GAME NOTES: A top 10 showdown is on tap in Tallahassee this weekend, as third- ranked Florida State takes aim at the seventh-ranked Miami Hurricanes in ACC action at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The defending ACC champions sit in the driver's seat in the Atlantic Division, as they have run the table thus far, sitting at 7-0 overall and 5-0 in conference play. Jimbo Fisher's squad has made light work of just about every opponent on the schedule thus far, including a 49-17 rout of NC State last weekend. With the victory, FSU has now won 11 straight conference games and is 7-0 for the first time since 1999.
Al Golden's Hurricanes are in a similar situation, sitting atop the Coastal Division with a record of 7-0, including a 3-0 mark in-conference. Miami's wins haven't all been flashy, but most have been exciting, including last week's come-from-behind victory over a tough Wake Forest squad, 24-21. It marked the fifth time under Golden that the Hurricanes needed to score in the final minute of regulation to win a game.
Miami leads this Sunshine State series by a count of 31-26. However, Florida State has closed the gap a bit with wins in each of the last three meetings and six of the last eight overall.
Miami is averaging just under 40 points per game (39.6) and has shown great balance, averaging 214.7 yards per game rushing and 269.6 yards passing.
The ground game is fueled by standout tailback Duke Johnson, who is averaging 117.6 yards per game, leading the team with 823 yards and six touchdowns. Dallas Crawford has shown the ability to be effective in spurts as well, with a team-high nine rushing scores.
Quarterback Stephen Morris has played well for the most part, but has had moments of inconsistency, completing 59.9 percent of his passes, for 1,463 yards, with 10 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Morris has dealt with some health issues of late, but Golden thinks he will be ready to go on Saturday.
"He looked better. He has been looking better. I fully expect him to be with clean bill of health by Saturday. He looked markedly better today. I'm excited about him."
Wideout Allen Hurns is the top target in the passing game, with 28 catches, for 506 yards and two TDs.
Athleticism abounds on the defensive side of the football for Miami, which limits foes to just 17.7 ppg and 342.3 yards per game. In addition, the team has disrupted opposing passing games, with 22 sacks on the season.
Linebackers Denzel Perryman (52 tackles) and Jimmy Gaines (42 tackles) pace the unit in stops. Defensive ends Shayon Green (31 tackles, team-high 7.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) and Anthony Chickillo (24 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) have been productive up front.
If Miami's offense is good, then Florida State's is great. That was on display against NC State, as FSU racked up 566 yards, leading to 49 points. It marked the seventh time in as many games this year that the team has scored over 40 points. Overall, Florida State ranks third nationally in scoring (52.6 ppg) and fourth in total offense (553.7 ypg). The offensive line for FSU is arguably the nation's best, with at least four starters playing at an All- American level.
It has certainly helped redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston become a real Heisman favorite. Despite his lack of experience, the game is not too big for Winston, who has looked the part of a savvy signal caller, completing just under 70 percent of his passes, for 2,177 yards with 23 TD passes and a mere four interceptions. He has also accounted for three rushing scores.
It has definitely helped to have a deep and reliable receiving corps at his disposal, led by Rashad Greene (39 catches, 690 yards, 8 TDs), Kenny Shaw (31 catches, 574 yards, 3 TDs), Kelvin Benjamin (23 catches, 430 yards, 5 TDs) and Nick O'Leary (17 catches, 307 yards, 6 TDs).
The ground game also boasts of multiple threats, headlined by tailbacks Devonta Freeman (561 yards, 6.4 ypc, 6 TDs) and Karlos Williams (349 yards, 7.9 ypc, 7 TDs).
The Seminoles are chock full of talent on the defensive side of the football as well and it has shown game-in and game-out. Florida State ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), first in pass defense (153.7 ypg) and eighth in total defense (289.4 ypg).
Star power on the FSU defense comes in the form of linebacker Telvin Smith (49 tackles, 5.0 TFL, one sack, one INT, one fumble recovery) and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (37 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, one INT and three fumble recoveries), both of which may garner All-American status at the end of the season.
Joyner's versatility is key to what Fisher does defensively.
"Lamarcus is a natural corner," Fisher said. "He can be a safety, which is great. But him as a nickel, a nickel is everything. It's a safety, it's a linebacker, it's a corner, you can play man-to-man against the Sammy Watkins' of the world in the slot. You can blitz, you can cover. He's a naturally instinctive football player."
Despite the convincing win over the Wolfpack, Florida State fell to third in the BCS rankings. Another big win here should propel the Seminoles back into the second spot over idle Oregon. The Hurricanes won't make it easy on the hometown Seminoles, but FSU, behind the play of Winston once again, should stay unbeaten and take one step closer to another conference crown.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida State 34, Miami-Florida 20