FSU overcomes slow start, surges past Miami
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — So Florida State is better than Kansas State and Notre Dame.
Miami coach Al Golden, whose team was walloped by those other two outfits earlier this season, had called before Saturday night's game the Seminoles the best team the Hurricanes would face this season.
"It was probably to butter us up at the beginning," said coach Jimbo Fisher after his Seminoles had defeated the Hurricanes 33-20 at Sun Life Stadium.
But is it true? Is Florida State, 14th in the BCS rankings, better than No. 4 Kansas State, which beat Miami earlier this season 52-13, and No. 5 Notre Dame, which thrashed the Hurricanes 41-3?
"I don't know," Fisher said. "I just want to be better than Duke next week."
If the Seminoles play the way they did Saturday, they might not be better than the Blue Devils.
It was hardly a classic performance by the team supposed to be the crown jewel of the Atlantic Coast Conference. And it did nothing to help the national perception of the pedestrian ACC, a league that doesn't have a single non-conference win this season over a ranked team.
"Yeah, I think we need to fix a few things and work on a lot of stuff to get back to where we were at from Day 1," running back Devonta Freeman, who rushed for two touchdowns, said when asked if his Seminoles, once ranked third nationally, need to play better if they are to get back to national title consideration.
Florida State (7-1, 4-1 ACC Atlantic Division) on its first three possessions Saturday lost two fumbles and had a 17-yard punt, enabling the Hurricanes (4-4, 3-2 Coastal) to take a 10-0 lead. The Seminoles were doing just about everything they could to gift wrap a Miami upset.
That included penalties. Florida State committed a whopping 12 for 121 yards.
"It wasn't pretty, but we won," said Seminoles quarterback EJ Manuel, who completed 21 of 31 passes for 229 yards, but never looked too dominant.
At least the Seminoles could be thankful the Hurricanes mustered little on offense when they didn't have a short field. They had a meager 183 total yards before a meaningless 75-yard drive in the closing minutes for a touchdown after they had trailed 33-13.
Despite suffering a sprained left ankle the previous Saturday against North Carolina and being listed as doubtful, Miami quarterback Stephen Morris got the start. But Morris didn't look sharp even if he said his ankle "felt great." He padded his stats on the meaningless final drive, and finished 25 of 43 for 223 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"Until you see him go out and there and run around and actually stress it like he did in pregame, we were uncertain," Golden said about deciding just before the game to go with Morris over backup Ryan Williams. "I don't regret playing Stephen in this game. I thought he gives us the best chance to win the game, and we didn't get it done."
Thanks to Florida State errors, the Hurricanes looked as if they would have chance to get it done. A lost fumble on the Seminoles' first play from scrimmage led to a 22-yard drive for a 9-yard run by Mike James. The 17-yard punt on FSU's second possession gave the Miami the ball at the Seminoles 34 and led to a field goal.
But the Hurricanes then stopped taking advantage of gifts. A Seminoles lost fumble on their third drive gave Miami the ball at its 42. But the Hurricanes went nowhere.
"We just had a miscommunication at that first touchdown and then we got to 10-10 and people just started getting their act together," defensive end Bjoern Werner said of his Seminoles tying the score before they took a 13-10 lead on a 46-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins with three seconds left in the half.
Another first-half downer for FSU was losing top-flight running back Chris Thompson early in the second quarter to a left knee injury. Fisher admitted he's "scared" about the health of Thompson, who left the field on crutches, but said nothing will be known for sure until he has an MRI.
At least Fisher felt better about getting turnovers and penalties under control in the second half. Although the Seminoles had five overall fumbles, they had no other turnovers other than the two lost balls in the first half. And they had a manageable three penalties after intermission.
Still, this hardly was an outing that will impress the pollsters. The Seminoles led just 16-10 before a 3-yard run by Freeman with 11:53 left in the game gave them a secure 23-10 advantage.
"I'm not really sure about those pollsters, but we won a game," said FSU defensive back Justin Bright. "We won a great game versus Miami."
Yes, it was a rivalry game. But the rivalry sure is getting one-sided.
This marked the Seminoles' sixth win in the past eight meetings. They've won four straight in Miami.
"We lost to a team that is ahead of us right now," Golden said. "They're a better team right now."
But are the Seminoles better than Kansas State and Notre Dame? Nope.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson