TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State and Miami meet in what seems to be a must-win situation for both teams.
A victory will move the winner a step closer toward bowl eligibility. The loser will see its season move closer to the brink of disaster.
Willie Taggart's future is under scrutiny in Year 2 of his team and is looking to pick up his first victory as Florida State's coach in any rivalry game. He is 0-4 in rivalry matchups during his time with the Seminoles, with a pair of blowout losses to Clemson and defeats against Miami and Florida in 2018 as well.
Manny Diaz could use a big victory to help salvage the Hurricanes season as well. The Hurricanes got a win over Virginia in a defensive struggle but that was followed by an embarrassing home loss to Georgia Tech, emblematic of an up-and-down first season as Miami's head coach.
While the game doesn't have national implications as it once did, it hasn't slowed down the trash talk — at least from the Seminoles.
"We're going to beat them," Florida State tailback Khalan Laborn proclaimed.
And when asked about Miami's secondary and what was challenging about them, Florida State receiver D.J. Matthews said, "Nothing."
Now Florida State has to back up the talk.
"It is a big-time rivalry, guys know each other, and they want to beat each other," Taggart said. "I think at the end of the day it comes down to that, going out and playing football. It isn't about what you said, it is about what you do. I look forward to our guys going out and playing well."
Each of the last five meetings between the programs has been decided by five points or less. And they've all had late drama.
— In 2018, Miami rallied from a 27-7 third-quarter deficit to win 28-27.
— In 2017, the Hurricanes got a touchdown catch with 6 seconds left to win 24-20 in a game where the lead changed four times in the last 6:55.
— In 2016, Florida State blocked a game-tying extra point with 1:24 left to win 20-19.
— In 2015, the Seminoles blew a two-touchdown lead and needed a late touchdown to prevail 29-24. And in 2014, Miami wasted a 16-0 lead in what became a 30-26 FSU victory.
Diaz expects more of the same this time.
"Factor that in, factor a little bit of who we are, factor in sort of the craziness of 2019," Diaz said. "The expectation of this coming down to anything other than who has the ball last and who makes a play or makes a stop, I think it'd be foolish to expect anything less."
Some other things to know about the Miami-Florida State matchup on Saturday:
Diaz confirmed earlier in the week that the Hurricanes will start Jarren Williams over N'Kosi Perry at quarterback.
"Jarren has been our guy." But it was clear that Diaz wasn't pleased with Williams a week earlier, and "Jarren was beat out that week by N'Kosi. That's why N'Kosi was our starter vs. Pitt."
Taggart has not given an indication of a starting quarterback. James Blackman has started six of Florida State's eight games, while Alex Hornibrook has started two games. Hornibrook completed 23 of 34 passes for 258 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the Badgers' 34-24 win over Miami in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30, 2017.
Florida State has won its last four home games. Taggart — counting his stops at Western Kentucky, South Florida, Oregon and Florida State — has never had a team win five consecutive home games in the same season.
AKERS ON BRINK
Florida State running back Cam Akers is 83 yards away from his second 1,000-yard rushing season with the Seminoles, joining his 1,024-yard campaign in 2017. He's on pace to become just the third Florida State running back with multiple 1,000-yard seasons, joining three-timers Dalvin Cook (2014-16) and Warrick Dunn (1994-96).
The Hurricanes enter this week 15th nationally in total defense and 17th in rushing defense, their two best looks in the NCAA rankings. The offensive numbers remain dreary in two key areas. Out of 130 teams at the highest level of college football, Miami ranks 128th in red zone offense and 129th in third-down conversions.
This game will undoubtedly help with a big crowd expected, but Florida State enters this week ranked only 37th nationally in home-game attendance — averaging 52,257 fans, or about 66% of Doak Campbell Stadium's capacity. School officials expect more than 61,000 fans for Florida State-Miami, which would be a season-high.
A year ago, the Seminoles played at about 86% of home capacity and in 2017, it was 89%.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Coral Gables, Florida contributed to this report.
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