FSU PK Dustin Hopkins could be difference vs Miami
While Florida State has never beaten Miami with a last-minute, game-winning field goal, the Seminoles have lost five games to the Hurricanes since 1991 because of missed kicks.
If Saturday's game comes down to a field goal at the finish, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher likes his chances with Dustin Hopkins, who is on pace to challenge school and Atlantic Coast Conference records for scoring and field goals.
''We love our kicker,'' Fisher said Wednesday. ''He's handled those situations before.''
The record-setting junior kicker has hit 15 of 17 field goals this season and 124 consecutive extra-points. Hopkins has converted 56 of 71 field goals in his career, including four of 52 yards or longer. He has been doing it since his first collegiate game two years ago when he kicked field goals of 45 and 52 yards in a 38-34 loss to Miami. In his first two games in the series, Hopkins is 10-for-11 on extra-points and has field goals covering 52, 45 and 38 yards.
By comparison, Miami (5-4, 3-3) comes into the game with a relatively inexperienced field goal kicker. Junior Jake Weiclaw took over those duties this season and has hit on 8 of 10 and all 36 of his extra-point attempts.
''He's been kicking big field goals for us and coming up big for us all year,'' Miami linebacker Sean Spence said.
Both kickers, however, are hoping they aren't factors in the game.
''I'm not upset if we win by four touchdowns or whatever the score is,'' Hopkins said.
But they also agree that a kicker has to embrace a game-deciding attempt.
Hopkins, who paints his shoes gold before each game, has already experienced the agony of a missed kick and the exhilaration of a winning one.
The lanky Texas nailed a 55-yard field goal as time expired in Florida State's 16-13 win over Clemson last year just one week after his 40-yard attempt was, naturally, wide right with 7 seconds remaining as North Carolina escaped with a 37-35 win in Tallahassee.
''Just knowing you've been there I'm sure will help if the opportunity arises again,'' Hopkins said.
Hopkins, who also handles kickoff duties for the Seminoles (6-3, 4-2), is known for accuracy and range, which is accented by his numerous kickoffs into or through the end zone.
''Those special guys ... that's what separates them,'' Fisher said. ''That's one of the things we're blessed with.''
Quarterback EJ Manuel is hoping to put up enough points so it doesn't come down to a kick at the end, but he's not worried if it does.
''If we have to win by a field goal I'd put my money on Dustin,'' Manuel said. ''I'd go with my guy every time.''
Kickers Graham Gano and Sebastian Janikowski were on Florida State teams that swept Miami, and Gary Cismesia kicked field goals in the 2005 and 2006 games that were the difference in Florida State victories over the `Canes. His 33-yard field goal with 8:06 left capped Florida State's fourth quarter comeback in a 13-10 win in the 2006 season opener.
Florida State and Miami renew their rivalry on the 20th anniversary of the Hurricanes' 17-16 win after FSU's Gerry Thomas' 34-yard attempt was wide right. Similar misses in 1992, 2000, 2002 and the 2004 Orange Bowl game have left the Seminoles feeling like there's a kicking curse on them against Miami.
Many Hopkins' predecessors left this rivalry in despair, perhaps none more than Beitia. Then a sophomore, Beitia was crushed when his 43-yard kick missed to the left in 2002 and let the Hurricanes escape with a 28-27 win. He never again was as accurate with his field goals after that miss.
The names roll off the tongues of Florida State fans. Thomas, Dan Mowrey, Matt Munyon, Xavier Beitia. Even Derek Schmidt, one of the best kickers in school history and the one-time NCAA scoring leader missed two field goals and an extra point in a 26-25 loss to the Hurricanes in the 1987 classic.
Munyon's 49-yard attempt as time expired sailed wide right at the end of the 2000 game when Miami handed the Seminoles their only regular season loss, 27-24.
A walk-on from Niceville who wasn't even in Florida State's media guide in 1991, Thomas won the starting job midway through that season from Mowrey, then a redshirt freshman.
Florida State wouldn't have even been in the `91 game without Thomas, who was perfect on three earlier field goals that had given Florida State a 16-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Fullback Paul Moore scored Florida State's only touchdown that day on a 1-yard run.
Casey Weldon, who was the Seminoles quarterback that day, has said from day one that Thomas should not be blamed for the loss when the offense couldn't manage more than a single touchdown.
Thomas finished the 1991 successfully against Florida and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, but then gave up the sport.