How Al Golden and Miami Will Prove the U Is Back on Saturday Against Florida

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How Al Golden and Miami Will Prove the U Is Back on Saturday Against Florida
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The last time Miami (Fla.) beat Florida was in the 2004 Peach Bowl, which also marked the Hurricanes' first season in the ACC.

The combination of these dates is significant because Miami hasn't won a championship—of any kind— since leaving the Big East for the ACC.

It's also worth noting that since the bowl win over Florida nine years ago, the Hurricanes have only scored a bowl win once, a 21-20 decision over Nevada in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl.

Even though Miami and Florida have only met one other time since 2004, it is more than just a coincidence that the Hurricanes have dropped off the national radar since last beating the Gators.

All this and more is set to change this Saturday when Miami welcomes Florida back to Coral Gables for the first time since 2003.

Here's how three-point underdog Miami, via Yahoo! Sports, will beat Florida in Week 2, a win that will build the foundation for the first bowl victory in three tries and the first conference title since the 2003 Big East crown.

 

Miami's Running Game vs. Florida's Defensive Attrition

After averaging only 144 yards-per-game rushing in 2012, Miami showed substantial improvement in its Week 1 win over Florida Atlantic, gaining 303 yards on the ground.

The bulk of this came via sophomore running back Duke Johnson, who rushed for 186 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries.

The other factor in Miami's favor is the return of the entire offensive line from a year ago, a much different scenario than last season when the Hurricanes brought back only two starters.

Of course, playing FAU isn't the same thing as squaring off with Florida, but still, any improvement in the running game will take pressure off senior quarterback Stephen Morris.

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Duke Johnson may have a big day this Saturday against Florida's young defense.

The flip side of this is that Florida—which fielded the No. 4-ranked rushing defense in the FBS in 2012—has holes to fill from attrition.

The Gators return just five starters from their stellar defense from last season, a number which includes only two of the front seven.

According to Phil Steele's calculations, the returning starters on defense accounted for only 47.3 of the tackles earned in 2012, a number that puts the unit at No. 107 out of the 126 FBS teams.

The combination of these factors means that Miami's improved, experienced offense has an opportunity to surprise Florida's young defense.

And this is a huge deal for a Gators team that built its 11-2 record in 2012 on defense.  To illustrate, Florida finished the season ranked No. 78 in scoring offense versus No. 5 in scoring defense.

 

Miami's Improved Defense vs. Florida's Stagnant Offense

To say that Miami's defense struggled in 2012 would be putting it mildly.  The Hurricanes finished last season ranked No. 83 in scoring defense, No. 114 versus the run and No. 105 versus the pass.

Of course, Miami was a team that Phil Steele ranked No. 123 in the FBS in experience coming into 2012.  This means when looking at last year's stats, it's key to remember how young the Hurricanes were.

This season, Miami welcomes back nine starters defensively, including five members of the front seven.  These numbers make it realistic to expect substantial improvement from the defense in 2013.

Things look even sweeter when you consider the matchup with Florida's offense.  The Gators finished last season ranked No. 78 in scoring offense, No. 39 in rushing yards and No. 118 in passing yards.

In their opening win over Toledo last Saturday, the Gators' offense performed similar to last year, scoring 24 points and racking up only 153 yards through the air.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Florida managed only 153 yards of passing in its opening win over Toledo.

The bottom line is that Miami's defense ought to be able to shut down Florida's offense, especially through the air.

This game may come down to whether the Hurricanes can stop the Gators' rushing attack, now led by junior running back Mack Brown.

Brown rushed for 112 yards and two scores on 25 carries against Toledo, marking his career-first 100-plus-yard game.

 

History             

Though much has changed since Miami and Florida last squared off in 2008, the 54-game history of this rivalry points in favor of the Hurricanes.

To get the ball rolling, Miami leads the all-time series 28-26.  Though the long-term advantage for the Hurricanes is narrow, they’ve won seven of the last 10 meetings and four of the last five.

In fact, Miami enjoyed the longest winning streak of the series, beating the Gators six straight times from 1986 to 2004.

The last time the Gators won at Miami?  Well, that was all the way back in 1985 when Galen Hall led Florida to a 35-27 win over Jimmy Johnson and the Hurricanes.

The other intriguing element about the series is that after meeting annually from 1944 to 1987, the two have only clashed five times in the last 25 years.  Add in that two of these came in unplanned bowl games, and it's easy to get the feeling that somebody is avoiding somebody else.

Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
The last time Miami and Florida met in Coral Gables was in 2003. The Hurricanes beat the Gators 38-33.

Is it a coincidence that after Miami won the national title in 1987, Florida wasn’t on the regular schedule again until 2002?

In between these two dates, the Hurricanes won it all in 1989, 1991 and 2001.

The other telling tidbit is that Florida—other than its regular clash with Florida State—hasn’t played a nonconference road game against a BCS team since 2003 when it lost to—you guessed it—Miami 38-33.

This all leads to the even more compelling question: Does the single-season return of the Miami and Florida rivalry also signal the triumphant return of "the U"?

 

Unless otherwise noted, the statistics presented here come via College Football Data WarehouseCFBStats.com and ESPN.com.

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