Neither Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin, Ray Lewis nor Charlie Ward will be running out of the tunnel in Tallahassee on Saturday, but for a pair of young head coaches, it does feel like much is on the line.
Florida State will look to complete a perfect ACC home slate on Saturday afternoon as Willie Taggart and company welcome in Manny Diaz and rival Miami. Both teams are 4-4 coming in, and the game is vital to each team's bowl hopes.
The Seminoles blew a 27-7 lead last season — their largest blown lead ever — in a 28-27 loss to Miami at Hard Rock Stadium. Miami scored late to beat FSU in its last trip to Tallahassee two years ago, 24-20. Each of the last five contests between the schools has been decided by five points or fewer. The Hurricanes have won the last two after losing the previous seven.
Miami at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Florida State -3
When Miami Has the Ball
The Hurricanes’ game of musical quarterbacks will continue on Saturday as redshirt freshman Jarren Williams is set to get the start after leading a 16-12 comeback win over Pittsburgh last Saturday. Williams shined early in the season, but he has been plagued by inconsistency. Williams will have a nice group of skill players around him, including running back DeeJay Dallas and receivers Jeff Thomas and K.J. Osborn, along with possibly the ACC’s best tight end in Brevin Jordan.
Dallas did not play in last week’s win over Pittsburgh, but he has nearly 500 yards rushing on 6.7 yards per carry and six touchdowns. Jordan leads the team with 447 yards receiving, while Osborn has a team-high five touchdown receptions, including the game-winner last week against Pittsburgh. The problem for the Hurricanes has been the offensive line. With a pair of freshman starters, the Hurricanes have allowed 29 sacks this season. Among ACC teams, only Syracuse has given up more.
Statistically, Florida State ranks 13th in the ACC in total defense and scoring defense, but at home in conference games, the Noles are allowing just 18 points per game. The strength for FSU may be the defensive line. The Seminoles aren’t particularly deep, but defensive tackle Marvin Wilson is one of the best players in the nation at his position and leads FSU with five sacks. Cory Durden is also solid on the interior, while on the outside, edge rusher Janarius Robinson leads the team and is tied for sixth in the ACC with nine tackles for a loss.
The linebacker position has been a weak spot this season for the Seminoles but has improved in recent weeks. Despite ranking just 13th in the ACC against the pass, FSU is deep in the secondary. Junior safety Hamsah Nasirildeen has been the best player in the defensive backfield. Nasirildeen leads FSU with 58 total tackles and ranks second in the ACC in forced fumbles with three. In last week’s 35-17 win over Syracuse, Nasirildeen tallied 17 tackles — the most for a Seminole since 2005.
When Florida State Has the Ball
Like Miami, Florida State has multiple quarterbacks who have made multiple starts this season. After last week, it looks as though graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook will make his third start in garnet and gold. Hornibrook actually led Wisconsin to a victory over Miami in the Orange Bowl to cap the 2017 season.
Injuries have taken a toll, but the guy to watch for the FSU offense is junior running back Cam Akers. Akers ranks second in the ACC with 917 yards rushing and has 15 total touchdowns and an ACC-leading 92 points. Akers tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns in last week’s victory over the Orange. At receiver, Tamorrion Terry, a redshirt sophomore, is a matchup nightmare. Terry is averaging nearly 21 yards per catch and leads FSU with 606 yards receiving and six touchdown grabs.
Miami redshirt freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau is tied for the ACC lead with seven sacks and has been a force for the Hurricanes this season. After leading the country in tackles for a loss last season, Miami ranks fourth in the ACC in that category with 60 so far this season. On the opposite side of Rousseau, Jonathan Garvin is also very good.
The Hurricanes may have the best corps of linebackers in the ACC with three very experienced seniors. Shaquille Quarterman leads the team with 63 total tackles, but Michael Pinckney also has an NFL future and had a key interception in last season’s comeback win over the Seminoles. In the secondary, junior cornerback Trajan Bandy is the player to watch. DJ Ivey leads the Hurricanes with two interceptions.
The kicking game has been an adventure for each team this season. Miami kickers are a combined 7-for-14 this season, but punter Louis Hedley is averaging nearly 46 yards per punt. For FSU, Ricky Aguayo is just 4-for-9 on the season. He missed last week’s win over Syracuse with an illness.
Saturday’s contest at Doak Campbell Stadium will likely be won in the trenches. Neither team is particularly great on the offensive line, but Florida State has yielded just three sacks over the last two games. The FSU quarterback combination of Hornibrook and James Blackman hasn’t been great, but there does seem to be more stability at the position for the Noles than Miami can muster. Annual rivalry contests tend to be close, and this should be no different. This one is in Tallahassee, and it’s one that Willie Taggart, the Seminoles’ second-year head coach, cannot afford to lose.