In breaking down FSU’s year to date, it’s easy to focus on one game: Oklahoma. The average fan looks at the rest of FSU’s schedule (Samford, BYU, Wake Forest and Virginia) and casts it aside as being irrelevant as a predictive tool for this week’s game against our Canes. Before we thump our chests at our sure to be victory, I ask you to consider: Is it possible that FSU’s performance against Oklahoma was the anomaly, and not the other way around?
On paper, it’s easy to scour over the roster and dismiss the Seminoles as lacking big play talent at the skill positions. Sure the OL was known to be a strength, and fourth year QB Christian Ponder was returning, but this is not the vastly talented, elite skill teams of the 90s. Breaking down FSU reveals, however, that they are overcoming the lack of big play threats by being consistent and balanced. FSU has done a remarkable job running the football, averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground at 5.7 yards per carry. Staying balanced, the passing offense checks in at 220 yards per game, while taking care of the football (Ponder’s 8 TDs to 3 INTs). The troubling aspect on offense is that the FSU OL has given up 11 sacks– surprising considering the talent returning and the athleticism of Ponder.
On the other side of the ball, FSU has been dominant at stopping the run. Yes, on paper, the DL looks small but they play extremely fast and impressively smart. Even in the OU game, the talented DeMarco Murray was unable to break a gain of longer than 9 yards. Of course, that game exposed the largest weakness of the entire team: the pass defense. Landry Jones picked apart the back 4 for 380 yards and four touchdowns. However, outside of this dominating performance, FSU has allowed just under 200 yards per game passing. FSU has consistently applied pressure to opposing QBs, leading the nation in total sacks at 25. And despite giving up 47 to OU, the remaining opponents have all been shut down on the scoreboard.
The key for FSU’s success, thus far, has been establishing the running game, allowing Ponder to hit the short, intermediate routes to keep the chains moving. Oklahoma shut down the run, forcing Ponder into 3rd and 5+, which FSU was unable to complete until the game was out of reach. But when teams do not shut down the run early, Ponder is capable of, and will, pick defenses apart.
The Canes have had both success, and failure, when it comes to stopping the run. We are all well aware of the historical difficulty Miami has had with dual-threat QBs. But the Clemson game exposed a more glaring problem: shutting down the run when you know it’s coming. With a limited QB in Kyle Parker, Clemson went straight at Miami, and with success. I expect FSU to do the same exact thing, hoping to get Ponder in short yardage situations where he will keep the chains moving. The truth is that FSU lacks elite playmakers at WR. If Miami’s front 7 is able to consistently make tackles, something it has struggled with against the run this year, then it will be a long day for the FSU offense.
On offense, I do not expect our fans to get their wish, with Miami establishing the run consistently and often. With a pass defense that was lit up by the talented OU offense, I expect you’ll see the same determination to expose the FSU back 7. I also think this will be a mistake. The FSU defense comes after the QB in passing situations with success. The defense has shown they are strong enough against the run to make big plays with the DL when they can pin their ears back. The Miami offense must counter this aggressiveness with screens and draws, easy plays for Jacory to make that eliminate turnovers. While Whipple is in love with the play-action, especially on first down, he must counteract his own tendencies in this game. The key to this game on offense will be the play of the OL- not only in protecting Jacory, but in establish running lanes for the stable of Miami running backs. With a little bit of success on the ground to slow the FSU DL, Jacory will be given the opportunity to succeed through the air.
Overall, it’s Florida State-Miami, and you should expect nothing short of a war. Ignore the Oklahoma game- the wheels came off for FSU, but they have recovered in dominating fashion. Miami will win this game, due to its ability to consistently make the big play when needed.
Miami 31 Florida State 24