This Saturday Miami and Florida State will go head-to-head as top ten opponents for the first time since 2004. Both schools are 7-0 and are meeting in the rivalry’s biggest matchup this late in the season that I can remember in almost a decade if not more.
The third-ranked Seminoles head into the matchup with the seventh-ranked Hurricanes as 21-point favorites. Sound unheard of? That’s because no top ten has ever been that big of an underdog. You’re’ probably reading that and wondering how can a No. 7 Miami team be such a heavy underdog in such a big rivalry game? Well it’s a mixture of things: one is because of Florida State’s redshirt freshman sensation at quarterback Jameis Winston and the other is because of Miami’s recent struggles against North Carolina and Wake Forest. Let’s tackle Miami’s struggles first.
After struggling against North Carolina two weeks ago, quarterback Stephen Morris struggled once again against Wake Forest this past Saturday. He continued to overthrow receivers who were open and threw off his back foot way too often instead of stepping into his throws. The only positive from Morris’s performance was that he didn’t throw any interceptions after throwing four in three straight games. Nonetheless Morris’s inconsistency of late has hurt Miami’s ability to sustain drives and put points on the scoreboard.
Miami’s success against Wake Forest was thanks to the running game. Duke Johnson ran for 168 yards on a career-high 30 carries and scored two touchdowns, including the game winner with 53 seconds remaining. The week before that against North Carolina, Dallas Crawford rushed for a 137 yards and 2 touchdowns to help offset Morris’s four interceptions and sneak out of Chapel Hill with four point victory with 16 seconds left. Miami is going to need a lot of production from the running game if it’s going to have any chance of leaving Tallahassee with a win.
The biggest reason Miami is such a big underdog is because of Florida State’s redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. He’s third in the nation with 23 touchdown passes this season while completing 69.9 percent of his passes. Even more amazing to me is that he’s thrown just four interceptions through seven games. That’s almost unheard of for a freshman quarterback. Last week against NC State, Winston led the Seminoles on five straight touchdown drives to start the game and threw three touchdown passes to build a 35-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. That’s right, the FIRST QUARTER. He’s been sensational for Florida State through its first seven games and has looked more like a fifth year senior than a redshirt freshman. He’s just a phenomenal athlete. Did I mention he’s also a dual-athlete that plays baseball? Miami will have its hands full just trying to contain him Saturday night.
But it doesn’t just end there for Miami’s defense. Florida State is basically stacked at every other position. Winston has three reliable receivers to throw to in Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin, and Kenny Shaw who all have at least 430 yards receiving on the season. Greene leads the trio with 39 catches for 690 yards and eight touchdowns. Winston also has a solid tight end in Nick O’Leary, who has 17 catches for 307 yards and five touchdowns. And then there’s Florida State’s other trio at running back. Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams, and James Wilder Jr. have combined for 1,136 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 6.6 yards per carry behind a fantastic offensive line. Like I said, the Seminoles are stacked at every position.
So how does Miami slow down this offense and win this game?
I believe it starts with the defense. Miami must get pressure on Winston and force him to make throws under duress. Winston has had all day to throw this season and has chewed defenses up with all day to throw in the pocket. If Miami can get pressure on Winston it may be able to force him into mistakes and take possessions away from the Florida State offense.
The other key for Miami is Stephen Morris and the running game. Morris needs to return to the form he had earlier this season as well as last season. He needs to really have the best game of his career. That may sound insane but any mistake the Hurricanes make in this game, Florida State will make them pay with touchdowns. Morris must protect the ball while also making some big plays in the passing game. Miami also needs to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball to keep Winston and the Florida State offense off the field as much as possible.
All that being said, Florida State has more talent on both sides of the ball than Miami does. It’s been evident by watching both teams all season. Maybe this game stays close because it’s a rivalry game but I don’t see it happening. Unless Miami can put up points and keep Winston off the field then it’s going to be in trouble.
But hey, Florida State’s kicker Roberto Aguayo hasn’t missed a field goal all season so maybe if the game is close we’ll get Wide Right IV. You can always hope Canes fans.
PREDICTION: Florida State 38, Miami 21