With the goal of an ACC Atlantic Division championship and an outside shot at the College Football Playoff now off the table, Florida State finds itself in a precarious spot heading into this weekend’s rivalry matchup at Miami. After a disastrous home loss to North Carolina, the 3-2 Seminoles now have to keep the ship upright against a game Miami team or risk an 0-3 start in ACC play and a season in danger of spiraling out of control.
The FSU defense’s mild signs of improvement against USF were short lived, as UNC had no trouble slicing through the ’Noles for 7.7 yards per play with over 400 yards through the air. The Seminole D now sits at damn near the bottom of the barrel nationally in yards per play allowed (6.98, 125th) and yards per pass attempt allowed (9.4, 125th), while they’re not looking much better in yards per carry allowed (5.22, 113th) and scoring (35.4 ppg allowed, 105th).
After Mitch Trubisky had no trouble completing 81.6% of his throws last week, the ’Noles will now see veteran QB Brad Kaaya for the Canes. Kaaya has thrown 8 TDs to 3 interceptions on the season and is fresh off a 12.1-yard per pass outing against the best defense the Hurricanes have seen this season, Georgia Tech (No. 29 in S&P+ defense). Miami went for 7.9 yards per play as a team in the win over GT, and they’ll be eager to face this defensive group from FSU this weekend, which is set to face a fourth QB with NFL potential in its first six games. Kaaya has a speed option in WR Stacey Coley, who has 4 TDs on the year, and three other targets averaging over 18 yards per catch including tight ends David Njoku and Christopher Herndon, who could give FSU’s struggling linebackers lots to worry about.
Mark Walton leads Miami in rushing with 445 yards and 8 scores, but 90.1% of those yards and 87.5% of those touchdowns came against defenses from Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, and Appalachian State. As we’ve seen before this season, however, teams that tear up low-level competition haven’t exactly had trouble translating that into success against FSU’s out-of-sorts defense, which still seems to be struggling with understanding what is being asked of it (despite simplification) and has had trouble with loafing and effort at times, as well, not to mention ongoing injury problems.
While the overall level of play has been awful, the ’Noles have seen a ridiculous slate of offenses to start 2016, which Bud explained with the help of Bill Connelly. Miami will add to that list, as the Canes are top 10 in opponent-adjusted offense and rank third in the country in explosiveness (isoPPP+).
Offensively, Jimbo Fisher will have to approach each week as a shootout. He didn’t do that in the first half against UNC, which proved costly, but with all indications pointing to Miami scoring lots of points, he’ll need to this week.
That won’t be easy against the Miami defense, though, which sits 11th nationally in S&P+ defense and has held opponents to 3.58 yards per play, tied with juggernaut Ohio State for second in the country. Some of those raw totals have been amassed against the likes of FAMU, FAU, and App. State, but the opponent-adjusted S&P+ metrics show that it’s a solid unit despite the slate of offenses faced.
Dalvin Cook is top 5 nationally in rushing yards, but he’s doing it on the sixth-most carries with a yards per rush number ranking in the 90s. He’s not hitting nearly as many explosive runs in ’16 as he did in ’15, averaging 1.2 runs of 10+ yards per game and 0.6 of 20+ compared to 4.3 and 1.8 last year, this despite not facing an S&P+ rush defense ranked higher than 55th. Nevertheless, Cook has run for 407 yards and five scores in his last two games, and is also FSU’s second-leading receiver in terms of yards and receptions.
While Deondre Francois hasn’t been great, he has been good for FSU and has avoided throwing any picks in three of his five starts. He’s flashed good natural touch and an ability to get the ball downfield over the middle, and he’s proven to be effective on throwing on rollouts and on the move in general with the advantage of his mobility. He’ll see a Miami defense that is yet to face a top-70 S&P+ offense.