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Florida State football: Miami preview and prediction

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The Seminoles visit the Canes in Miami for the renewal of a dormant rivalry. Can "The U" pull off the upset?

Jeff Gammons

Miami comes into its annual contest against Florida State unranked and sporting a 6-3 record – but Miami looks much better recently. How much is Miami actually improved and how much is just a product of their last three games against weaker opponents? The truth likely falls somewhere in between. FSU has won 25 straight and has not lost a road game at Miami since 2004.

While Miami does not boast the best defense FSU has faced this year, they do have a unit that has played well as of late and could cause problems for Jameis Winston and company.

Florida State is facing a defense made up of a bunch of solid players that play very well together. Miami fans don't seem to like DC Mark D'Onofrio but he's done an excellent job of forcing offenses to do what they normally can't in college and that's be methodical. That's something that FSU may be better positioned to do than any team Miami has faced.

Miami's defense is a multiple 3-4 look with a ton of experience – 10 of 11 starters are upperclassmen, and many of the reserves are as well. As a result, Miami has managed to remedy its problems of years past, as the Hurricanes are now 11th in stopping explosive drives, a huge improvement over ranking 66th in 2013 and 62nd in 2012. Miami does this by keeping a safety very deep over the top to deny the deep ball, and by being more comfortable in the system thanks to experience, which has resulted in far fewer blown assignments. Other measures back this up, as well.

The strength is big-play prevention; the Hurricanes rank fourth in IsoPPP, which measures the magnitude of an opponent's successful plays. Basically, the Hurricanes allow smaller big plays than almost anybody else.

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Golden stuck with defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio despite iffy years, and it appears to be paying off. And defensive experience is finally not a weakness. Of the 26 players on Miami's two-deep, six are seniors and 11 are juniors.

Neither Calvin Heurtelou nor Olsen Pierre are overly disruptive defensive tackles, but they do an excellent job of holding the point of attack and keep blockers off of MLB Denzel Perryman, who is a great striker with instincts. Teams have struggled to run inside against UMoF, but have found more success outside, which means backs like Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook could have a big game as they run outside better than Karlos Williams does.

Florida State has run the football better of late, as Jimbo Fisher has seemingly found a comfort zone as to what runs his different backs excel at and how to keep defenses honest.

Miami's strategy does lend itself to teams that can competently throw the football with accuracy underneath, and particularly on first down, that is what Florida State should look to do if the Hurricanes are focused on stopping the run. Winston is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and if his thumb is healthy, he should be accurate and on time with throws to keep FSU ahead of the chains.

That involves the receivers, as well, and the youngsters in the crop, though extremely talented, have not been as consistent in recent weeks. They must be precise in their routes, run through contact, and be sure-handed. They are going to have opportunities to catch the football, and in turn, be hit shortly thereafter. Teams have been completing a high percentage of their passes against the Hurricanes but receivers have been quickly tackled meaning teams must continue to execute if they want to drive the field. They must hold on to the football.

Miami has been more aggressive with its corners recently, but is that D'Onofrio showing greater confidence in his DBs, or is it a product of having played some lackluster receivers of late? Neither Duke, Cincinnati nor UNC sport great downfield receiving threats so playing bump-and-run coverage makes sense. Can Miami disrupt FSU's young receivers enough at the line to get a stop or will they elect to prevent the big play by playing off of them? Expect them to start off that way, at least to see how the officials call the game. If grabbing is allowed by the men in stripes, expect plenty.

Miami does not have a great four-man pass rush, but it does blitz pretty well, and will sugar the A-Gaps – something at which FSU has struggled to pick up. The blitz is much more effective in longer down and distance, so FSU needs to stay ahead of the chains, and stay patient. Punting at times is not the worst thing.

Time: 8:00 ET | Line: FSU -2.5 | O/U 61.5

V. Miami's Offense

Everything Miami does on offense is related to Duke Johnson. The junior running back has the record for most rushing yards at Miami and is averaging almost 8 yards/rush. He's also the healthiest he's ever been for a game against the Seminoles, having come off a bye, even though he's had more carries this year than in year's past. Step 1 for FSU is to limit the run game.

FSU just wrapped up a game against a team that would like to run the ball but couldn't. Of course Miami's offense is much, much better than UVA's, but the fact remains that this will be a battle of strength on strength. It looks like LT Ereck Flowers will return to the lineup against FSU but how healthy is he? Mario Edwards, Jr. has looked healthier in recent weeks, and has been rewarded by Charles Kelly by being moved around the defense from DE to LB to DT. Expect FSU to continue to move MEJ around to create match-up issues at times, but his play in setting the edge to force Johnson to take a few more steps to bounce plays outside, giving FSU's injured and underwhelming linebackers a split second more to reach him will be critical. Linebacker Terrance Smith has missed practice all week with a knee issue, and Matthew Thomas is sporting knee and shoulder braces, and looks a bit limited.

Eddie Goldman will also need a huge game from his three-technique spot, drawing double teams that can free linebackers up, and beating single blocks. It will be interesting to see who plays the end spot opposite of Edwards, Jr.. Freshman Lorenzo Featherston has made some tackles for loss, but Demarcus Walker is much stronger and better at holding the edge.

In the passing game it's more of the same as Duke Johnson is 2nd on the team in receptions. QB Brad Kaaya has looked liked a freshman at times as he was over matched in his first game against Louisville but has progressed nicely as the season has worn on. Kaaya boasts a strong arm and a good understanding of the Miami offense but has struggled at times to get the ball to his WRs on a consistent basis. As Bud wrote earlier this week Miami looks to throw the ball on early downs often times out of playaction but is not a team that is going to have success throwing behind the chains.

Thankfully for Miami Clive Walford has come on big this year. The senior TE has been a big part of the offense both with his blocking and big play ability in the passing game. Miami has an opportunity to do real damage against the Seminoles' thin and injured linebacking core, particularly up the seam. The unit is not great at covering but FSU might elect to run more nickel sets with Jalen Ramsey playing closer to the line in run support.

If FSU can limit Walford they'll be able to put a larger focus on the outside receivers Stacey Coley and Phillip Dorsett. Coley has been relatively quiet this year, but Dorsett has done an excellent job as Miami's big play guy. When the Canes look to go deep, they generally look to hit a streaking Dorsett. Miami's receivers are talented but lack consistent execution and pressure defenses more with their speed than their route running ability.

As it has had to do the last 2 years, FSU will focus on stopping the run. Miami runs quite a bit of play action so they'll be ready for the Noles when FSU stacks the box. Expect FSU to counter with more umbrella coverage paying particular attention to Walford. FSU must force UMoF to work their way down the field and execute in the red zone. Kaaya will look for the big play, as every QB should, and it's up to FSU to force him to keep the ball short and accurate.

Outside of playaction and screens, Miami is not a great throwing team. Its receivers are better at creating big plays than they are at getting open consistently underneath to pick up first downs. And it's tough to expect a true freshman QB to be a great rhythm passer. Miami has converted third and 7+ via the pass at only a 21 percent clip, and Louisville, Duke and Virginia Tech all held Kaaya under seven yards/attempt.

Florida State's defense has a task in front of it that is simple in theory, but much tougher in execution: they have to prevent the big plays and dare the Hurricanes to move down the field methodically.

To do this, look for FSU to commit to stopping the run as best it can, not in such a fashion that sees them give up big plays over the top with play action. Defensive patience will be key. It seems to make sense for FSU to give up some throws underneath, as Miami is not a high completion percentage offense -- meaning that it is going to fail to complete some of the easier underneath passes not because of FSU's own doing, but because of an erratic throw or a drop, or because the freshman didn't see the open man in coverage.

When Miami does complete the passes, FSU needs to be able to tackle, especially underneath. FSU has been a solid tackling team when it's in position to make one, and the bigger issue this year has been one of not being in position or blowing a coverage and having someone wide open. Make the tackle, get back and make the freshman make a good read and a good underneath throw on the next down.

Special Teams

Cason Beatty is a competent punter? It looks that way as Beatty has come up big for the Noles. He'll need to keep it up for FSU to succeed in Coral Gables this week. Roberto Aguayo is the best kicker in the nation, but looked somewhat off against Virginia and missed practice time this week.

Miami fields an average special teams unit that does a good job on punt coverage but not great at anything else. Punter Justin Vogel does a good job of pinning teams deep both punting and kicking off. Kicker Michael Badgley took over for the ailing Matt Goudis early in the season and has done well missing only 1 kick (52 yards) in 8 attempts. Badgley hasn't been tested too often has he only has 2 attempts of over 40 yards. Either way he's certainly kicked well.

Prediction

I don't think I'm as high on this Miami teams as others are. I do think Miami is good enough to beat FSU, especially with the way the Seminoles are playing and with an extra week to prepare. Miami's goal must be to grab an early lead and salt the game away with a healthy dose of Duke Johnson who has, interestingly enough, never made it through a UM/FSU game injury free (2 games). I believe Mario Edwards Jr's health and the way Charles Kelly will move him around on defense can stymie Miami's offense long enough for the FSU offense to work out their inevitable slow start. If FSU can limit turnovers like it has failed to don in the past few games Miami will likely struggle to score.

Florida State 35, Miami 24

Bud: Florida State 31, Miami 27: Winston's thumb is concerning to me, and the linebacking corps is anything but healthy, which is a bad deal against Duke Johnson and an excellent play-action team. FSU is going to need big plays from its star players, and I think they'll get enough to pull off the win. Both defenses will attempt to limit big plays and force the opposing offense to be methodical. FSU's offense seems more capable of doing that.

Staff Predictions

ricobert1: FSU offense is going to have water in the gas for a quarter or so, but a healthy Jameis does his thing again. Duke is going to get his. Kaaya will, too. But not enough. D with the nice INT late when UM is driving. 35-31, FSU.

FSUed: After the Louisville comeback I said I would never believe the Noles would lose again until I saw it on the scoreboard.

So, I’m going with UM taking an early 24-7 lead, despite FSU’s roadfield advantage. But the Noles storm back to win 31-30 in the Choak at Doak South.

FSUvaFan: FSU 34, Miami 31.  I think we limit Duke J. better than expected, but also give up big plays in the passing game.  I can't bring myself to logically pick against Winston in a close game - our offense does enough to pull our chestnuts out of the fire.

Kyle Griffis: I don't have a great feeling about this game, but I think FSU's offense does enough to outscore Miami and the defense is able to keep Duke in check enough, mainly by wrecking havoc on Miami's offensive line, to pull out a W. I'll take the home team 'Noles over the 'Canes 38-31.

NoleThruandThru: I think it's a shame the way some Nole fans pick on the Hurricanes.  After all, it was a University of Miami engineer that invented the toilet seat.…of course a Florida State engineer stole the design and cut a hole in the middle. FSU 37 Miami 27

Phenomenoles: Quietly, the FSU offense has gotten into quite a groove in the running game over the last 8 quarters. I like that to continue against a UM front that lacks a special player. On Defense, FSU has turned the corner. The front is playing at a high level anchored by two absolute freaks in Goldman and a healthy MEJr. Mix that with the surprise of the season in Derrick Mitchell, a surging Demarcus Walker and the stud freshmen pass rushers and I think they give the UM OL fits. Duke will get his and UM will probably hit a few big plays in the passing game, but I like FSU and Jameis Winston to finally make a statement. FSU 38 UM 24

Tim Scribble: I really want to pick FSU by a lot, but I just can't. I don't know if they can survive another slow start. I think it'll be close. FSU 38-35

Onebarrelrum: I'm the resident pessimist. FSU has yet to play a complete game. The only thing they haven't done yet, is lose. Turnovers on offense, ridiculous third down conversions against the defense, things that usually result in a loss at some point. Question is, will a team finally take advantage of FSU's mistakes enough to put them away? This is likely Miami's best chance to beat FSU in the last few years. I really think this game is a coin flip, a one score game either way. But after the Louisville win, it is hard to pick against the Noles.  I'll take FSU 34-31 in another come-from-behind, game-until-last-second, win.

pbysh: There are three things I know with absolute certainty about this game. Duke Johnson will rush for 100+ yards, Miami will score on a throwback pass to Clive Walford, and FSU will win. The score? Eh, let's say...38-24.

Michael Rogner: You have to be blown away by the job that Coach Bolden has done at Miami. To take a school that has no real history of success and is located in a high school football talent dead zone - to be 6-3 (3-2) and drawing over 10,000 a game in just his 4th year on the job is remarkable. Even if we win it will be a loss, because we'll all be jealous of Miami.

Dustin Tackett: If you're an FSU fan, you have to be happy with the progression on the defensive line. I think it'll have a major impact on the outcome of this game, especially against a young quarterback in Kaaya, when Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. knock the Hurricanes off course.

Jameis tightens his game just a bit and does what he typically does, dazzling rows of Miami spectators making their first appearance to Sun Life Stadium. Pender catching balls out of the backfield is a mismatch for any linebacker, even a really good one, and I expect FSU to take advantage of that. And screens. Please god, Jimbo, screens.

The injury bug is what should scare FSU fans the most (well, that and the CFB Playoff Committee), not Miami. This team has proven time and time again to feed off the pressure, the energy, and it'll be no different on Saturday. Look for FSU to score on defense and execute the long ball.

Here's hoping for four full quarters out of FSU.. 41-24 Noles.

Matt Minnick: This is probably more nervous than I've been before any game this year. Too many bad memories of the Ibis running onto the field in celebration.

But there is no way I can predict a loss against Miami as long as Jameis can walk. FMFFM. Noles find a way, 33-28.

jmnpb996: The line seems to have a lot of folks spooked. But I'm confident Jameis just won't give away 2 turnovers in the first half again.

Between an offense who won't give away ball early, and a defensive line who have improved tremendously, the Noles finally find themselves in a favorable game state early. Miami chases the game - the first time they play high possession against us in Golden era - and it gets a little wider on them. 38-24, Noles.

Daniel Almira (DA-2): FSU not caught looking ahead to BC. FSU rolls through Miami 33-16