First, though, I wanted to tell you about caching up with former UM quarterback <-- Steve Walsh and FSU fullback William Floyd. The two are now cohosts on Sun Sports' Tailgate Overtime. Both talked about their fondest memories of the UM-FSU series and the keys to victory this year.
Walsh told me his favorite moment as a college football player was the team's come-from-behind victory in 1987 when the Canes were down 19-3 at the half and stormed back for a 26-25 victory at FSU. He says his first touchdown pass to Melvin Bratton was his favorite play because it came on a checkoff at the line. To hear the complete interview, click here Download aug_28_stevewalsh.mp3.
Floyd said his block on UM linebacker Rohan Marley that sprung Sean Jackson for a 69-yard touchdown run in FSU's 28-10 win over Miami in 1993 is his favorite UM-FSU moment. FSU went on to win the national title that year. To hear Floyd talk about his memories, click here Download aug_28_williamfloyd.mp3
Ultimately both Walsh and Floyd think their respective schools are going to win (big shocker). Floyd said UM's off the field issues, having lost WR Ryan Moore and RB Tyrone Moss will loom too large for the Canes to overcome.
‘‘I think we have more weapons to work with than Miami. We got a guy that led the ACC in touchdown receptions last year in Greg Carr. DeCody Fagg, we just got guys that can make plays with Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith. You guys lost Ryan Moore and Tyrone Moss. I don't know if it will be the difference, but I think it will make an impact. As you know, it always comes down to the kicking game."
Walsh, who was down for practice last week, spoke with Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman and said he expects UM to respond. He expects UM to win 27-24.
"Miami has its backs against the wall and typically, Miami has responded in those situations. The fans are going to be jacked up. I think the players are going to respond and make enough big plays to win the game."
As for the team, as I wrote about after Tuesday's practice, there are still three big-time positions that are not resolved -- cornerback, middle linebacker and right tackle.
Cornerback: I know the coaches have been saying senior Glenn Sharpe is going to start. But after talking with defensive backs coach Tim Walton, I got the sense he's not 100 percent confident Sharpe is over his quadriceps strain. Sharpe had been coming along slowly in the fall. As you all know, he's gone through two ACL injuries and arthroscopic surgery in the past three seasons and hasn't made a tackle since Sept. 18, 2004. When asked when he had made his last tackle (before apparently making two in UM's last scrimmage), Sharpe couldn't remember on Tuesday.
Sharpe may start against FSU, but don't be surprised if he's not effective or not in there the whole game. There's a reason safety Brandon Meriweather has been used at corner and that's because I don't think the coaches are 100 percent convinced Sharpe is ready. You also have Carlos Armour who likely won't play until after FAMU. The others, albeit young, inexperienced and talented, are Bruce Johnson and Randy Phillips. Those guys are healthy and should do well. But when you look at FSU's strength coming into the season -- its passing game -- you have to think its going to be a tough test for the Canes, especially trying to cover 6-6 super sophomore Greg Carr who is a stud.
Middle linebacker: The other intriguing position of late has been middle linebacker. The feeling was coming into the fall, Glenn Cook was going to emerge with the starting job. Then after he got hurt and everyone was talking about how great Darryl Sharpton was, Romeo Davis, who was backing up Gooden on the strongside, ends up at the top of the depth chart when UM released late Monday. Hard to figure out who will exactly get the start, but this is a position in reality a lot of guys are likely to see action at anyway. Coker seemed real excited though about Cook's return. With Sharpton apparently having a little trouble running the defense, I think Cook or Gooden will end up getting the start with FSU. It could eventually sprout into the best position battle all season.
Right tackle: The biggest mystery of all -- right tackle. It looks like the rest of UM's offensive line is OK, but this could ultimately be the trouble spot for most of the season unless someone really comes out and establishes themselves as THE MAN. Coach Cristobal had Tyrone Byrd slotted at No. 1, then got hurt and replaced by Chris Rutledge. Then, Monday, freshman Jason Fox was with the first team. I think the truth of the matter is Fox is probably a tremendous talent and the future there, but for now, I expect Byrd to start against FSU. Rutledge has improved, but I don't get the sense they are extremely comfortable starting against FSU. If UM was playing anybody else, they'd probably give Rutledge a shot. Ultimately, I think what Cristobal doesn't want is for any of them to be disappointed and quit when they finally do announce a starter on Sunday. He wants all three to be available and ready so they can at least say they gave three different guys a shot.
As for the rest of the offensive line (I know Canes fans are worried after those nine sacks last season), I spoke to defensive tackles Bryan Pata and Kareem Brown at length about it last week before I wrote a feature on the two of them. Pata and Brown both said they have full confidence in the interior -- center Anthony Wollschlager and guards Derrick Morse and Andrew Bain.
<-- Kareem Brown said the offensive line has "improved leaps and bounds" since the spring. I asked him what that meant. "In the spring, we were beating 3-4 guys every play and getting to the quarterback," Brown said. "Now, about two of us are getting through every play." One thing to remember is Miami's defensive line is arguably Top 5 in the country. Brown said the line has done a real good job run blocking and opening holes up the middle. It's the pass protection that needs to improve. "The good thing is, coach Olson has Kyle releasing the ball a lot quicker. So, by the time we get to him now, the ball is already gone."
Other interesting tidbits in the last week: Look for punter Brian Monroe to play some at receiver after all. Receivers coach Marquis Mosely told us he would only play in emergency situations. With Khalil Jones (in a boot most of the fall), Ryan Moore (suspension), George Robinson (not ready) and Terrell Walden (foot) all either slowed or out, you can bet that constitutes as an emergency. Realistically, Monroe could be the fifth option behind Darnell Jenkins, Lance Leggett, Sam Shields and Ryan Hill (just moved over) at receiver. I still don't expect UM to throw it to Monroe unless they have no choice. Look for TE Greg Olsen and the other tight ends to get the ball before Monroe.
<-- Speaking of receivers, Darnell Jenkins made me laugh out loud the other day with his rap skills. He and Kenny Phillips are the team's best freestyle rappers thus far. In fact, Jenkins treated me and his teammates during an interview with Tavares Gooden to a little snipit of something he's come up for FSU. Listen here Download um_rap.mp3
Also, last but not least, the audio of Michael Irvin's speech to the team before last year's FSU game. It's been put on a track of an old Phil Collins song. It's pretty intense and gets your blood flowing -- even if you aren't a UM fan. Download irvinspeech.mp3
So, that's what I got. I'm sure they'll be plenty more to come in the next week. Tomorrow is the team's press conference and Susan Miller Degnan and I will be there talking to players. I'm sure I'll have plenty of audio to upload and for you all to listen to.
--> Stay tuned, Manny