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Staying Grounded: FSU’s rushing attack vital to success vs Miami

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Tough to overstate the importance of the running game.

Miami v Florida State
Dalvin Cook
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Since Jimbo Fisher arrived at FSU in 2007 as the offensive coordinator, his offense has had continued success vs. the University of Miami, and much of that success is due in part to the commitment to the run game. But the running backs are not the only position group experiencing success on the ground for FSU, as Fisher has employed a focus on getting his quarterback involved in the run game and has even deployed numerous designed runs for his receivers as well.

Fisher’s offenses are averaging 6.24 yards per play vs. the ‘Canes since ‘07, with the ground game contributing 5.49 yards per carry when you take out sacks and sack yards. The running backs’ 25 carries per game over the last nine games vs. UM are averaging 5.75 yards per carry. FSU has gotten big contributions on the ground from an assortment of players over the last nine meetings: Antone Smith in 2007 and 2008, Chris Thompson and Jermaine Thomas in 2010, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, Jr. in 2012 and 2013, and Dalvin Cook in 2014 and 2015.

The running backs are not the only ones who have been able to eat up yards, though. In the games versus Miami, Fisher has game planned to get his quarterback involved in the run game, opening up lanes for his backs as well as making life easier in the passing game. Many won’t soon forget Christian Ponder running wild in Miami Gardens in 2008 (19 carries, 144 yards), but Fisher also used Ponder’s legs in the 2009 meeting (6 carries, 45 yards) to open up the passing attack; Ponder would throw for 294 and 2 scores and complete 58.5% of his passes.

In 2012, Fisher once again designed runs for his QB, as EJ Manuel had 9 carries for 47 yards, which allowed him not only to throw for nearly 230 yards, but also opened up room for Freeman, Wilder, and Thompson to operate for a combined 30 touches, 227 yards, and 3 TDs. In 2015, we saw Fisher use Everett Golson’s mobility from the word go; the opening play was a speed option that resulted in Cook having a lane to run 72 yards to the end zone untouched. Golson would finish the game with 5 carries for 25 yards (3 of the carries resulting in first downs) to go along with his 291 yards through the air.

Given past history, along with what we have seen early in 2016, it will be imperative for FSU to get Deondre Francois involved in the rushing attack. Through five games in 2016, Francois has 31 carries for 240 yards and is averaging nearly 8 yards per carry (he has also been sacked 16 times for -120 yards). Not only could Francois’ legs make life easier on Dalvin Cook, but they could also open up some receivers down the field if the UM defensive backs are forced to keep an eye on a scrambling QB.

Speaking of Cook, his performances seem to go to another level when he faces his hometown team. In 2014, as a true freshman, he burned the Canes’ D for 110 total yards on 9 touches including the game winning TD. And in 2015 he put up a ridiculous 269 total yards (222 on the ground) and 3 total TDs, including the game winner, in the final minutes. UM undoubtedly will be hell bent on not letting Cook scorch them again, so it will be up to Francois as well as the young stable of backs behind Cook to help carry the load if the ‘Noles hope to extend the streak to 7 in a row.

Other Stats & Facts for Week 6

-Since 2010, only one FSU wide receiver has caught a touchdown vs Miami: Rodney Smith in 2010 & 2011.

-The team with more yards rushing has won 22 of the last 31 meetings. 6 of the 9 times the team with more rushing yards lost, it was FSU on the losing end (1987, 1992, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2009).

-The 2015 game was the only meeting in the series without a turnover by either team. For the series, the two teams combine to average 5.2 turnovers per game (2.5 by FSU, 2.7 by UM).

-FSU is 4-21 when UM scores 22 points or more.

-FSU has lost 4 of its last 6 vs. ranked teams, as well as 4 of its last 6 vs. ACC teams.