TSX: FSU Mid-Week

On the same day the Miami-Florida State rivalry turned volcanic 23 years ago, Jimbo Fisher was playing quarterback for Samford University. He finished the game and got near a radio to listen to the final minutes of Miami's dramatic 26-25 win, after the Seminoles two-point conversion pass failed.

That game, which featured more than a dozen players who went on to NFL stardom, including Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, is considered the one that catapulted both programs.

Fisher was an FSU fan, having been coached by Terry Bowden at Samford and admiring Bobby Bowden. Now, he finds himself prepping for his first FSU-Miami game as a head coach.

"I'm excited because you're a part of one," he said. "You go in your career and you get involved in some of the great traditional rivalries in college football and you feel very blessed. It's like when you're a kid watching TV and you grow up saying, 'Whoa -- I wish I could be a part of that.' This is one of them that you talk about all the time."

While the stage isn't as big, the attention not as large as the FSU-Miami games through the 1980's and 90's, Saturday's matchup does have a louder heartbeat than many of the recent meetings. It's the first time both teams have been ranked for this game since 2006 and it's going to be shown to a split television audience in prime time.

"This is one of the big rivalries in college football," Fisher said. "It's three things for us -- it's a conference game, it's a road game, which is huge, and it's an intrastate rivalry. You need to try to win your own state championship. That's important."

"We've had some great games with them the last couple of years. Being in their house will be tough."

Well, the Seminoles won't exactly be in the Hurricanes' house and that is how this whole rivalry has changed. Miami plays its home games in Sun Light Stadium, home of the Dolphins and Marlins. Since moving away from the downtown Orange Bowl Stadium, demolished years ago, and way north into a more desolate area, the 'Canes have struggled to fill the place. FSU fans who live in the South Florida region will make this seem more like a neutral, bowl type of setting.

But there is no doubting the importance of this game for both programs. FSU fell face-first in its last foray into a big-time game, getting pummeled at Oklahoma. This is the Seminoles next chance to prove the team is on the rise.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Expect a shootout. Miami has won nine of the past 12 matchups, including the Orange Bowl game at the end of the 2003 season. Florida State has won three of the past five, including the past two in South Florida by five points combined. Six of the past nine matchups have been decided by three or fewer points or in overtime.

--PK Dustin Hopkins has never attempted a game-winning kick, but it wouldn't be a Miami-FSU game without at least figuring the kickers into the game. With seven of the last meetings being decided by just a total of 28 points, it could come down to a field goal. Hopkins made a 51 yarder last year against Miami in his first college field goal attempt. He's made seven of nine attempts this year. More impressive, he has been very strong as a kickoff specialist. Hopkins has already kicked 19 of his 33 kickoffs for touchbacks.

--LB Christian Jones, a freshman, subbed last week for injured starter Mister Alexandera team-high six tackles. It earned him ACC player of the week honors, along with FSU C Ryan McMahon. Among Jones' tackles was a quarterback sack. He also broke up a pass.

--QB Christian Ponder will be the third FSU quarterback to make a third start against Miami, joining Chris Weinke and Chris Rix.

SERIES HISTORY: Miami leads Florida State 31-23-0(last meeting, 2009, Miami, 38-34).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Like his mentor, Alabama's Nick Saban, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has sought to get the Seminoles equally proficient in running and passing. The Seminoles are third in the ACC in rushing offense, sixth in passing offense, second in total offense and scoring offense. They have been able to utilize a deep backfield, getting good production from all three tailbacks. The emergence of sophomore receiver Willie Haulstead has opened up some things in the passing game.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: In four of the first five games, the Seminoles have been terrific on defense. But the Oklahoma game still raises question on whether the Seminoles have significantly improved from last year. Right now, it looks that way. FSU leads the nation in quarterback sacks and ranks fourth nationally in run defense. They rank right behind Miami, at No. 2, in the ACC for scoring defense and total defense. The players have played and sounded like they are confident and content in new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops' scheme. But we'll see how this plays out Saturday.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The most important thing is we are sitting 4-1 right now. Last year we couldn't say that. It's about winning ball games. It's not about stats. As long as we keep winning it's not too frustrating." -- Florida State QB Christian Ponder on the fact his individual stats are down from a year ago.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Florida State (4-1, 2-0 ACC) at Miami (3-1, 1-0), Oct. 9 -- Once upon a time, these teams annually met with all the national spotlight and direct impact on the national championship chase. It was not only the game of the week, but billed as the game of the season. Well, it's not that way anymore, but there is progress from recent years of this being a who-cares game. It's the first time since 2006 both teams have been nationally ranked for this game. It will be the first time Miami's home stadium will be nearly filled to capacity. It will be nationally televised in prime time on ABC. It's huge for both programs as they try and get relevant again. Neither team can afford to look bad or get beat badly. It sets up the rest of the season for both teams.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Defensive questions will be answered. Can Florida State's offensive line create enough room for a running game? Can the Seminoles protect Christian Ponder well enough that he's not forcing throws? Conversely, can FSU's seemingly improved defense take away Miami's running game and downfield throws by Jacory Harris? Are the Seminoles really ready for prime time? FSU's blowout loss at Oklahoma a month ago gives pause to this matchup. No one is sure whether that was just an aberration or this team is still talent deficient enough that the Seminoles can't compete with elite opponents. The Seminoles have to prove they can win a game like this one on the road. To do it, they will need to run the ball out of I-formations and shotgun snaps and force Miami into some turnovers.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

TB Jermaine Thomas -- He's coming off one of his best games, gaining 122 yards, including 112 in the first half and two scores against Virginia. It was his first 100-yard game this season, sixth in his career. He will factor prominently in the Seminoles hopes of establishing a running game.

QB Christian Ponder -- This will be his third start against Miami and he enters with great memories. He passed for 294 yards, two touchdowns last year against Miami. In the 2008 victory at Miami, Ponder rushed for 144 yards, second-most rushing yards by an FSU quarterback in any game in school history. On the flip side, however, Ponder has struggled throughout his career to deliver a big game against a nationally-ranked team. There is a lot of pressure on him to make it happen this time.

CB Greg Reid -- He draws the assignment to matchup against Miami's talented receiver Leonard Hankerson, who is second in the ACC in receiving and has produced six touchdowns. Reid has two interceptions and deflected four passes. This will be one of the deciding factors in the game, whoever can win or neutralize the other in this position battle.

ROSTER REPORT:

--LT Andrew Datko (shoulder) participated Monday in his first full practice in three weeks and should be ready to play. His return is vital, because he's the team's best outside tackle. It will allow Zebrie Sanders to move back to his better position, as the inside or right tackle. Sanders played every snap at left tackle against the Cavaliers. Datko has not played since the Oklahoma game.

"Andrew looked good," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "He had that rest and said he felt good today. Said he felt pain free."

--RB Ty Jones (ankle) is questionable. He is the Seminoles top power tailback.

--CB-KR Lamarcus Joyner (ankle) was able to practice Monday without problems, after sustaining what appeared to be a far more serious injury last week against Virginia.

"It (ankle) swelled up pretty good but we got the swelling down," Fisher said. "He said it's done that in the past."

--LB Mister Alexander (concussion), a starter at outside linebacker, took it easy Monday, but Fisher said he is expected him to be cleared to play.


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