1) Miami seems to be playing much better in the second half of the season than they did in the first. Obviously much of that is tied to Brad Kayaa’s development, but what other factors have contributed to this improvement?
Brad continues getting better but a lot of that is because of how well Miami has been able to run the football lately. They ran it six straight times on an opening touchdown drive at Virginia Tech, for example. The offensive line is massive and is doing a great job of opening up big holes and Duke Johnson has been playing on an incredible level lately. They simply weren't running the ball that successfully early in the season. Miami was in a lot of third and long situations early in the season and lately it's been mostly third and short stuff. That's helped them sustain drives and keep their defense off the field -- something that was an issue early on.
2) How do you expect Miami’s defensive line to match up with Florida State’s offensive line? What is Miami’s strength up front, and where are they weaker?
Miami does not match up well here. Florida State's offensive line will be their biggest test yet and Miami's defensive front has not played real well against quality opponents this season. Their top three guys at the nose are first year players and were pushed around a lot early in the season. While they've improved as the season's gone on, I'm not convinced they're ready for this type of challenge. The strength is on the edge, where Anthony Chickillo is rock solid. While he lacks the ability to apply much heat, kids like Tyriq McCord and Chad Thomas can. I expect FSU to win this battle.
3) On the flip side, the running game is obviously central to the Hurricanes’ success. How well do you see Miami running the football in this game, and how do the Canes match up with FSU’s defensive line, particularly DE Mario Edwards, Jr. and DT Eddie Goldman?
A lot will depend on whether junior left tackle Ereck Flowers plays Saturday night. He's clearly Miami's best offensive lineman and it gives Miami its best lineup without having to shuffle guys around. His status seems 50/50 right now. He's tremendous in both the running game and in pass pro. If he plays, it will allow senior Jon Feliciano (a strong run blocker) to switch back to the right side. With that lineup, Miami should be able to handle the edge. Considering the Canes will line up a true freshman (Nick Linder) at left guard, they could struggle inside. FSU has the biggest defensive line Miami will face this season, and the Noles play as low as anyone up front. It'll be a tremendous challenge. I expect Miami's O-Line to struggle but Duke Johnson is on another level. He's an elite player who will find running room regardless. It wont be easy though.
4) How do you expect Miami’s secondary to match up with Florida State’s receivers? How do you expect the Canes to scheme against Winston and the FSU passing attack?
The strength of Miami's defense is at cornerback. They have the caliber of players to match up with FSU's receivers, even Rashad Greene, but a lot will depend on whether Miami's coaches allow them to play press coverage. When given the chance to play press and re-route opposing receivers, Miami's secondary can match up with anyone. When the coaches design a plan that prevents the big play and move the corners off, it creates some issues with this group. They've given these corners a chance to press lately but it remains to be seen how that will play out Saturday night.
5) What do you think is Miami’s biggest edge in this game? Where do you see Florida State having the advantage? Finally, what does Miami need to do to win this game?
The biggest factor for Miami is internal. These kids will get up a bit differently for this game because of the opponent. If Al Golden comes out with an aggressive game plan on defense, it should be fun. A lot of fans believe he coaches scared in big games and if that happens again Saturday night, FSU should win running away. If he lets them get after it, Miami will have a good chance.