With a chance to prove everyone wrong, No. 7 Miami passed on its first opportunity Saturday night against No. 3 Florida State in front of a record crowd of 84,409 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Instead of making a statement with an opening offensive drive, the seventh-ranked Hurricanes won the coin toss and deferred to the second half.
Florida State (8-0, 6-0 ACC) marched down the field for 72 yards on 13 plays in 5:44 en route to its first score in a 41-14 primetime victory.
Miami (7-1, 3-1 ACC), which had its nine-game win streak snapped, has now lost four in a row to the instate rival Seminoles.
Sophomore running back Duke Johnson, who finished with 97 yards on 23 carries, exited the game late in the third with a right ankle injury and was carted off to the locker room.
The Associated Press reported immediately after the game that Johnson was in a cast, but the extent of his injury was not known.
If the Atlantic Coast Conference standings remain the same, this won’t be the last time these two face each other this season with a rematch set for the ACC championship.
Here are a few thoughts and observations on a night when the 21-point underdogs kept it competitive for two and a half quarters before the rout was on …
1. Added yards.
Hoping to avoid the big play, Miami opened the game playing a soft zone to keep the ball in front of its defenders. That gave Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston easy and quick passes that moved the chains.
Much like Wake Forest last week, the Seminoles had little difficulty converting on third down — making all three (6-for-7 in the first half, 11-for-15 overall) — including Winston’s 19-yard run on third-and-12.
Winston scrambled out of trouble — or moved around for more time to find an open target — throughout the game, frustrating Miami’s defenders and avoiding negative-yardage plays. The Hurricanes recorded just one sack.
Ninth nationally in third-down conversions (52 percent), Florida State’s first punt didn’t come until 14:56 remaining in the game.
On the Seminoles’ third drive, junior tight end Nick O’Leary converted a third-and-9 by inches with yardage after the catch, beating a linebacker one-on-one near the sideline. Winston scrambled to the 1 as pressure built in the pocket, eluding tacklers.
After offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties, junior James Wilder Jr.’s 5-yard touchdown run extended the lead to 28-14 with 8:33 to go in the third. He escaped a low tackle by senior AJ Highsmith and dove for the pylon.
2. Capitalizing on turnovers.
Winston entered the game with just five interceptions on the season, but the Hurricanes picked him off twice in the first half. Both times Miami answered with a pair of touchdown throws by senior quarterback Stephen Morris.
The first was a 33-yard bullet to senior wideout Allen Hurns set up by the run game. With 22 seconds left in the second, Morris found Hurns for a 14-yarder three plays after scrambling on third down and appearing to re-aggravate his ankle injury.
Until Morris’ interception on a deep throw to freshman wide receiver Stacy Coley, he looked like the quarterback who finished 2012’s final four games with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Morris was picked off again on another underthrown ball in the fourth quarter to even the turnover battle. The Seminoles also turned Morris’ interceptions into touchdowns during the decisive third quarter.
3. Second-half adjustments.
The Hurricanes couldn’t manage anything on offense to start the third after capturing momentum in the second with the late touchdown. The Seminoles took advantage as they outscored Miami 14-0 in the quarter and shut the Hurricanes out over the final 30 minutes.
Morris threw a pair of interceptions, while the ground game mustered just 83 total yards on 29 rushes despite a good start.
Florida State used its run game to attack Miami’s defensive scheme for 192 yards. Junior Devonta Freeman, who went to Miami Central High School, and Wilder Jr. each found the end zone once in the quarter — each had two rushings scores for the game — wearing down would-be tacklers with yards after contact.
The Seminoles totaled 517 yards and have now scored 40 or more points in eight straight games.
Although the Hurricanes managed two consecutive weeks of double-digit second-half comeback victories, that wasn’t going to happen against national title hopeful Florida State on the road.
The 14 points was Miami’s lowest scoring output since a 41-3 loss to then-No. 9 Notre Dame Oct. 6, 2012.
4. Game of what ifs.
It might sound strange based on the final score, but the Hurricanes trailed just 21-14 at halftime and could easily have played the “What if?” game.
Miami responded to Florida State’s opening touchdown, handing the ball to Johnson five times for 30 yards. That number was two more than Johnson had in last season’s game against the Seminoles.
When the drive stalled, however, sophomore Matt Goudis missed wide left on a 44-yard field goal that would’ve made it 7-3. Goudis (6-for-10) has now missed a kick in each of the past three games.
Down 14-7 on their third drive, the Hurricanes fell victim to an official’s possibly premature whistle.
Johnson, whose feet were still moving on a carry as a defender wrapped one arm on him, got out of his grasp and made his way to the sideline with open field ahead of him. But the play had been called dead. Though Miami would convert on a third-and-14, the drive would end in a punt.
In the end, however, the better and more experienced team played the complete game. The Hurricane still have room for improvement and growth. As Miami head coach Al Golden has preached to his team all season, it must play until there are four zeros on the clock.