execution has been better from all three phases. It outscored opponents 132-60 and held an 8-2 turnover advantage. Mental errors have also gone down.
That trend must continue if the Hurricanes hope to pull the upset. A near-flawless performance will need to take place. No better time than Saturday for this meeting.
"Confidence and execution does go hand in hand," senior wideout Phillip Dorsett said. "Florida State had a lot of confidence last year, that’s why they didn’t lose a game. That’s why they were blowing everybody out. I feel like we’re coming in this game with a lot of confidence now the way we’ve played the last three weeks, so we just have to go out there and take it to them. We can’t have as many (mental errors) and be perfect in practice. If we’re good in practice, take it to the game."
Added defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio: "We try to pride ourselves on 12 one-game missions so to speak. Obviously this is a game that has big magnitude. We know that, but as far as we have the kids prepare nothing really different. At the end of the day we want them to practice well and put the time in they have to put in to play regardless of the opponent. That’s no different here. The biggest thing is to take the training into the game, execute, don’t get caught up in the moment and try to do too much."
Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya heard the same advice from his predecessor, Stephen Morris, now a quarterback with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Although Kaaya grew up in Los Angeles, thousands of miles from the rivalry, he is still familiar with it. Like many youngsters, he played the NCAA football video game. It would often show replays of the Wide Rights.
Kaaya sees this opportunity as a chance to disprove doubters of the program. Still, it’s only one game in the grander scheme of things. Progress will need to be made no matter if Saturday’s result is a win or a loss.
"Everybody knows it’s a big game, just treat it like any other game," Kaaya said. "We’re advised don’t do too much just do your job. In big games a lot of guys go into ‘I have to do this and that and be the man.’ In all actuality just have to play your game. Leave all that aside and play the way we’ve been playing the last three weeks."
Junior left tackle Ereck Flowers, who underwent a minor procedure on his knee, took part in Monday’s practice. Flowers sustained the injury on Oct. 23 against Virginia Tech and missed the next game, snapping a stretch of 21 consecutive starts.
Flowers has to improve his conditioning in a controlled setting. According to Golden, the key is for Flowers to have no setbacks and swelling.
"We’ll know more tomorrow," Golden said. "I know he wants to play. He’s been working like crazy since two Wednesdays ago. About 12 days now. He’s been working like crazy. Hopefully we’ll know more tomorrow when we get pads on. Today we just eased him into it a little bit. Just a couple drills, a little bit of movement. That’s the most that he’s done today, so hopefully we don’t have a setback and continues no swelling and all that. We’ve got a long way to go."
Asked whether he was confident it would get Flowers back, Golden said, "I would not bet against Ereck Flowers in anything, and I mean anything."
"I think he’s one of the most intense competitors I’ve ever been around and he’s demonstrated that by just an incredible commitment to try and make it back," Golden said. "Today was a good start for him."
The Hurricanes received more positive news on the injury front. Sophomore running back Gus Edwards, who left the Nov. 1 game against North Carolina with a sprained ankle, also practiced. Both he and Flowers wore orange rather than red non-contact jerseys. Edwards has rushed for 303 yards and five touchdowns on 49 carries.
"Gus looked better," Golden said. "He did more than Ereck, for example. I think he’ll be ready to go."
Sophomore offensive lineman Alex Gall, however, was limited. Gall has missed the past two games although he didn’t appear on the injury report.
"We’re still behind with him," Golden said. "There’s no update on him other than his status has not changed."
Miami (6-3, 3-2 ACC) sits third in the Coastal Division with three games remaining, hoping to reach the ACC title game for the first time since joining the league in 2004. Time is running out to gain ground.
Duke (8-1, 4-1 ACC) lost to the Hurricanes on Sept. 27, but that remains its lone blemish as the program sits atop the Coastal. Georgia Tech (8-2, 5-2 ACC) is second and holds the head-to-head advantage over UM after its win on Oct. 4.
The Blue Devils close out the season with three home games against Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest. The Yellow Jackets host Clemson before visiting Georgia in a non-conference meeting.
"That’s pretty much how it’s been, and you guys have been involved in it longer than I have here," Golden said. "Since I’ve been here it’s always been a multiple-loss team, really to be honest with you. We’ve got a long way to go in terms of our season. This is the biggest one because it’s the next one. We’ve got to focus on what we can control and not worry about the other things."