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Colleges

Much to prove for Gators, Canes today


Published:   |   Updated: September 7, 2013 at 02:50 AM

GAINESVILLE — When Florida takes on Miami today at Sun Life Stadium, it could be a game the programs will look back on for years to come.

The schools haven’t met since 2008 and it’s the first contest on Miami’s home field since 2003.

Emotions figure to run high simply because so many players on both teams were teammates or played against each other in high school. Many were recruited by both schools.

“I think they’ll be ready,’’ Miami coach Al Golden said of his players. “I hope we don’t have to convince them that it’s going to be a big game or going to be fun. They know what it’s all about.

“The key is to have poise and not hyperventilate in the beginning and now you’re shot. We need to have some poise and use our maturity - it’s nice to say that word, to say we have maturity and experience - and just keep our composure.”

The Gators (1-0) are ranked No. 12, down three spots from the preseason poll after a 24-6 opening win against Toledo last week. Skeptics remain about just how good Florida is, especially on offense, as they try to build momentum for the start of SEC play against Tennessee in two weeks.

The Hurricanes (1-0) are not ranked in The Associated Press poll, but are the first team outside the Top 25 receiving votes. A win today likely would give the Hurricanes their first national ranking in Golden’s three seasons.

There’s a good chance the teams won’t play again in the near future because of Florida’s scheduling difficulties in the SEC. Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley said earlier this week the schools have not talked about meeting again for quite some time.

Today’s game is sold out.

Both teams understand controlling emotions will be key.

“It’s been a long time since we played them so I expect them to be pretty energetic in there,’’ Florida safety Cody Riggs said. “I don’t even know what the ticket turnout was. But I’m guessing there’s going to be a lot of Miami fans. Hopefully our fans got a lot of tickets, I would love to see a lot of Gator fans.’’

Miami has not allowed a touchdown at home since Nov. 1, 2012, to Virginia Tech. But the defense struggled at times last season and Florida’s offense will benefit from the return of running back Matt Jones, an Armwood High product who missed preseason practice and the season-opener because of a virus.

Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease dodged the question, but there’s a good chance Jones will play at times with Mack Brown, who had 112 yards against Toledo.

The Hurricanes have an experienced quarterback in Stephen Morris, who was 15 of 27 for 160 yards and a touchdown in a 34-6 win against FAU last week. But the offense is fueled by sophomore running back Duke Johnson, who has 1,133 yards in 13 career games.

“Duke Johnson is an outstanding player,’’ Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “We recruited him here. The guy’s got a great competitive nature. He’s very similar to a (ex-Gator) Chris Rainey, but a bigger version of that - a guy that can full-speed one cut and get the ball vertical and make people miss in space. He runs hard, runs tough and is an outstanding receiver out of the backfield.”

The return of cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, linebacker Antonio Morrison and defensive tackle Darious Cummings from one-game suspensions should boost Florida’s defense.

“It’s fun because Loucheiz has good energy that he can bring to the team and we like that about him,’’ said Gators defensive back Marcus Roberson said. “It’s going to be fun.’’

Offensively, the Gators are hoping another south Florida native Quinton Dunbar becomes the big play receiver the team thirsts for.

“I’m just very excited to go back home and play on my home turf,” said Dunbar, a Miami Booker T. Washington graduate who will serve as a captain against the Hurricanes. “Just to play there should be very exciting.”

His cousin is ’Canes leading tackler Denzel Perryman.

“I haven’t been in contact with them this week,’’ Dunbar said of all his friends on the Miami team. “I’ve been focusing on the game plan. I’ll see them when the game starts.’’

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