This Week in Caneball, Week 5 (Oct. 11): Miami @ FSU, 2003

This Week in Caneball, Week 5 (Oct. 11): Miami @ FSU, 2003

Canes Legacy
Each week we're going to highlight a big game from Cane history that took place during the days of each "game week." This week, we celebrate the greatest defensive performance by a player in college football history.

The Setup:

In 2003, the #2 Canes and the #5 Noles met for only the fourth time with both teams being ranked in the top 5 of college football. Miami was holding a three game win streak against FSU (it would get up to six straight before Bowden’s squad got their next victory), which came on the heels of a 5 game streak by the Seminoles.

Miami entered the game barely surviving two classics against Florida and the week prior against West Virginia. After losing some staples of the early 00s squads to the NFL after ‘01 and ‘02, the Hurricane offense depended heavily on Brock Berlin, who was a hero in the Florida game, but overall was struggling with turnovers and the slower pace of the Hurricane offense. Kellen Winslow and Roscoe Parrish were back from ‘02, but around them were new faces like Jarrett Payton and Ryan Moore in key roles after the loss of Frank Gore.

That said, the defense was the show. They brought back a starting lineup of stars as dominant as any as the Canes have ever boasted. The ‘03 Canes defense is at worst a top 5 D in the history of the program (probably top 3 with ‘91 and ‘86), and featured guys who would go on to become NFL legends at each level of the defense (Taylor, Vilma, Williams, Wilfork, Rolle, just to name a few).

FSU had one scare against Georgia Tech, but otherwise was rolling along with a potent, Chris Rix led offense. Rix had opened his career with two disastrous games against Miami, but was having the best season of his career as a junior and was hoping to change the narrative around his failures against Bobby Bowden’s arch rival.

The Story:

The story starts and ends with the great one, the GOAT, the legend Sean Taylor, but we’ll try to talk about some other things along the way, too.

A rainstorm and a soaking wet, saturated, puddle of a field set the tone for the contest that was largely controlled by the defenses for both sides. Those conditions led to nonexistent drives until Ryan Moore took a short toss 35 yards after the catch to get deep in FSU territory before Jon Peattie (a hero in the WVU game) missed a chip shot from a bad angle. Another failed FSU drive led to a blocked punt by Jarrell Weaver, which was recovered by Sean Taylor, his first of roughly 400 big plays that day.

Peattie knocked his next attempt through from 26, then kicked the strangest successful onsides kick of all time, with Darnell Jenkins making a toe tapping catch on the sideline to recover it for Miami. That drive also ended with a field goal to make it 6-0 Canes. A FSU error on a fumble by Lorenzo Booker turned immediately into a Brock Berlin INT, his greatest problem during his time as the Canes quarterback.

At that point, the Sean Taylor show started. He started by making a series of plays in the Nole backfield, first dropping Rix on a designed run before blasting the monstrous Greg Jones for a three yard loss. Then, early in the 2nd, Rix did a Rix thing and overthrew a target down the seam right into the hands of Taylor. FSU’s Stanford Samuels KOd Roscoe on the following drive to much fanfare from the Nole sideline, but the Canes came right back and turned a third down screen to Payton into the first TD of the game, 12-0 Canes.

The Canes defense continued to apply pressure with a host of underrated guys on that defensive line like Thomas Carroll, Santonio Thomas, and Baraka Atkins. The FSU OL had absolutely no answers for those guys and big 75 on the interior, as they helped force three straight turnovers on Nole drives late in the 2nd quarter. Then, with 3:21 left, Rix tossed up a duck that Sean Taylor took the distance back to the crib, making it 19-0 and scoring the Canes 8th non-offensive TD in just the 6th game of the season. It was also Florida State’s 4th turnover of the half. Sean missed one more just before the break that was right in his hands, and probably would have been his second pick six of the half.

FSU totalled 9 rushing yards, 4 turnovers, and 5 3 and outs in a terrible first half against a dominant Canes defense. Naturally, they opened up the 2nd half with a miserable toss attempt from Rix that Thomas Carroll fell on for the Noles 5th turnover in seven drives, and then Rix almost made it two for two in the 2nd half with another near pick for #26. Instead, we were greeted by a bunch of ugly, rain soaked football for a while, including a pair of bad INTs from Berlin and a TD from FSU capitalizing off one of those picks.

When it was all said and done, there were five turnovers from each side and it ended as a one score game, but it was anything but even for those who sat and watched through the whole contest. The Miami defense made a major statement and thoroughly decimated an arch rival. Their front 7 held the Noles to just 61 yards on 37 carries (just 1.6 yards per carry) and the secondary forced countless errors from Rix, who legitimately could have thrown another 4 or 5 INTs.

The Stud:

Sean Taylor- I don’t know how much I can talk about Sean down here, but I’m just going to go on and on, because he was that good. First and foremost, Sean’s play in this game was the absolute best I have ever seen a college football defensive player ever play. He ended up with 7 tackles and 2 interceptions, but he legitimately was in position to intercept another six, two of which were literally in both of his hands. In a game that was riddled with errors caused by nature and on a field that limited (almost) everyone’s explosiveness, Sean was seemingly unfazed.

On top of that, there were so many different types of plays that show what type of player he was. Early on, he’s in one specials and going all out to get the turnover after the block. The GOAT played special teams because it just gave the team that much more chance to win. Then there were all the plays in or near the backfield that showed his innate ability to get around blockers. Most importantly were the picks, but he at least had his hands in on probably ten passes out there.

I’ve gone back and watched his highlights from the game (see above) probably a hundred times in my life, and I’ve never failed to see something new or something old that still amazed me. No one else deserves to be on this list with him.

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