Miami (6-3, 3-2 ACC) hosts No. 3 Florida State (9-0, 6-0 ACC) at 8 p.m. Saturday at Sun Life Stadium with a playoff berth, recruiting and bragging rights on the line.
After opening the season 3-3, the Hurricanes have a modest three-game win streak. The Seminoles have put together 25 straight victories — the most since Miami compiled 34 in a row from 2000-03. The ‘Noles are also the defending national champions.
Florida State has won four in a row in the series by a combined score of 142-70, though Miami still leads overall, 31-27. The Seminoles are 18-16 in South Florida, and the Hurricanes haven’t collected a victory at home against FSU since 2004 when Brock Berlin and Chris Rix were the starting quarterbacks.
In last season’s meeting, it was a tale of two halves. UM trailed just 21-14 after two quarters, but once junior running back Duke Johnson fractured his ankle and a skirmish broke out halfway through the third, the floodgates opened. FSU scored 20 second-half points in a 41-14 win.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston vs. Miami’s defense
When Florida State and Miami met last November, Winston threw a pair of first-half interceptions. Running back Devonta Freeman led the Seminoles to victory, tallying 176 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. James Wilder Jr. added a pair of scores.
Expect this year’s matchup to play out differently since the Seminoles average just 129.9 rushing yards per game, which ranks 101st in the nation.
Winston, who looks to become the sixth FSU quarterback with two wins over the Hurricanes, has thrown for 300-plus yards and 11 touchdowns in four road games this season. His quarterback rating is 154.54 away from Doak Campbell.
His top target and security blanket, senior wideout Rashad Greene, has a reception in 38 straight games and multiple catches in 28 consecutive contests. He averages 7.9 catches per game and three times he has posted double-digit grabs this season. Greene ranks first in the ACC in yards (989), yards per game (109.9), receptions (71) and receptions per game. Last season against the Hurricanes, he caught six passes for 83 yards.
Senior tight end Nick O’Leary, a 2013 Mackey Award finalist, poses another threat through the air. He has already matched his total (33) catches of last year. Miami head coach Al Golden called him "savvy" and a red-zone threat with good hands.
Members of the offensive line protecting Winston have 148 combined career starts. If they can’t give Winston time to find open men downfield, he can scramble for yardage — he has seven career rushing scores. Of late, Winston has struggled in the turnover department. He has thrown six picks over the past three games.
"They’ve got a great quarterback, a lot of running backs, a lot of guys that can get the ball and a veteran o-line that’s really good," Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, rank 10th in the nation in passing yards allowed (180.6). The 108.0 opponent’s quarterback rating is 18th. The defense has forced 19 takeaways (11 fumbles, eight interceptions), good for 20th.
It starts up front where the defensive line has gotten more pressure on the quarterback. In the win over North Carolina, UM recorded six sacks and seven tackles for loss. Miami has seen improvement thanks to junior tackle Michael Wyche, who has helped free up the linebackers by taking on the center and guard. The secondary boasts five experienced players, including junior Deon Bush, who picked off Winston last year for his first career interception.
"We’re tackling better, we’re finishing our movements better," Golden said. "We’ve been very unselfish. The ball is going where it needs to go — to the unblocked player — and the unblocked player is finishing, making the tackle. We’re working good collectively. We’re going to have to be at our best Saturday night."
Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya said he likes to watch the top quarterbacks operate and take care of the ball. What did he consider Winston’s greatest strength? His flawless 22-0 record as a starter.
"He always finds a way to win, and he’s also really good at tuning out all the outside noise no matter what’s going on," Kaaya said. "He’s still running the team and strapped up and plays as hard. He doesn’t let any outside affect him."
Something has to give Saturday.
Florida State: During FSU’s 25-game win streak, the Seminoles have scored 95 more touchdowns than their opponents (143-48). The Seminoles rank 27th nationally on third down, converting 46 percent of the time. Winston has tossed at least one touchdown pass in each of his 22 career games.
Miami: The Hurricanes are 5-0 at Sun Life Stadium this season (13-1 in their last 14) and have outscored opponents 206-91 in 2014. Led by junior running back Duke Johnson, who has five straight 100-yard rushing games, the ground attack has a 994-193 advantage during the three-game win streak. UM ranks 11th nationally in total defense, allowing 312.4 yards per game.
Florida State: The Seminoles have turned the ball over two or more times in six of their last seven games. FSU is 81st in the country on third-down defense, permitting a 41 percent clip. Florida State has just nine interceptions when the unit tallied 26 last year.
Miami: The Hurricanes are 1-3 in night games this season. Despite some improvement, the Hurricanes convert on third down just 31 percent of the time. Opponents have outscored Miami 67-49 in the fourth quarter.
Florida State:Questionable — DB Tyrell Lyons (hamstring), LB Terrance Smith (knee); Out For Season — DB Colin Blake (shoulder), DT Nile Lawrence-Stample (pectoral muscle), LB Delvin Purifoy (ankle).
Miami:Out — OL Sean Harvey (upper extremity), OL Alex Gall (lower extremity); Probable — OL Ereck Flowers (lower extremity), RB Gus Edwards (lower extremity); Surgery/Out for the season — OL Taylor Gadbois (lower extremity), OL Kc McDermott (lower extremity), K Matt Goudis (lower extremity), FB Ronnie Regula (upper extremity), WR Rashawn Scott (upper extremity), DB Rayshawn Jenkins (lower extremity)
DID YOU KNOW?
— Since Jimbo Fisher took over in 2007, the Seminoles have averaged 35.1 points in the series.
— Miami is 19-4 vs. top-10 opponents at home since 1980.
— Saturday marks the 26th time in the last 30 years at least one team has been unbeaten for the matchup.
— Nearly half (27 of 56) of the meetings have been decided by eight points or less. Of the seven decided by a point, Miami is 7-0.
— Miami’s 1989 national championship team will be honored at halftime
"It is where you want to be as a coach or a player, you want to be that program that everyone aims to shoot for, be like and try to do those things. That is part of success. People say dealing with failure is hard, well dealing with success is hard in the fact that you have to understand people are coming for you, you have to give your best effort and you have to prepare well every week. That is where you want to be as a coach and as a player." — FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher on the Seminoles being the game everyone circles on their calendars
"It’s definitely going to be a great experience for me to go to Miami and play against those guys because they have a great team, and they’re looking to be the team to beat us. I think we’re going to have a great week of practice. We’re going to go to Miami, and we’re going to play good Florida State football." — FSU QB Jameis Winston on playing the University of Miami
"Duke is just one of those backs that you really don’t see. He can make a cut or a stop and get back going to full speed within two strides. Once he makes a cut and gets through a gap, you can pretty much kiss the baby. He’s going to be gone." — FSU DL Mario Edwards Jr. on UM RB Duke Johnson
"We’ll save that for the field, we’ll save it for when we actually get out there playing. We’ll save all the trash talking for when we actually put our pads on and start playing. I don’t think it’s football to talk through social media talk, tweet or text. I think it’s best to just show what you can do." — Junior RB Duke Johnson on whether there would be trash talking with former high school teammates and/or opponents leading up to Saturday
"It’ll mean a lot, especially if I can get the game-winning touchdown against this team. It’s Tight End U. It’s that tradition." — Senior tight end Clive Walford on what it would mean to add another memorable UM tight end performance against FSU
"It’s always big, but it’s 365 days a year down here. There is no question about it. They were champions last year. From our standpoint we’re trying to get there. I think a lot of recruits see it as an opportunity to help us get there. I can’t speak for them, but from our standpoint we still need help building it and getting there. And there’s opportunity when you’re building it for guys to come in and impact your program." — Head coach Al Golden on what this game means to recruiting
Florida State hosts Boston College next Saturday in its final ACC game of the season.
Miami travels to Virginia next Saturday in its final road game.