MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Duke Johnson says it's just another game. He knows otherwise.
When Miami (1-0) hosts No. 12 Florida (1-0) in the 55th edition of the series on Saturday, it will most assuredly be more than just some plain old nonconference matchup. And for Johnson, the Miami running back who led the nation with 186 yards on the ground after the season's first weekend, it's a chance to get what would easily be his biggest win since joining the Hurricanes.
The tension and excitement will be ramped up when kickoff finally arrives just after noon.
"If you go out there too excited and not focused and not doing your assignment, you can lose the game just because you're overemotional and too happy," Johnson said. "At the same time, it helps if you can have fun during the game."
The Gators and Hurricanes haven't played since 2008, and the last game left a bad taste in Miami's mouth. There were allegations former Florida coach Urban Meyer tried to run up the score in the final moments of what became a 26-3 victory.
Other than some staffers on both sides, just about everyone from that game is elsewhere now, including Meyer. But there won't be any shortage of incentive for either side.
"Yeah, it's an in-state game," Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "We don't play them too often. We do have a lot of guys that know each other, so there will be some emotions. We've got to handle that."
For Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo, this game is a family affair. He's a third-generation Hurricane, and has been hearing stories of playing the Gators — and what it means for Miami to beat the Gators — for as long as he can remember.
"I was exposed to it a lot," said Chickillo, who got to know Driskel well when they played a high school All-Star game together. "I remember always watching all those games as a kid and you get excited for a game like this. ... The rivalry, it goes back far, a lot of in-state guys, a lot of us played together growing up in high school, little league. I know a lot of those guys. You've got to be excited for a game like that."
Here are five things to watch when Miami hosts No. 12 Florida:
MIAMI NEEDS DUKE: The Hurricanes are 7-0 when Johnson rushes for a touchdown, and Miami obviously wouldn't mind seeing him get going against the Gators. And it will be a very, very difficult task. Florida allowed only 50 yards on 16 carries last week against Toledo — and 28 of those yards came on one play. Take that away, and the Gators yielded less than 2 yards per carry. If Miami is in second-and-9 situations, no good. Second-and-6, the Hurricanes would take those all day.
TURNOVER WATCH: It's not exactly Football 101 to realize that limiting turnovers is a pretty good way to win games, but the Gators take it to an exceptional level. Since 2005, Florida is 55-4 when turning the ball over no more than once in a game, and their last two losses came on days where the Gators had abysmal ball protection — a six-turnover mess in a 17-9 loss to Georgia last year, then a three-turnover display in the 33-23 Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville.
U GOTTA BELIEVE: For a program as storied as Miami, with the five national championships and dozens of NFL first-rounders, the following stat is somewhat hard to comprehend. If the Hurricanes find a way to win on Saturday, it'll be a four-game winning streak for the program going back to last season — and that run would be their longest since winning five straight in 2008.
GRIND-OUT GATORS: Florida typically doesn't turn QB Jeff Driskel loose, as evidenced by the fact that the Gators haven't thrown for 200 yards in any of their last 10 games. If they control the ground game, they will have Miami right where they want them. Florida has won a staggering 93 of its last 100 games when posting more than 35 rushing attempts, and since Miami's biggest question mark remains the defensive line — which, to its credit, looked much improved over last year in the Week 1 victory against Florida Atlantic — the battle up front when the Gators have the ball might mean everything in this game.
EMOTIONS: It's no secret. These teams don't like each other. Miami wants to find a way to extend the series. Florida has made it clear that it's not going to happen, at least not for a long time, and given the rigors of a Southeastern Conference schedule it's hard to blame the Gators for that. But with a sold-out crowd, which will surely include a massive chunk of Gators fans, and the simple fact that the buzz about this game has been building for months, it's a safe bet that the team keeping its cool — pun somewhat intended, given the heat index at kickoff is expected to be near 100 degrees — will have an edge.