The Florida State Seminoles will wrap up their season on Friday night in familiar territory when they take on Michigan at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami in the Orange Bowl. While FSU has already won a game there this season, this matchup will pit the Noles against the nation’s best defense.
FSU has faced five S&P+ top-25 defenses this season, and they’ve fared pretty well against them – the Seminoles averaged 30.8 points per game against Clemson, Florida, Miami, NC State, and Boston College, scoring 31 or more in three of those five games. Michigan’s defense, however, will be easily the best the Noles have faced.
The Wolverines dominate the S&P+ defensive ratings, ranking No. 1 in overall defense, third against the run, and first against the pass while excelling on both passing and standard downs. The traditional stats back them up as well, as they’re second nationally in total defense, second in yards per play allowed (4.06), seventh in yards per rush allowed (3.14), first against the pass and in terms of yards per attempt allowed, and second in scoring (11.8).
Michigan is the second-best S&P+ defense in the country on first down, routinely getting offenses behind the sticks and forcing them into passing downs, where they then continue to excel with the fourth-best passing down defense in college football. It’s a tall task for Deondre Francois and FSU, but the Seminoles enter the Orange Bowl as the country’s third-rated offense on passing downs, so Michigan’s defense is in for a challenge, too.
Dalvin Cook will obviously be a focal point for Michigan, as he enters this matchup as the nation’s best running back and the head of the sixth-best opponent-adjusted rushing offense in the country. Cook has registered over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his final season in Tallahassee, 1,620 of which have come on the ground, to go along with 19 total TDs (17 rushing). While Cook vs. Michigan’s defense will be a prime matchup, it could be Francois and the passing matchups — like big WR Auden Tate — that determine FSU’s offensive success.
Defensively, FSU will see Wilton Speight back at QB for Michigan. Speight has thrown for 8.1 yards per attempt this year and 17 touchdowns, with his primary targets being Amara Darboh (826 yards, 7 TD) and big tight end Jake Butt (518 yards, 4 TD). It will be important for the Noles to knock the Wolverines off track on early downs, as UM improves in offensive S&P+ from first down to second down and again from second down the third down, where they’re the fifth-best unit in the country. FSU has been middle of the pack nationally on passing downs this year without the help of Derwin James, so that could further favor Michigan's aerial efforts when in need of a first down.
De’Veon Smith leads Michigan on the ground with 810 yards and 10 scores on 4.9 yards per rush, but Michigan’s rushing efficiency lags behind its passing game and they sit in the 40s nationally in yards per carry.
Bud and Ingram will get you ready for the Orange Bowl, just as they’ve done for every game this season, with another stellar edition of the Nolecast preview. Be sure to tune in, as you won’t find in-depth FSU analysis of this level anywhere else.