Seminoles: Three keys for beating Hurricanes
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The turnaround is staggering.
In the five matchups before Jimbo Fisher arrived in Tallahassee, Florida State averaged just 12.2 points and 222 yards against Miami.
But when Fisher joined the Seminoles in 2007, first as offensive coordinator and then as head coach, Florida State has averaged 34.4 points and 394 yards in its last five matchups against the Hurricanes.
Part of that can be attributed to Miami’s struggles the past few seasons. But it also indicates that Florida State is recruiting better – often grabbing talent from South Florida – and those players have responded to Fisher and his assistants by delivering efficiently on offense.
And despite Florida State’s loss two weeks ago at N.C. State, the Seminoles (6-1, 3-1 ACC) have one of the nation’s top offenses in 2012. Florida State has the No. 6 scoring offense (46 points per game) and No. 12 total offense (530.5 yards per game).
“Our mindset just has to be, as an offense, we need to get in the end zone every time we touch the ball,” tailback Chris Thompson said.
Kansas State and Notre Dame had little trouble racking up the points and yards against Miami. And Florida State could do the same – as long as it avoids turnovers. While Miami’s inexperienced defense has struggled, the Hurricanes have forced 13 turnovers (six interceptions, seven fumbles).
Florida State, ranked 14th in the Bowl Championship Series standings, is a staggering 21-point favorite against Miami. But as the surprising loss to N.C. State showed, nothing is a given for the Seminoles. Here are three keys to a Florida State win.
1. FSU must be balanced on offense.
Even with the great quarterbacks who have participated in the rivalry the past few decades, the Florida State-Miami series used to come down to which team could run the ball. That still holds true to some extent – since 1988 the team that rushes for more yards has won 18 of 25 games.
But the Seminoles are at their best when they showcase their balance on offense. Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel has completed 72.1 percent of his passes this season, and six receivers have caught 16 or mores passes.
On other teams, receivers like Rodney Smith (22 catches, 312 yards, 3 TDs) and Rashad Greene (20 catches, 254 yards, 1 TD) would be go-to guys with stats that are double what they have now. But Fisher and Manuel like to spread the wealth, and that should be a challenge for Miami’s secondary.
And the running game is just as diverse: Florida State can turn to Chris Thompson (640 yards), James Wilder Jr. (320 yards) or Devonta Freeman (217 yards).
2. Pressure the quarterback (whoever that may be).
Miami has allowed just nine sacks in seven games. And Florida State is coming off a game in which it had just one sack in the rout of Boston College.
While Miami has scored just 17 points the past few weeks, the offensive line has held up well in terms of pass protection. Fisher thinks the Hurricanes’ offensive line may be the best the Seminoles have faced this season.
“It’s as good as any,” Fisher said. “They are big and physical and athletic. They are a very good group.”
Defensive ends Tank Carradine (seven sacks) and Bjoern Werner (6.5 sacks) must get to the quarterback or at least force some bad throws from Miami’s QB – either Stephen Morris or Ryan Williams.
3. Contain Miami’s running duo of James and Johnson.
The Hurricanes’ best chance to win this game will likely be on the ground. With either an injured Morris or an inexperienced Williams, Miami may have to run the ball more often to sustain drives and take the pressure off the quarterback.
Mike James is averaging just 11 carries per game, and Duke Johnson just 10. That’s not enough. Miami will surely try to establish a running game and then use play-action passing to attack the Seminoles’ defense.
Florida State has the nation’s No. 5 rush defense, allowing just 74.8 yards per game. If the Seminoles can limit the impact of James and Johnson and force Miami to win with the passing game, Florida State should take the game.