It’s one of the greatest rivalries in athletics.
Currently, FSU is a 7.5-point favorite over Miami (according to DraftKings), a reflection of the Seminoles’ uptick in performance this year and a disappointing debut season so far for Mario Cristobal.
Last season, the Seminoles snapped a losing streak to the Hurricanes by way of a dramatic 31-28 victory in Tallahassee. This year the two face off inside Hard Rock Stadium for a primetime showdown, scheduled for a 7:30 kickoff and set to be broadcast on ABC.
On this week’s episode of the Line of Scrimmage, where ahead of each game this football season, we’re giving you insight into Florida State’s opponents from those in the know, we spoke with Hurricanes’ beat writer Adam Lichtenstein of the Sun-Sentinel. Adam gives us insight into the tumultuous beginning of the Cristobal era, helps break down the Hurricanes on offense and defense, talks Miami’s quarterback situation and offers a prediction for Saturday’s game.
Miami heads into Saturday night’s game at .500. To say fans have been underwhelmed by the results would be an understatement. Through the first eight games, how would you grade Mario Cristobal’s handling of the season so far? Where has he succeeded? Where has he failed?
Well, the big success so far has been off the field — it’s been the recruiting. The 2022 class ended up going from like, I think in the 60s, nationally to like 12. The 2023 class just got a commitment from Cormani McClain — off the field, there’s been success.
On the field... 4-4 is not where most people, myself included, thought they’d be. I think I predicted them to go 9-3, so they’ve already burst my expectations. But then you wonder, is that on outsiders like myself and other people in the media and fans putting expectations on them? Or is the team playing worse than it should be? Maybe a little bit of both.
Overall, I probably give Cristobal an overall grade of C. There have been some good moments and there have been some really, really bad ones.
I usually like to start with the offense but I wanted to change it up and focus on Miami’s defense. I personally think Miami’s defense doesn’t get the credit it deserves. They held Virginia to 12 and a potent UNC offense to 27. But also allowed 45 to both Duke and Middle Tennessee. Which version of the Miami defense is closer to the truth?
It’s been a confusing season — it seems like they fix one issue and a new one immediately cracks. The better games are probably closer to, if you want to say, “true” talent level, they are a good defense. It’s gonna sound like excuses, but just, weird things happen. The Middle Tennessee State game, a good chunk of the yardage came on three or four bad big plays that they gave up. Duke, if you look at how they got they ball for those drives, there were 31 points off of Miami turnovers, eight times in that game. It was truly astounding, I’ve never seen that before.
When things are going normally, they’re a pretty solid defense. They’ve been better on the big play side of things lately.
Taking a look at the defensive players that I’d love to have at FSU, defensive tackle Leonard Taylor stands out as a stud on the defensive line but also is also not playing a very high number of snaps. What’s your overall thoughts on the defensive line? Is this the strength of the Miami defense?
It definitely is. They brought in a bunch of transfers to help fortify that line. Jake Lichtenstein (no relation), Mitchell Agude, Akheem Mesidor, Antonio Moultrie, and theny they have four or five young guys.
They frequently rotate people in, keep everyone fresh. Leonard Taylor played 30 snaps, I think, a season-high last week, and in that he had a huge impact. Six tackles, four tackles for loss — an extremely disruptive player.
Miami’s defense at times has been susceptible to explosive plays. Where would you place more of the blame? The linebackers or secondary? In your opinion what players need to step up in these units?
It’s been kind of both. There have been some issues with busted coverages where people get mixed up, receivers just blow by. It’s been strange, because there’s no one coverage or cornerback that’s really been picked on.
Flipping over to the offensive side of the ball, this is where things have been interesting. Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia have been at the helm. Both have struggled this year, but this is still TVD’s team if healthy, right? (And do you expect him on Saturday?)
The Hurricanes are pretty coy about injuries. Mike Cristobal on Wednesday said he’s looking better, that he’s been practicing a bit. The question is whether he’s healthy enough to play and if he is, then he’ll play. If not, we’ll see Jake Garcia again. I definitely still think it’s Tyler Van Dyke’s team — there’s four more games left in the season, we’ll see how many of those he plays. I can’t say for sure that he won’t play, but I’m learning towards Garcia probably getting the start again.
Speaking of health, Miami looks to have Xavier Restrepo back. Is the wide receiver room finally healthy?
It seems like it — until Saturday, when somebody doesn’t warm up or something. Restrepo, the first two games of the year, he was like Van Dyke’s security blanket, the go-to guy who led the team in receiving yards before he got hurt. He only played a handful of snaps last week, as they’re getting him reacclimated and into the swing of things. But if he’s healthy and really okay, he can be a really dangerous weapon in that slot receiver role.
At the running back spot, Jaylan Knighton is flirting with the portal while Henry Parrish Jr appears to have seized control. What’s been the main difference between the two backs?
They’ve really praised Henry Parrish Jr’s hard running ability, and like you said, he’s become their go-to back. He had a bit of injury issues a few weeks ago, but he can be electric with the ball in his hand. Knighton, he’s had his struggles, he hadn’t had a great game this year and had some issues with fumbles.
Lastly, what are your thoughts on this Miami offensive line? Is this an area you think FSU can take advantage of on Saturday?
I think so. Most teams have had some offensive line injuries at this point of the year, but Miami’s been banged up at left tackle, guard and center. They haven’t really been getting the push they want, though they did better last week and Virginia’s defensive line is decent. But they’ve really struggled for a good part of the year, especially in run blocking.
Finally, give me your prediction for Saturday’s matchup? Does Florida State reach bowl eligibility against their rivals or does Miami pull off the upset?
Miami just has too many issues — like I said, one thing gets fixed another pops up immediately. And even though they won last week, their offense was a tough watch for a good part of the game. It’s hard to pick a team that literally did not score a touchdown last week.
I do think the offense will be better, especially if Tyler Van Dyke plays, but I think it’s gonna be a tough road to go down. I think FSU wins, but — it’s a crazy rivalry game, and it’s a cliche to say, “throw out the records” or whatever but...there’s something to it as well.
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The Tomahawk Nation podcast channel, presented by SB Nation, features insider Seminoles recruiting, football, basketball, baseball, softball, and soccer analysis and commentary, featuring shows hosted by staff writers Tim Alumbaugh, Matt Minnick, Michael Rogner, Brian Pellerin, and Ben Meyerson, featuring contributions by Joshua Pick, David Stout, Jon Marchant, Max Escarpio and the entire Tomahawk Nation staff, produced by managing editor Perry Kostidakis.