CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — When Florida State and Miami play Saturday night, it’ll be like old times.
No. 1 vs. No. 2.
OK, not in the national polls. But when it comes to sacks and tackles for loss this season, the Hurricanes and Seminoles are ranked 1-2 in each of those departments — the biggest reasons why the Sunshine State rivals are much better defensively so far in 2010 than they’ve been in recent years.
The last three meetings between the teams have been shootouts, with a combined 218 points. Saturday’s 55th renewal of the rivalry could seem much different.
“They’re getting it,” said Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher, who’ll lead No. 23 Florida State against No. 13 Miami for the first time after 3 decades of Bobby Bowden matching wits with the Hurricanes. “They’re understanding it. They’re buying into what we’re trying to do, and they’re hungry for success, and they’re playing well.”
Real well, actually.
Since getting embarrassed 47-17 at Oklahoma in Week 2, Florida State (4-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won its last three games by a combined count of 99-24.
The Seminoles have given up a paltry total of 204 rushing yards in those games; they have two players, Chris Thompson (235) and Jermaine Thomas (219) with more than that by themselves over the span.
Given that, Miami (3-1, 1-0) knows it will have little room for error.
“This is a game where second-and-8, second-and-9, that’ll be great,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “Getting into second-and-15, third-and-12, that won’t be so great. Any time you get a positive play, and both teams would say this, that’s a good thing when you’re talking about Florida State and Miami.”
A year ago, Florida State’s defense was porous, ranked 108th natioanlly in terms of yardage allowed. So far in 2010, they’re 21st — just nine spots behind Miami. The Hurricanes are giving up 266.8 yards per game, while Florida State is yielding 293.4 per outing.
Where the teams are truly excelling, however, is in the attack game.
Florida State leads the nation in sacks, averaging 5.0 per game. Miami is second on that list at 4.3 per game. And in tackles for loss, their spots are reversed: Miami is No. 1 at 10.5 per game, Florida State is No. 2 with 9.4.
So remember those 37-29, 41-39 and 38-34 games of the last three years?
This one might not shape up the same way.
“The Miami-Florida State rivalry has always been full of great games and ever since I’ve been here it’s always been the last drive — whoever has the ball last,” Miami linebacker Colin McCarthy said. “But it’s always fun and it’s always physical. It’s what we like and we’re excited.”
One thing that Oklahoma did well that Miami also does is play at a quick pace, no-huddle, not giving defenses time to take more than a few seconds after every play.
Such a tactic shredded the Seminoles a few weeks ago, and odds are, they’ll see Miami try the same thing.
“We’re playing nowhere close to perfect, but they’re responding to the things we’re asking them to do,” Fisher said. “They understood that was just one game. You can let one game beat you; you can’t let the same team beat you twice. We did a good job of that coming off that game. But it was a learning experience.”
Shannon said Miami had one of those learning-experience games at Ohio State, where the Hurricanes’ offense got a crushing reminder that mistakes and turnovers are rarely overcome in big games.
The defense, he says, has been progressing all year. And here comes the biggest test — in a potential ACC title game preview.
“The thing we’re looking for is for our team to get better,” Shannon said. “We’re still giving up big plays in the running game. When you have mistakes those things can really, really continue to haunt you. We have to do a better job. We have to keep swarming the football, tackling the football, and getting all the guys to the football.”