TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — There’s one way to stop the Florida State offense from reaching its average of 52.6 points per game – keep quarterback Jameis Winston and company on the sidelines.
That’s the goal for No. 7 Miami when the Hurricanes travel to Tallahassee for a showdown with the third-ranked Seminoles today.
Most of that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of running back Duke Johnson and an offensive line that averages 313 pounds per lineman. Johnson is the No. 11 rusher in FBS, racking up 117.6 yards per game for the Hurricanes (7-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference)
“What doesn’t he do well? That’d be easier,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said when asked about Johnson. “We could have a shorter conversation.
“The thing about him, he makes big plays. He’s dynamic. He gets in space. He changes the numbers on the scoreboard. He makes you miss. He’s very durable. He’s strong. Has got great balance. Has got great body control. Catches the ball out of the backfield. Blocks. I mean, that guy is a competitor and just a complete football player.”
The only team that stayed within 14 points of the Seminoles (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic) was Boston College, which featured a rugged run game that pounded out 200 yards on 45 carries.
That was the fourth game of the season and before the Florida State defensive line came to life.
The rotation of Timmy Jernigan, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Eddie Goldman, Jacobbi McDaniel and Demonte McAllister began to fill gaps, command double-teams and eat up blocks for the Seminoles. That has allowed linebackers Terrance Smith and Telvin Smith to run free upfield.
“Smash-mouth football. You have to embrace that,” cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. “If you don’t, you’re going to get smashed.
“Sometimes you forget about what this game of football is about. ... At the end of the day it’s about the trenches. Whoever has the best front-seven wins football games. So, we kind of got away from that and we were able to learn. The Boston College game was a big wake up call. We found out from there, hey, we have to dominate the line of scrimmage.”
This has become a weekly affair. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has averaged 311 yards passing per game, completed 69.9 percent of his passes and thrown for 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. His performance against the No. 7 team in the country will carry plenty of weight with voters who are also watching quarterbacks Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), A.J. McCarron (Alabama) and Bryce Petty (Baylor).
This is Miami quarterback Stephen Morris’ last chance to beat Florida State in the regular season. The teams could meet in the ACC title game later this year. He’s started against the Seminoles only once and has appeared in the rivalry game twice, completing 27 of 46 passes for 241 yards with one touchdown and one interception. “We all know what this game and this rivalry means,” said Morris, who led Miami to four straight wins over in-state schools, three of them coming this year with victories against Florida Atlantic, Florida and South Florida already.
The Seminoles have forced seven turnovers in the last two games as the defense made noticeable improvements. Giving Winston and the No. 3 scoring offense in the nation short fields and extra possessions is not a recipe for victory. Morris, who has eight interceptions in seven games, has to be smart with his decisions against the Joyner-led secondary.
Although the pendulum in the rivalry is clearly going Florida State’s way right now, playing in Tallahassee hasn’t always a bad thing for Miami. The Hurricanes are 4-2 in their last six games at Doak Campbell Stadium, outscoring the Seminoles 172-137 in those games. And the two losses were by three and four points, respectively.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
A meeting between top 10 teams that double as intra-state rivals would typically be the perfect environment for a close, competitive game. The Seminoles may be heavily favored, but a one-possession game decided by a late field goal wouldn’t be a total shock. Florida State freshman Roberto Aguayo has made a school-record 58 consecutive kicks, including 10 field goals. He’s yet to attempt a field goal under any real pressure, however. Miami sophomore Matt Goudis is 6 for 9 in 2013.