With the recent decline of each program, the Miami/Florida State Rivalry hasn’t garnered nearly as much hype as it did in the late 80′s and 90′s. In 2010, however, each program looks like a return to glory (at least in the ACC) could be well within grasp.
The winner of this Saturday’s match up will put one team in solid position for a run at the ACC Championship Game, while the loser will have to claw back in the ACC title hunt. On the larger scale, the outcome of this game will also let the college football world know which one of these storied programs is closer to regaining its place among college football’s elite programs.
Each team is still at least a year away from being a serious contender for a national title, as evidenced by Miami’s loss to Ohio State and Florida State’s dismal performance at Oklahoma in Week 2. In this edition of College FootBlog, we take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each team, we present key match ups, and we will make our prediction of one of the most intense rivalries in college football.
Key Strength: The Running Game–Before the Oklahoma game, FSU quarterback Christian Ponder was considered a viable Heisman candidate, but so far this fall, it has been the ‘Noles’ running game that has been the constant. FSU is averaging just over 208 yards per game on the ground, which ranks them 26th in the nation. Head coach Jimbo Fisher relies on three different running backs to carry the load. The trio of Jermaine Thomas, Ty Jones and Chris Thompson presents three completely different running styles, and they have combined for over 7.1 yards per carry. The Seminoles will need another solid ground performance this weekend if they want to control the tempo of the game.
Key Concern: Passing Defense–New defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has shown dramatic improvement since getting sliced and diced by Oklahoma a few weeks ago, but the Hurricanes will present the first real challenge to FSU’s secondary since that blow out loss in Norman. We will find out this weekend just whether FSU’s pass defense has improved that much or if they have simply been the benefactors of weak opponents with even weaker passing attacks. As good as OU looked, the ‘Canes appear to have a deeper WR corps, and if the ‘Noles can’t hold their own against Jacory Harris and company, it could be a long night for FSU.
Key Strength: The Passing Game–Although Harris has thrown for eight INTs this season, he has also thrown for ten TDs. When Harris stands tall and steps into his throws, he may have the best touch of any QB in the country. When his offensive line protects him, Harris does a tremendous job of distributing the ball to his talented group of wideouts, which is led by 6’3″ 205 lb. senior Leonard Hankerson, who already has six TDs on the year. If Harris and his stable of WRs get hot early, the ‘Canes could present a lot more problems than OU did to the FSU secondary because Miami has a lot more to their passing game than the bubble screen (which shredded FSU in the OU game).
Key Concern: Rush Defense–Take away Miami’s opening day cupcake against FAMU and focus on their three real football games (Ohio State, Pitt and Clemson), and the ‘Canes are giving up 157 yards on the ground per game. As good as they have been against the pass (ranked #6 nationally), they have shown vulnerability against solid running attacks, and they will certainly face another solid ground game this weekend. If the ‘Canes can’t control the line of scrimmage, the FSU ground game could wear them down and take over in the second half.
Miami Offense vs. Florida State Defense
While FSU has improved immensely since the Oklahoma game, it is hard to believe that they can shut down Harris and his wide receivers all game. Look for Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple to challenge Florida State’s young corners early and often, and a couple of big plays are bound to happen. The key here will be how much pressure FSU can get on Harris. Even if the much improved FSU defensive line can get in his face, Harris is still likely to burn them a time or two. EDGE: Miami
Florida State Offense vs. Miami Defense
Look for Miami to stack the box and do whatever they can to take away FSU’s dominant ground game. Still, look for FSU’s ground game to make an impact by the second half. Also, although Ponder has not lived up to the lofty expectations so far this season, he has proven that he can perform against the ‘Canes the past two seasons, and with Miami focused on taking the running game away, FSU’s senior QB will get a few shots at one-on-one coverage, and if history is any indicator, he will produce some big plays. EDGE: Florida State
The one thing that kept Miami in the Ohio State game earlier this year was their explosive special teams play. The ‘Canes returned a kick and a punt for touchdowns in that match up. Senior kicker/punter Matt Bosher was named to the Preseason All-ACC Team, and he has not disappointed so far this season. Florida State counters with kicker Dustin Hopkins, who has sent 19 of his 33 kick offs into the end zone for touchbacks. FSU also has the ever-dangerous Greg Reid returning punts and kicks. Reid led the nation last season in punt return average and has already brought one back for a TD this season. EDGE: Push
Like most games in this rivalry, expect this one to come down to the wire. Of the last five meetings in this rivalry game, only one (2007′s match up) was decided by more than four points. The difference in this one will be who wins the turnover battle, and Miami’s Harris has not made the significant improvement in this part of his game that many thought he would this year. Florida State leads the nation with 25 sacks, and Harris has shown the same tendency against pressure as he did last year–he tends to throw the ball up for grabs and doesn’t step into his throws. This could be the difference in what should be another exciting, down-to-the-wire football game. Final Score Prediction: Florida State wins 33-30