Florida State v. Miami: Preview and prediction

Stacy Revere

The Noles and the Canes renew their rivalry once more. Can FSU make it four straight wins or will Miami snap the streak?

It's here again. The 58th meeting between the Miami Hurricanes and the Florida State Seminoles. No. 3 Florida State comes in riding high, after crushing Maryland, Clemson and N.C. State by a combined score of 90 to 7 in the first half of the three contests. The No. 7 Miami Hurricanes have struggled of late, but have managed an unblemished record.

ESPN's College Gameday will be there and the game will kick off at 8:18 on ABC. Florida State has won three straight and will look to make it four in the series, as Jameis Winston looks to continue his drive for the Heisman Trophy.

Let's get to some news and notes and then hit the analysis.

50%

How many more four and five-star recruits Florida State has signed over the last five classes than Miami. And the advantage in terms of five-stars is a stark 16-4 in favor of the Garnet and Gold. Because Florida State has a significant talent advantage in the game, most coverage of Miami this week is about the soft factors. "Anything can happen in a rivalry game, etc." But just because anything can happen, does not mean it is likely to happen.

And this game is huge for the recruiting of both teams. FORTY(40!) four/five-star recruits will be visiting.

Winning 7 of 9 in the series

Miami has done it six times, the last coming in a stretch from 1986 to 1994.

Florida State has done it four times, the last coming in a stretch from 1964 through 1975 (games not played in '65, '67, '68). A win Saturday would make it seven of nine for the Seminoles.

1995

The last time a top-10 team was favored by 21.5 or more against another top-10 team. The teams? No. 8 Kansas State and No. 2 Nebraska. Nebraska built a 42-6 lead through three quarters before pulling its starters. And it covered, 49-25, as Kansas State put 19 points up against Nebraska's backups.

"I'm not sure why the 8th ranked Wildcats are 25 point underdogs in today's game, that is one of the widest point spreads for a game between two Top 10 schools in recent history." -- Nebraska writer, 1995.

Tallahassee tailgating, eats and drinks

Our guide to Tallahassee.

10-12

That's the record of the teams against which Miami has become "battle tested," winning by a single score in each game over Florida, North Carolina and Wake Forest.

Will Miami play to avoid a blowout? Or will it go all-out for a win?

This is a legitimate issue. Miami is telling recruits that it is an equal of Florida State. If it loses close, it can continue to tell them that. If this is a blowout, that becomes a harder sell. Image matters (long story in the link).

v. Miami's defense

The Miami defense is much improved from the leaky unit of last year and is a big reason for the Hurricanes' undefeated season. This is a defense that is much more physically and mentally mature. It is more experienced in the system. Miami's defense has improved from 88th to 28th in the F/+ rankings. A lot of this has to do with allowing far fewer huge plays due to busts in the secondary.

Much like Clemson, Miami has improved most up front doing a much better job against both the run and pass. Just like their offensive, line Miami's defensive line is an experienced group with only one sophomore and no freshmen in the 2 deep. Miami's defensive line is much bigger than Clemson's, but is not as quick.

Behind the stout line, the line backing core is led by Denzel Perryman. The junior does a very good job of filling holes along the line as does the rest of the Hurricanes' linebackers. He is one of a handful of Miami players who would start for Florida State. The other linebackers are not nearly as good as Perryman.

While the Hurricanes pass defense has looked stout in total yards, it has struggled in recent weeks giving up a big game to UNC's TE Eric Ebron (who is excellent) and Wake Forest QB Tanner Price. Both teams ran a lot of quick passes to negate Miami's pass rush. Miami has very good talent in the secondary, but not a whole lot of talented depth. Tracy Howard and Ladarius Gunter are probably the third best corner duo in the ACC, behind FSU and Virginia Tech.

It will be interesting to see how Miami plays Florida State's 3-wide look. Will the Hurricanes go to a nickel defense, adding another defensive back on the field? Or will the Hurricanes attempt to play FSU in its base 4-3?

Florida State has the best trio of receivers in college football (though arguments for Missouri will be accepted), and a key part of that is slot receiver Kenny Shaw, an incredibly quick and savvy senior. If Miami stays in its 4-3 defense, Shaw is a big match up problem. If Miami goes Nickel, FSU will look to run the football more. And that's to say nothing of tight end Nick O'Leary, who often draws single coverage from opponents focused on Florida State's trio of (eventually) NFL-bound receivers.

Miami has been particularly vulnerable up the seams -- a route that Winston has thrown tremendously in his young career.

Miami's defense is good but they have yet to face anybody even close to FSU's ability (in fact, Florida State's offense is better than any hypothetical all-star offense cherry picked from Miami's first seven opponents), Florida State has seen at least one defense (Clemson) as good as Miami'.

Oh, and if FSU gets Miami in a look it wants, look for the Seminoles to go no-huddle and push tempo.

How Miami elects to defend Jameis Winston and this offense will be very interesting.

Will the Hurricanes try to bring a lot of pressure and attempt to rattle Winston, despite knowing his numbers against the blitz have been simply out of this world?

Or will Miami, a traditionally very conservative defense under its new defensive coordinator, elect to die a slow death, forcing Florida State to be patient and execute over and over slowly down the field over a series of plays, then hoping to get lucky in the game of red-zone roulette? If FSU is able to beat this, how patient will Miami be before electing to bring a bunch of pressure?

We discussed the possibilities here earlier this week.

Goals

  • More than 6.75 yards a play before garbage time (338 yards on 50 plays, 405 yards on 60 plays, 473 yards on 70 plays)
  • No more than 1 turnover
  • 60% or greater TDs in the red zone

v. Miami's offense

Stopping Miami's offense starts by stopping the run game. With 2 seniors, 2 juniors and a sophomore manning the line along with ultra-talented RB Duke Johnson, it's no surprise that James Coley has chosen to base Miami's offense on the ground. When given the space to create, Johnson really shines. At times, Miami's run blocking has been very good, but the blocking is not always consistent. Johnson has improved a lot running between the tackles, but Johnson struggles with injuries and is one week removed from a 30 carry game. Miami also has a good backup in Dallas Crawford.

FSU has struggled a bit power run teams like Pitt and Boston College, but those struggles are not necessarily guaranteed to continue. There are a few reasons for this.

First, Florida State has made a major lineup change. Former inside linebacker Christian Jones has been moved back outside, where he excelled in 2011 as a sophomore. Jones immediately took to the change, and his performance at outside linebacker (v. Maryland, Clemson and N.C. State) is night and day from his performance on the inside.

Second, against Boston College, the entire team seemed to suffer a lack of focus and intensity through the first 20 minutes (offense and special teams included). Then, Florida State woke up, shut down the run, and went on a 35-3 run.

Jones' replcaement at inside linebacker is Terrance Smith, who is just 215 pounds, lined up next to the 218-pound Telvin Smith. That is a small inside linebacker pair, but the duo has tremendous quickness. And while this issue has been talked about quite a bit, it is not unique. That would not be enough size in the NFL, but it's quite common in college football.

Despite having two smaller inside linebackers, Florida State's defense is not at all small in the front seven. Different standard alignments have Florida State's front seven checking in at about 1850 pounds, which is considerably stouter than any defense Miami has faced other than that of the Florida Gators -- completely shut down Miami's run game in Sun Life Stadium.

Even so, Florida State has not faced a traditional pro-style run game since the changes were made, and this is perhaps the only unknown matchup in the game, with all others (except punting) going the way of Florida State.

Still, there is no doubt that Florida State's pass defense, arguably the best in the country, is better than its run defense. And Miami's run game is better than its passing offense. Knowing that, Miami will likely play a lot of traditional sets with a tight end and a fullback, or two tight ends to force FSU to show they have improved their 3-4/5-2 defense. Either way FSU fans will likely continue to see Christian Jones at the DE/OLB spot and Miami will likely run at him as Mario Edwards Jr has been incredible against the run and sets the edge well. Jones has played the run very well, but Miami will be his toughest challenge to date.

Not only must Miami run the football to control the clock and limit the number of FSU's possessions to prevent a blowout, but it's also important because Stephen Morris has been bad on third down. Very bad: 18-for-44, 378 yards, 2 TD, 6 INT on third down.

Miami QB Stephen Morris throws a great deep ball, but struggles with consistency on other throws. When he misses he misses high, giving opposing defenses ample opportunity for turnovers. He also gets antsy in the pocket, running from pressure that isn't there and often times throwing off his back foot. How much his ankle injury, one that Miami claims is no longer an issue, has played into this is rather unknown.

Miami does have some playmakers outside if Morris can get them the football. Freshman Stacy Coley might be the most talented of the group, but Allen Hurns has been Morris's go to guy. Miami did lose Phillip Dorsett to a MCL tear and will need Herb Waters, Rashawn Scott and Clive Walford to pick up the slack. Miami uses Dorsett to keep safeties honest in an attempt to open up the underneath passing game and get their other WRs into 1-on-1 coverage. While Coley and Waters are good deep threats they aren't as dangerous deep as Dorsett (assuming Dorsett is catching the football, which is never a guarantee). Can Miami's receivers be consistent and come up big for Morris?

Miami's pass protection this year has been very good, but it has yet to play in a hostile environment where communication will be an issue. Miami returned 4,000 of its 10,000-ticket allotment, so 75,000 of the 83,000 fans in the stands should be screaming Seminoles. FSU's defense is very complex and multiple, particularly on passing downs, and it gets nastier as the third downs get longer.

Miami would be smart to go big and try to wear down FSU with a healthy dose of Johnson and Crawford. The Canes will look to throw deep off of play action, like they have done all year, giving Morris an easier read. Miami does have a tendency to fall in love with the pass even though it is a much better running team. This Miami offense has beat up on bad defenses but struggled mightily against a healthy UF team, as most teams do, and had less than inspiring efforts against both Wake Forest and North Carolina.

Look for Florida State to limit both the run and the deep ball, and to give Morris the intermediate routes early on. Morris has been terrible throwing them of late. If he is improved, FSU will change up its looks.

Goals

  • Less than 4.75 yards/play allowed before garbage time (238 yards on 50 plays, 285 yards on 60 plays, 333 yards on 70 plays).
  • Force 2 turnovers
  • Less than 50-percent touchdowns allowed in the red zone.

Special Teams

If Miami is to beat FSU, it will need help on special teams. Florida State has a big edge at kicker, as Roberto Aguayo is perfect, and Miami's Matt Goudis is only six of nine. But Miami has a big edge at punter, as FSU's punter Cason Beatty has been shaky at times. Miami's kick return squad is much better than its offense, so look for FSU to kick the ball very high or deep into the end zone.

Prediction

It's fairly obvious that the talent gap between FSU and Miami has closed a bit, but the gap was very large to begin with. Miami will not beat Florida State barring tremendous turnover luck, and even then, the Hurricanes might need a defensive score. According to ESPN, favorites of 20 points or more in 2013 are 109-0.

EF58's pick: Florida State 35, Miami 14

Bud's pick: Florida State 41, Miami 17 | Chance of winning: 90%

Other staff picks: We asked for a final score and whether FSU was more likely to win by 35+ or lose?

JMNPB: Noles 45-17. Domination on both LOS, Miami run game held well in check. FSU is more likely to win by 35, but Al goes hard in garbage time. Something about them MAC coaches like him and Doeren....

FSUED: FSU 41-21 – Canes backdoor cover with late TD or 2. Much more likely FSU wins by 35 than loses. Lots of talk about how Miami can slow the game down, but I think FSU dictates tempo by stacking up against the run and playing a bit faster on offense (which will be easy because underneath stuff will be open all night).

Matt Minick: 41-23 FSU, with Miami getting a garbage TD to get to 23. I think the chances of either winning by 35 or outright losing are both slim (due to fewer expected possessions and our overall talent disparity, respectively), but of the two I think winning by 35 would have the better odds.

Tim: 45-21. I think Miami scores late in garbage time. NC State's RB got a lot of junk yardage. I could see Miami doing the same. Bigger chance that FSU is winning by 35, before junk time, than losing.

Pbysh: I actually don't think FSU gets to 40 (blasphemy, I know) - I think the final score will be 37-17, with the last Miami TD late in the 4th quarter. I definitely think it is more likely FSU wins by 35 than loses.

Massnole: 48-13. FSU will continue to dominate both lines of scrimmage. More likely that FSU wins by 35 than loses, by a wide margin.

SWFLNole: 48-21 Seminoles. The talent gap is immense, and UM is shown for the team they really are. One of the TDs is in garbage time. I think the probability of an FSU 35+ point victory and a loss are marginal, with 35+ point win being slightly larger.

RaysNNoles: Miami has to pick their poison with the FSU offense and I think they will play conservative which will result in longer scoring drives and less points. FSU wins 38-14. Losing is far less likely than blowing them out by 35.

OBR: Been thinking about picking a score with FSU managing less than 40 but I can't do it. I'm going to go with 40-27, FSU. The chances of FSU winning by a large blowout, 35 or more, is more likely than losing. However, I think Miami will be able to run the ball, convert on a solid amount of third downs, and run the clock. Couple long drives in the first half, even for FGs, can take away a number of potential scoring drives from FSU. I can see Miami scoring on a busted coverage early as well, giving them a little momentum. If there is one thing Morris can do, it is throw to wide open guys down field. I do think there is a good chance this is going to be a game in the 3rd quarter, before FSU starts to pull away.

True Nole: I have the score at 45-10. Winning by 35 is more likely than losing.

DK: I went with 38-13. UM has to hold FSU in check early, and I just don't see how that happens right now. Early deficits snowball against the 'Noles, and I think a 35-point win is more likely than a loss.

FrankDNole: 55-17 FSU with the canes getting 2 garbage time TD’s. Freeman runs for about 150 and 2 TD’s. JW5 throws for about 350, 2 TD’s, runs one in, and another Davey O’Brien, ACC Rookie, and Manning QB of the week awards. Either JWJ or Los also breaks 100. Coker will throw a TD also when he comes in halfway through the 3rd quarter. Running game will be so effective (close to or over 300 yds.) and that will give JW5 and Coker all day to find wide open receivers. Will be total domination reminiscent of to 1997’s epic 47-0 thrashing of scUM at Doak when we were ranked #4. Al Golden will be as soaked as if just took a shower and he will loosen his filthy orange necktie. The only reason ABC won’t cut away to another game is because of contractual obligations. It’s gonna be extremely fugly folks.

NolesBlogger: Miami will try to shorten the game and limit the big play. I like Miami to cover as the pledge pushes for late scores to try to save face. A part of me would like to see the starters stay in late to make sure the score line more accurately reflects the performance. But we have bigger things to accomplish this season, and hopefully the recruits/voters stop watching once it gets out of hand. I think winning by 35 is more likely than a loss because I think FSU could have a lead that large before the starters are pulled. Also that number is closer to the Vegas line than a loss. I see FSU continuing its run of scoring 40+ points and winning 45-28.

Michael Rogner: 52-13 with the likelihood of losing less than the likelihood of Miami asking for a running clock

Alan Mundy: 34-17 FSU. Miami successfully uglifies the game and forces FSU to stay patient. FSU has a big day on the ground and maintains a comfortable lead but doesn't dominate as they have previous opponents.

FSU 47-27. I think it will be obvious we are the better team, but none of us will be satisfied that we put on a good enough show for the national media and the recruits. It will be because Miami uglies the game up enough to frustrate Nole Nation, if not the team itself. I'll say there's a greater chance we blow them out, but only if Miami does something dumb. Both probabilities are very small, IMO IYAM NTTAWWT

NoleT&T: FSU 52 Miami 20. Better chance of FSU winning by 35+

Oline0175: 38-17 FSU.

FSU44: 44-13 FSU Miami will run the ball as much as they can to try to keep the offense off the field. It won't be enough. I will say it is more likely we lose than win by 35, simply because if FSU has the game in hand late, I would expect FSU to pull their starters and Miami to score in garbage time.

FSUVA: 59-20 FSU. Miami keeps it closer at the beginning. 7-10 points from Miami come late in the game when it doesn't matter anymore. I think it's more likely FSU wins by 35 than loses the game.

SalukiNole: 55-13. FSU piles it on early similar to the Clemson game. Steven Morris throws for two picks, and Jameis has his big Heisman moment

Ricobert1: Except for BC, pretty sure we've beat it soundly since. 50-17, Noles.

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