Win over Florida Gators Would Set Tone for Al Golden's Miami Hurricanes

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Win over Florida Gators Would Set Tone for Al Golden's Miami Hurricanes
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Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden and sophomore running back Duke Johnson know what a win against the Florida Gators means for Year 3.

One at a time. It's a mantra echoed by coaches and players alike and the politically correct answer when talking about the next-up opponent. It's also a well-designed, forced mentality within sports so that focus is maintained.

After a 34-6 win over the Florida Atlantic Owls in Week 1, Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden and his squad can finally go all-in on the new next-up: the Florida Gators.

While Miami has spent the past decade unraveling, bottoming-out and starting to rebuild, Florida has achieved ultimate success: two national titles in a three-year span, a Heisman Trophy winner, a few BCS appearances and several double-digit win seasons.

There was a slight hiccup between Urban Meyer's final year and Will Muschamp's first go-around, but the Gators found their way to 11-2 in 2012 and head to Sun Life Stadium Saturday, looking for their first road win at Miami since 1985.

It's been said that luck is where preparation meets opportunity, which seems an ideal way to sum up Miami's current position as Florida looms in Week 2.

Golden's Hurricanes have been preparing for this new season longer than most. Miami self-imposed a second straight postseason ban last fall, sitting out an ACC Championship game appearance against rival Florida State, as well as a potential Orange Bowl berth.

While other programs prepped for conference title games and bowl season foes, the Canes built for 2013.

Schedule-wise, things set up nicely for Miami to make an early run. Florida Atlantic opened the season, and now Florida—ranked, untested, unbeaten and ripe for an upset —heads south.

The Gators are coming off a solid year on paper, but in reality there were struggles, especially on offense.

Bowling Green and Louisiana-Lafayette hung around longer than they should've, while Florida was in low-scoring dogfights with LSU, Georgia and Missouri. An at-large BCS bid was earned, but Florida was picked apart by No. 21 Louisville and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns in the 33-23 upset.

Miami's senior quarterback Stephen Morris is coming off an impressive season, having thrown for 3,345 yards in 2012, with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. 

Last week against Florida Atlantic, Morris was 15-of-27 for 160 yards. There was a touchdown and a pick but also a handful of drops—including two would-be scores by true freshman Stacy Coley.

If Miami can eliminate the mental mistakes in Week 2, it could spring the upset and open the floodgates for a first-half run. The Hurricanes' schedule isn't just favorable in regards to opponents, it also has a well-placed bye and Thursday night showdown.

Survive Florida this week, and Miami has next weekend to recuperate. From there, it has a matchup against Savannah State and then a late September trip to South Florida.

ACC play opens at home against Georgia Tech Oct. 5, followed by a 12-day layoff before heading to North Carolina for a Thursday night showdown. After that, there is a nine-day breather before Wake Forest visits.

A road trip to Florida State and home showdown against Virginia Tech open November's schedule, but Miami should be broken in and well-rested for both.

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An upset of Florida opens a door that has remained shut the past two seasons for this third-year Golden squad. NCAA-fueled chaos and player suspensions brought instability and a 6-6 run, while Year 2 was a 7-5 campaign where depth issues on defense were the biggest difference-makers.

Miami hung tough early in some big games last season but didn't have the personnel to close, leading to a handful of second half blowouts and missed opportunities.

The Hurricanes are far from where they need to be defensively, but with an improved offense and some growth on defense, a step forward is primed to be taken. 

Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio moved from the field to the press box this seasonan obvious sign that there's more trust in his players and that guys are finally coming around.

It will take a sound defense to get over a hurdle like Florida, as well as offensive consistency, and if there's any week Miami is going to put it all together, there's no better time than now.

This matchup is much bigger than Miami vs. Florida, Sunshine State bragging rights and the course of the 2013 football season. It also represents what former Canes coach Howard Schnellenberger referred to as "The State Of Miami" and putting a recruiting wall up around Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Golden and his staff have 26 verbal commitments for the 2014 class, but February is still a long way out, and things can change. Winning games between now and December—especially the big ones—is every coach's best sales pitch. 

Getting a win over Florida proves that Miami is one step closer to being back, and come November, the same will be said about a road trip to Tallahassee as UM has lost three straight to FSU.

The recruits are again lining up, and the next step in the process is winning big Sunshine State rivalry games.

If Golden can deliver with both probation and sanctions hovering, it's scary to think where his Canes will be when running again at full strength.

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