For the first time since 2004, Florida State and Miami meet as top-10 teams. The Seminoles are squarely in the national title mix and a win over an unbeaten Miami team would be another notch on the resume for coach Jimbo Fisher’s team. Florida State is in a neck-and-neck battle with Oregon for the No. 2 spot in the polls, so winning and looking impressive is a priority for the Seminoles on Saturday night.
Miami has matched Florida State’s 7-0 mark, but the Hurricanes haven’t been quite as impressive on the stat sheet. Late comebacks were needed to beat Wake Forest and North Carolina, and quarterback Stephen Morris has already passed his interception total from 2012 (seven) this season (eight).
Over the last few preseasons, the big question surrounding both programs was pretty simple: Is Miami (or Florida State) back? It may be hard for both teams to contend for the national title every year, but both programs are returning to their national prominence of the 1990s and 2000s. With the coaching staffs in place at Florida State and Miami, it’s hard to see these programs taking a step back. The Hurricanes have a little more work to do than the Seminoles in terms of rebuilding, but both teams are recruiting at a top-10 level. In other words, get ready for more top 10-15 showdowns between these two teams.
Florida State has won six out of the last eight games in this series and three in a row. Miami’s last win against the Seminoles came in 2009. Florida State has won two out of the last three games by at least 13 points.
Miami at Florida State
Kickoff: 8 ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State – 22
Three Things to Watch
Florida State’s run defense vs. Miami RB Duke Johnson
Miami’s gameplan on Saturday night is pretty simple: Don’t get into a shootout with Florida State. The Seminoles have too much firepower, and Jameis Winston will outplay Stephen Morris if this game becomes a back and forth affair. In order to keep this game close, Miami has to get running back Duke Johnson involved early and often. Johnson has at least 168 yards in two out of his last three games and averages 6.7 yards per carry. The sophomore is facing a Florida State defense that ranks third in the ACC but has allowed three rushers to reach 100 yards. The Seminoles have been vulnerable to power rushing games at times this year, and the Hurricanes with Johnson and an offensive line that averages 313.4 pounds per player will have an opportunity to churn out yards on the ground. If Miami can win the battle on first downs and put the offense in short-yardage situations on second down, the Hurricanes will have an opportunity to control the clock and keep Winston and Florida State’s offense on the sidelines.
Jameis Winston vs. Miami’s defense
How do you defend Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston? That’s the million-dollar question facing Miami coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. Blitzing Winston has not worked well for opposing defenses, and the Hurricanes seem unlikely to copy that strategy on Saturday night. Instead, Miami would be better off letting Florida State work its way down the field and not allow the Seminoles to hit on any big plays. Florida State has 16 plays in ACC games of 30 plus yards, and with Winston at the helm, is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. The Hurricanes ranked 11th in the ACC in total defense last year, holding opponents to 504.9 yards per game. But this unit has improved in 2013, as opposing offenses are recording 420.7 yards per contest (5.5 yards per play) this year. Miami is also better in the turnover department, forcing 19 through seven games this season. Stopping Winston isn’t going to be an easy task for D’Onofrio, especially with the Seminoles’ deep receiving corps and tight end Nick O’Leary. However, the Hurricanes need to force Florida State to work its way down the field in small chunks.
Florida State’s rushing attack vs. Miami’s front seven
Although quarterback Jameis Winston is one of the top players in the nation, Florida State’s offense isn’t just limited to the freshman. The Seminoles have one of the nation’s best offensive lines, three solid running backs, and a receiving corps that features four players averaging over 17 yards per reception. Receiver Rashad Greene is underrated nationally, leading Florida State with 39 receptions for 690 yards. Tight end Nick O’Leary is also among the nation’s best at his position, recording 17 receptions for 307 yards and six scores. Miami’s front seven is deeper and more talented than last season. However, the Hurricanes rank eighth in the ACC against the run, allowing 166.3 yards per game in conference games. Opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per carry, but Miami has managed to hold offenses to just five rushing scores in ACC contests. Florida State will use three running backs on Saturday night, which along with an offensive line that has been outstanding this year, will test Miami’s front seven.
Key Player: Stephen Morris, QB, Miami
The quarterback is always critical to the outcome of any game, but it’s even more important on Saturday night. Morris has not played at full strength for part of this season due to an ankle injury, but the senior has already tossed eight picks after throwing seven interceptions last year. Transitioning to new coordinator James Coley has also provided an adjustment period for Morris, but he has to play better, especially in a top-10 showdown. With Florida State owning one of the best defensive backfields in the nation, it’s important for Morris to have an efficient (and turnover free) performance.
Even though this in-state rivalry is a top-10 matchup, Miami is a three-touchdown underdog. The Hurricanes are capable of keeping this game within striking distance if running back Duke Johnson is able to churn out the yards on the ground. If Florida State keeps the sophomore back under wraps, the Seminoles will jump out to a commanding lead. Having a healthy Stephen Morris under center should help Miami’s offense. However, Florida State’s defense presents a tough matchup, especially in the secondary. There’s no question the Hurricanes have to play a perfect game in order to win on Saturday night. Considering how impressive the Seminoles have been this year, it’s hard to see Miami leaving Tallahassee with a win. It wouldn’t be a total surprise to see the Hurricanes cover the spread or keep things interesting for three quarters, but Florida State is deeper and more talented – and on a mission to play for the national title.
Prediction: Florida State 45, Miami 20