Miami Hurricanes at the Florida State Seminoles- The Preview

When:  Monday Night, 8PM Eastern (ESPN)

Weather Report, thanks to author  and meteorology buff Fsued

We've discussed this game for ten days now, can you feel the excitement?  Labor day night, under the lights, Miami and FSU again square off in another meeting of this historic rivalry.  

I'm not going to re-write what we've laid out all week.  We discussed Miami's defense back on Tuesday.  Since then, we've been informed that Miami will be without talented freshman safety Vaughn Telemaque, and cornerback Ryan Hill.  Hill was not expected to start,  but Telemaque was before the final depth chart was released.  Replacing Telemaque is the steadily average JoJo Nicholas.  Some cane members have said that they expect Miami to blitz more often in this game, and possibly play a bit less cover two.  

From FSU's perspective, this changes a few things.  First, FSU's running backs absolutely must be on their game and pick up the blitz.  They struggled to do that this year, and the duty really falls on Jermaine Thomas.  Has coach Carter prepared his guys?  He stressed it in spring and in camp, buthas he taken care of business?  This becomes even more important because FSU doesn't want to leave their tight end in to block all the time.  To be multiple and keep Miami off balance, FSU must sometimes release the tight end and leave their running back in to block.  

it''s punch and counter punch.  Last year, FSU dealt knockout blows to Miami.  And in the re-match, the champion should always keep with his same strategy until he can tell what adjustments the opponent has hade.  FSU's punch was their run game.  The real key for FSU will be to stay in positive leverage situations (2nd and 6 or less, 3rd and 4 or less).  When you have an experienced, talented offensive line, a quality running back, and an excellent running quarterback, you should be able to accomplish this.  Miami had the ACC's worst run defense last year.  We discussed how FSU will attack Miami with their option game here.  Miami couldn't defend teams that utilized a running quarterback last year (NC State, FSU, Georgia Tech), or Zone Blocking teams (Cal), all of which FSU does very well.  FSU should come out and run the football.  If Miami can't stop it, FSU will control the game and win going away.  If Miami does stop the running game, then the strategy starts.

If Miami stops the run game with only their front-7 defenders, they will win the football game.  That's extremely difficult to do without a big talent advantage, particularly against a team that involves all 11 offensive players in the run game.  That's not to say it can't happen at all, just not consistently.  So Miami will have to cheat (legally).  First, they will probably use some run blitzes, which just as the name implies, are blitzes designed to stop the run game.  These can be particularly effective against the zone-read play that FSU runs so well because it muddies Ponder's read. But it also exposes Miami to big runs.  When you run blitz and miss, there are fewer defenders to tackle the runner once he clears the line of scrimmage.  It can be particularly dangerous to run-blitz a team willing to run the otpion, which FSU is.  

But the option isn't the only thing FSU can do against run blitzes.  Playing in a two-tight end set can spread Miami out more than the traditional I-formation does, which means the blitzers have to come from a slightly longer distance, increasing the chance they never get to the ball-carrier.  It also opens up great opportunities for cutback running.  FSU runs very few counter plays because their zone-running scheme has naturally built in cut-backs which serve as counters.  Think of it like this:  "FSU runs a counter play when the opponent leaves themselves open to the country, and they do it during the play, not by guessing that the defense will do something as traditional counter teams do."  So Miami will run-blitz at their own risk.  If they run blitz a lot, I would expect more variance in the run game.  More tackles for loss but also more big plays.   

Another way Miami will look to stop FSU's run game will be by using 8 men in the box (1 deep safety instead of two, moving one of the safeties down closer to the line of scrimmage).  It is tougher to run against this look, because there are simply more defenders within a close proximity to the ball.  FSU should expect this, and our friends at Cal have broken down how a zone running team (like FSU, or Cal), can gain a numerical advantage even against an 8-man front.  Go read that article and then come back.  Once again, running 8 in the box is a good way to stop the run, but it can also lead to giving up big plays because the potential tackler's angles are much sharper.  

But if Miami really starts to focus on the run, as legendary zone-blocking offensive line coach Alex Gibbs says "gentlemen, it is time to get out of the [!*?*#D!!&] run."  And this year, FSU should be able to pass a bit more.  If Miami decides to blitz a lot, expect FSU to get them with the screen game.  FSU is an excellent screen team because their linemen are so quick and athletic, they can get out and block smaller, quickder defenders.  It's a joy to watch Rodney Hudson on these plays.  Not only can FSU run their bubble screens (those quick passes out into the flats), but they can also run screens to running backs Jermaine Thomas and Chris Thompson.  They can run middle screens to Jarmon Fortson.  There was some great discussion on what else FSU can run in the Cane's defensive preview.  The bottom line for the 'Nole offense will be to stay with what worked last year and don't throw changeups until Miami shows they are willing to dedicate their personnel to stopping what FSU killed them with last year, particularly with Miami missing one and a half starters on their defense.  

But what about the FSU defense against the Miami offense?...

We recently discussed the Cane's offense.  Read that if you haven't already done so.  So Miami's offense should be better, but it's unknown how much better.  Can Jacory Harris play well?  I'm not sure.  

One thing I do know, however, is that Miami is going to look to pound Florida State's defense with the run game.  FSU's run defense was not good last season, and the defense overall has played poorly so far.  Most FSU fans don't expect much of FSU's defense this year.  There are two things the defense must do to win this game.  

First, stop the run.  If Miami can run on FSU successfully, they will win the game.  FSU needs to play smart, disciplined football and throw everything it has at the run game.  Run blitzes, shifting formations (maybe a 5 man or 3-man front?)  8 in the box against pro-style sets, etc.  We'll discuss the consequences of that later.  

Second, take away the middle of the field.  In our preview of the Canes offense, we linked a scouting report on Miami's new offensive coordinator.  He likes to throw the ball to the backs a ton and to the sidelines.  However, the key for FSU will be to take away the middle of the field.  Regardless of what Whipple wants to do, Harris' strengths are throwing the ball with accuracy and touch in the middle of the field.  We have yet to see him throw it well outside the hashmarks.  

So load up the box, stop the run, and take away the middle of the field.  What will Miami do against this?  Assuming FSU can slow the run game down, Miami will look to the air.  And as we discussed earlier, they have excellent playmakers at wide receiver.  So FSU will play one-on-one coverage with little help over the top.  That puts a ton of pressure on the defensive backs, and they are likely to get burned.  That's okay.  It's a calculated risk FSU should take.  I am willing to trade a bomb or two for consistently stopping Miami's run game and not allowing Harris the short easy throws.  Don't get ticked off if the defensive backs get burned a bit.  FSU will look to force Miami into a high risk-high reward passing game.  If the run game isn't there, that's a game the FSU defense will win because they will consistently put Miami into long situations.  

The other important thing is to get pressure in Harris' face and not lose contain.  The defensive ends must play disciplined, not this out of control garbage we've been accustomed to at FSU over the past few years.  The defensive tackles must get push.  If they get push, Harris can't step up in the pocket and he doesn't have the arm to hurt FSU if he can't step into his throws.  If he is able to consistently step up, he will have a big day.  If FSU puts him in long downs and can get some creative nickel packages on the field, they can dial up some wild blitzes to confuse Harris.  

We discussed the special teams last week.  Miami has a big advantage in almost every area of the special teams.  I expect at least one big runback from the Canes.

Overall, FSU has more game-ready talent, they have the home field advantage, and the experienced quarterback.  This game should come down to leverage.  If FSU can stay in good down and distance, they will move the ball on Miami and hit big plays not because they forced them, but because Miami will get impatient and leave themselves vulnerable to those big plays.  On the defensive side, Miami's offense will also hit some of those as well because they have a scary amount of talent.  But Miami probably won't be able to stay in 2nd and 6 or less, 3rd and 3 or less, and that means that they will have to depend on the high-risk/ high-reward stuff.  Even giving the special teams advantage to the canes, the difference in this game will be that while FSU will pick and choose when to try for the big stuff, Miami will be forced to go for the big stuff, and not always in favorable situations.  That should create a turnover or two by the Canes.  Maybe the 'Noles can return one.  And remember that both teams should have some sloppiness, seeing that this is the first game.  Discipline and composure are the key.

The Pick:  FSU 31, Miami 23.  

Be here at 7pm Monday Night to follow the best game threads on the Internet, anywhere. Discuss the game with thousands of other 'Nole fans.  

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