BREAKING DOWN THE GAME

Miami Hurricanes vs. FSU Seminoles: Who has the edge?

 
 
Devonta Freeman #8 of the Florida State Seminoles looks for an opening against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats during a game at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.
Devonta Freeman #8 of the Florida State Seminoles looks for an opening against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats during a game at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.
Stacy Revere / Getty Images

mnavarro@MiamiHerald.com

WHEN THE HURRICANES RUN THE BALL

FSU’s run defense ranks 29th nationally (135.7 yards per game) and has only allowed 3.47 yards per carry (24th) and four rushing touchdowns (tied for fifth fewest). The front, led by nose guard Timmy Jernigan (6-2, 296), features three former five-star recruits. But the Seminoles showed they were susceptible to a pro-style running attack, giving up 200 yards on the ground to Boston College and ACC leading rusher Andre Williams in their closest win of the season. Duke Johnson, right behind Williams in the ACC in rushing with 823 yards this season (6.7 average), has struggled against ranked opponents in the past (2.9 yards per carry, 1 TD in four games). He ran for only 27 yards on nine carries versus FSU last year. But he and backup Dallas Crawford have raised their level of play the past couple weeks, leading the Hurricanes to back-to-back come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter with the ground game. In the end, UM (24th in rushing with 214.7 yards per game) will be the best rushing team FSU will have faced so far this season (every other opponent is outside the top 50 in rushing yardage per game). If Miami can ground and pound, it should keep itself in the game by keeping FSU’s offense off the field. Edge: Miami.

WHEN THE HURRICANES PASS THE BALL

Although an ankle injury has slowed Stephen Morris down over his past four games (63.3 completion percentage, 264.8 yards per game, 6 TDs, 6 INTs), his struggles on third down are what have really hurt him this season. Morris is completing only 40.9 percent of his passes in those situations and has thrown six of his eight INTs on 44 third down passes. He has only thrown two INTs and completed 67.2 of his 113 passes on first and second downs. UM coach Al Golden said Wednesday that he expects Morris will “be able to close this chapter [on his ankle injury] and go out and play the kind of game he wants to play [Saturday].” The Hurricanes could certainly use a fully recovered Morris. FSU has allowed the fewest passing yards in the country (153.7), ranks fifth in passing efficiency defense (97.34) and has 29 pass breakups and 10 interceptions (two returned for touchdowns). Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, a player FSU took out of UM’s backyard at St. Thomas Aquinas, has been dominant. FSU has 15 sacks and 19 quarterback hurries this season. UM’s offensive line has only allowed six sacks but 17 QB hurries. Edge: FSU.

WHEN THE SEMINOLES RUN THE BALL

Quarterback Jameis Winston gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so, but the Seminoles can run it, too. FSU ranks 25th in rushing (212.29 yards per game) and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Devonta Freeman (Miami Central) has broken out this season (87 carries, 561 yards, 6 TDs) with a career-best 6.4 yards per carry. UM’s front is vastly improved from a year ago. The Canes rank 39th in run defense (141.7 yards per game). But against the two teams UM faced with winning records this season, the Hurricanes gave up 228.5 yards and five combined TDs on the ground compared to the 99-yard average and two TDs it gave up against four Football Bowl Subdivision programs with losing records. The good news for UM is it usually gets better against the run after the first quarter (4.69 average per carry compared to 3.22 average in the second half) when adjustments are made. But can the Canes afford another slow start against an FSU team averaging 52.6 points per game? Probably not. Edge: FSU.

WHEN THE SEMINOLES PASS THE BALL

The numbers are scar. Winston is the nation’s second-most efficient passer (207.0 rating) and FSU ranks fourth in total offense (553.7 yards per game). FSU receivers Rashad Greene (39 catches, 690 yards, 8 TDs), Kenny Shaw (31-574-3) and Kelvin Benjamin (230-430-5) and tight end Nick O’Leary (17-307-6) are averaging near or above an eye-opening 18 yards per catch. The Hurricanes rank 10th in team passing efficiency defense (104.77), 11th in scoring defense (17.7 points per game) and 18th in total defense (342.3 yards per game). A nonexistent pass rush (13 sacks in 2012) has been replaced by a collection of 13 players who have combined for 22 sacks (11th most in the nation). Where the Canes have earned their money, though, has really been in third down defense (15th, 0.315 percent), red zone defense (tied for 23rd, 0.750) and turnovers (19 after UM had 22 all of last year). But the challenge Saturday night at Doak Campbell Stadium is on another level. The next-best quarterback UM has faced thus far is North Carolina’s Bryn Renner, who completed 78 percent of his passes for 297 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Canes. Renner ranks 45th in the country in passer efficiency. Edge: FSU.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Hurricanes lead the nation in kickoff-return average thanks to Johnson (29.23 average) and freshman Stacy Coley (kick return for a TD). FSU does a better job on punt returns (29th, 11.79 yard average) compared to UM (62nd, 8.09 yard average). When it comes to punting, Pat O’Donnell (45.67 average) has saved the Hurricanes a couple times with big kicks. FSU’s Cason Beatty is averaging 40.3 yards per punt but has struggled at times. Roberto Aguayo has converted all 58 kicks in his career (10 field goals, 48 PATs) and has a career-long of 45 yards. Matt Goudis also has a career-long make of 45 yards, but he has missed his past two kicks from 40 yards or more (43 and 40). Edge: Even.

COACHING

Former Alabama defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt has received a lot of early love for the job he has done in his first season calling FSU’s defense. He had to replace seven starters now in the NFL, and in the past month the Seminoles have improved week to week. They allowed just 31 points in October, 24 of which came after they pulled their starters. New Hurricanes offensive coordinator James Coley was FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s pupil for the five previous seasons, and that helps and hurts the Hurricanes. The toughest job of the night, though, belongs to UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. He has to figure out a way to solve Winston. Nobody has done that yet. Edge: FSU.

PREDICTION: FSU 41, MIAMI 24

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