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Miami's Looming Showdown Against Florida State Could be Biggest Game of Al Golden's Tenure

Al Golden

Al Golden

With a 6-3 overall record and a 3-2 mark in conference play this year, it’s hard to say Miami has made significant progress in coach Al Golden’s fourth year. The Hurricanes are just 16-13 under Golden’s watch in ACC games, but there’s optimism for the program after the last three games.

Miami stayed within striking distance of Duke in the Coastal Division with a convincing 47-20 win over North Carolina on Saturday. The win over the Tar Heels was the Hurricanes’ third in a row and ensured the program would go bowling in 2014.

While the three-game winning streak is a positive sign, there’s a huge showdown looming for Miami on Nov. 15 against Florida State. Forget about the Nov. 22 game against Virginia and the Nov. 29 matchup against Pittsburgh. The true barometer of Golden’s tenure is the upcoming game against the Seminoles.

Miami is 0-4 in its last four matchups against Florida State and has won just one out of the last six matchups in this series. And it’s not just a loss, as the Hurricanes lost by 27 points last season and was easily handled by the Seminoles 45-17 in 2010.

Considering Miami’s three-game winning streak consisted of two fringe bowl teams and a 5-3 Cincinnati team, it’s easy to poke holes in the resume and think another blowout loss to Florida State is coming.

However, there are reasons to believe the Hurricanes are poised to threaten the Seminoles run to the playoff.

Florida State’s rush defense has allowed at least 156 rushing yards in each of its last three games. That’s not awful, but it also represents an opportunity for Miami running back Duke Johnson to control the pace of the game and keep the Seminoles’ explosive offense on the sidelines. Johnson has rushed for 588 yards over his last three games this year.

Quarterback Brad Kaaya has not tossed an interception in three games and completed at least 64 percent of his passes in two out of the last three contests.

Miami’s defense was the target of criticism after giving up 6.8 yards per play against Nebraska and 318 rushing yards in a loss to Georgia Tech.

But over the last three games, the Hurricanes have been stingy against opposing rushing attacks (2.1 ypc), and the defense has recorded 18 tackles for a loss in that span. In Football Outsiders’ Defensive S&P ratings, Miami ranked No. 18 prior to the victory over North Carolina.

Again, the recent play by an injured offensive line, quarterback Brad Kaaya and running back Duke Johnson is an encouraging sign for Miami. And the defense seems to be playing better, albeit against weak competition.

With two weeks to prepare, Miami should be at full strength against Florida State on Nov. 15.

The Seminoles have dominated this rivalry in recent years, continue to out-recruit Miami and are the better team on paper. With that in mind, this might be the biggest game in Golden’s tenure. There’s some positive momentum with a three-game winning streak for the Hurricanes and this year’s matchup is in Coral Gables (with a healthy Florida State contingent expected). Can Miami capitalize off some of Florida State’s weaknesses and make this a competitive game?

Nov. 15 is shaping up to be a huge barometer game for Miami. There are reasons to believe the Hurricanes will be able to be competitive against one of the top teams in the nation, and Golden needs a big win to answer some of the critics.

Despite the positive momentum, it’s also easy to doubt how wins over Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Cincinnati are enough for Miami to breakthrough against the Seminoles.

Only time will tell.

Either way, Nov. 15 should be an interesting moment for Al Golden’s tenure at Miami.