Florida State puts its 25-game winning streak and No. 3 spot in college football’s playoff standings on the line Saturday night with a trip to Miami. The Seminoles have controlled this rivalry over the last few years, but the Hurricanes have improved in coach Al Golden’s fourth year and have a three-game winning streak entering Saturday night’s matchup
Replicating the effort and performance from one season to the next is an impossible task. Florida State isn’t as dominant as it was last year, but coach Jimbo Fisher’s team is still among the best in the nation and should have a good shot to repeat if it wins out and makes the four-team playoff. The Seminoles have question marks on the offensive and defensive lines, yet have won four out of their last five games by at least 11 points.
Miami’s three losses in 2014 came against quality teams (Nebraska, Georgia Tech and Louisville), but this team has benefited from playing in the Coastal Division – the weaker of the ACC divisions. However, the Hurricanes are just one of three teams that rank inside of the top 10 nationally in total offense and total defense in terms of yards per play. Defense was a huge point of criticism in Miami early in the year, but this unit has played better in recent weeks, and freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya leads the ACC in quarterback rating.
Miami owns a slight 29-27 edge in the overall series against Florida State. However, the Seminoles have claimed four in a row over the Hurricanes and seven out of the last nine in the series.
Florida State at Miami
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -2.5
Florida State’s Key to Victory: Stop Miami RB Duke Johnson
Johnson suffered a season-ending leg injury in last year’s matchup against Florida State and started the year with four games of less than 100 yards. However, the junior has been nearly unstoppable over the last five games. Johnson has 843 rushing yards in his last five contests, averaging 8.7 yards per carry. The Seminoles rank seventh in the ACC against the run, giving up 135.7 yards per game. In conference-only matchups, Florida State’s numbers are better, allowing just 108.8 yards per game through six ACC games. The Seminoles aren’t strong on the interior as they were last season, especially with the loss of tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample to a season-ending injury earlier in the year. Miami’s offensive line has also experienced its share of injuries, and starting left tackle Ereck Flowers is questionable due to a knee injury. The formula for a Hurricanes victory is simple. Johnson needs to have a huge performance and keep Florida State’s offense on the sideline. If Johnson has success, it should open up play-action passes for quarterback Brad Kaaya.
Miami’s Key to Victory: Limit the Big Plays from Florida State’s Offense
The Seminoles averaged 51.6 points per game last season but have dipped to 37.9 in 2014. Why the drop in production? It starts up front with the offensive line. Center Austin Barron has missed the last four games due to an arm injury but could return for action on Saturday. That’s good news for a group averaging just four yards per carry in 2014. In addition to Barron’s return, the Seminoles will be at full strength in the backfield on Saturday night. Running back Dalvin Cook suffered a hip injury against Virginia but is expected to play. Backfield mate Mario Pender has missed three games in a row due to injury and is also expected to be at full strength. Starter Karlos Williams is averaging 4.4 yards per carry but expect to see plenty of Cook and Pender on Saturday night. Quarterback Jameis Winston has carried more of the offensive workload with a struggling offensive line and rushing attack, and the sophomore has 11 interceptions through 294 attempts. Winston threw for 325 yards and two picks in last year’s game against Miami. The Hurricanes have allowed only nine passing plays of 30 yards or more this year and that trend needs to continue on Saturday. Limit the big plays by Florida State and force Winston and his receivers to work the ball down the field in small chunks.
As evidenced on the stat sheet and on film, Miami has improved this year. This is a huge game for recruiting purposes in Florida, and it’s also a chance for Golden to show how far the Hurricanes have come over the last four years. Florida State isn’t as dominant as it was in 2013. But that’s not a huge issue. This Seminoles’ team still has a lot of talent and has an edge in that department on Saturday night. Miami keeps it close with Johnson’s running and limits Florida State’s overall possessions by controlling the clock. However, the Seminoles have the better quarterback and a recent edge in this rivalry. Florida State wins by a touchdown and extends its winning streak to 26 games.