Florida State at Miami Preview & Prediction

Look for another competitive installment in one of the nation's top rivalry games.

Miami comes into this game playing improved football, having won four of their last five, and the oddsmakers clearly expect the Hurricanes to give the Seminoles all they can handle, with the betting line around -2.5.

This is becoming a bit of a refrain this season, but I do think this Miami team is better than the one from last year that came into its game against FSU at 7-0 and #7 in the country. Despite the difference in record, this team is comparable to last year’s on offense and significantly better on defense than that squad, and the Hurricanes are coming into this game healthy after a bye week.

It seems every couple weeks have meant “Florida State’s toughest challenge of the season” with “smooth sailing” the rest of the way (the national narrative is ridiculous at this point), but this game again presents a real threat to a Seminole team that is not as consistently dominant as last year’s unit.

Miami Offense vs. FSU Defense

Miami’s offense runs through Duke Johnson and his backups, Joe Yearby and Gus Edwards. As Johnson goes, so goes the Miami offense. Johnson is averaging a healthy 7.68 ypc on the season and is also Miami’s third-leading receiver.

In Miami’s three losses, they have averaged 2.59 (Louisville), 3.3 (Nebraska), and 5.63 (GaTech) yards per carry, and it is critical that Florida State limit Miami’s ability to run the football, particularly on first down.

Miami has been at its best when it has been able to establish the run and then throw downfield off play-action on first down, allowing Philip Dorsett in particular to get behind defenses.

That said, as good as the Miami running game has been, this offense has depended on big plays and is not nearly as good when forced to be methodical. Johnson is a burner not a bruiser, and his ability to make long runs is a major reason for his high per-carry average.

The Miami passing attack is even more dependent on the big play, as Dorsett is unreliable underneath and freshman QB Brad Kayaa is still inconsistent when forced to be precise underneath. Tight end Clive Walford (6’4, 260) is Kayaa’s security blanket when the deep stuff isn’t there, and Florida State will need to pay special attention to the tight end and backs out of the backfield in this game.

I expect to see Florida State stack the box on first down more than they have most of this season to limit Johnson and the running game while maintaining deep leverage from the defensive backs to prevent big plays.

Mario Edwards, Jr. and Eddie Goldman are, as always, the keys for Florida State in this game, as Miami’s left tackle, Erick Flowers, is returning early from a minor knee surgery and their interior has no one who can match up well with Goldman. If Edwards and Goldman can disrupt the Miami running game and force the Miami backs wide, Florida State’s defense will have the edge here. If not, it could be a long night for FSU, as the Miami offense is an entirely different beast when they can throw when they want to rather than because they have to.

Miami is also an excellent screen team, making last week’s UVA game (another team that runs more screens than usual) a helpful warm-up for this one.

FSU Offense vs. Miami Defense

This matchup is fairly straightforward: I expect Miami will again look to force Jameis Winston to be patient and consistently make the shorter throw, hoping he gets impatient and throws into coverage downfield.

The Hurricanes have pressed with their corners more in recent weeks—pairing that with more aggressive play up front—but I’m not sure they’re going to try that as much with an FSU team that can clearly burn them downfield. I do expect Miami to probe FSU’s weakness on the offensive interior, blitzing the A gaps and trying to get pressure in Winston’s face, but I don’t expect them to bring the house while doing so.

Miami’s defensive front is good but not as good as those of Clemson, Virginia, or Notre Dame. Perhaps most importantly, Miami’s defensive tackles are not as disruptive as FSU has faced previously.

Florida State has run the football better in recent weeks—well enough to have climbed to 8th in Football Outsiders’ Rushing S&P+ metric—and the one common feature of all three Hurricane losses has been an inability to stop the run against good offenses. Miami has allowed 2.01 ypc in their wins but has allowed 4.88 ypc in their losses. This is obviously a good week for the return of Florida State’s best all-around running back, Mario Pender.

In my view, Florida State should have an edge in this matchup, but Jameis Winston is banged up with two injuries that have a significant impact on a passing quarterback: right thumb and right ankle. He had trouble pushing through his ankle to get zip on his throws outside the numbers and downfield against Virginia, and he has not been as consistently accurate since hurting his thumb around midseason.

If, however, Florida State can support Winston by running the football, the Florida State offense could surprise people by putting up big numbers against a Miami defense that still isn’t as athletic as one might expect from a Hurricane unit.

As long as FSU doesn’t turn it over multiple times, I expect the Seminole offense to win this matchup handily—it really does boil down to turnovers here.

Special Teams

FSU has an edge on special teams, especially now that punter Cason Beatty has become a strength rather than a weakness. One area to watch this week is Florida State’s kickoff return unit. Miami’s kickoff return unit is 117th in the country and has given up one return for a score on the year. Although FSU’s unit has not been outstanding so far this season, Kermit Whitfield is still a major threat anytime he touches it, and given the Hurricane kickoff unit, this may be the game he gets loose.

Overall

There’s good reason for Seminole fans to be nervous coming into this game as Miami has been playing improved football while FSU’s penchant for turning the football over probably should have cost them a game by now. That this is a rivalry game on the road against a team coming off a bye also doesn’t help matters for the Seminoles.

That said, I think Florida State still has the edge across the board here, with the combination of Goldman, Edwards, Winston, and Aguayo giving FSU big enough advantages at each of those spots to expect a Florida State win.

Miami will have a few extra wrinkles prepared coming off a bye, and I don’t think Winston will be at his sharpest in the early going thanks to his thumb and ankle ailments, so I expect Miami to get off to an early lead (as has been the trend for FSU opponents), but I think FSU runs the football well in this game, catches up, and goes to the half with a lead it never relinquishes. I think Miami keeps it close but winds up chasing most of the way. I’ve got Florida State 34, Miami 27.

Wayne McGahee III

Florida State comes into this game with every thing stacked against them. Vegas has the Noles as a 2.5 point favorite. The playoff committee decided to move a 1-loss Oregon over the undefeated Seminoles. If the team doesn’t come out with something to prove this game, they never will. In order for Florida State to win there are three things that need to happen.

1. Jameis needs to limit his turnovers. Spotting this Miami team 21 points as they did against Louisville isn’t going to work. If Florida State can avoid these mistakes and make Miami drive the length of the field it will be a long night for the Canes.

2. Run the football effectively. In Miami’s three losses they have given up 791 rushing yards.

3. Contain Duke Johnson. The Noles don’t need to stop him. Just keep him from beating them by himself. If Florida State can keep him under 150 yards for the game it will go a long way to shutting down the Miami offense.

I believe Florida State will be able to handle the first two. Miami has not seen the caliber of receivers they will be going up against on Saturday, and the defensive line for Miami is sub par. It’s the third point that is the biggest question. Florida State will need a big night from Derrick Mitchell to accomplish this. If they can’t contain Duke and limit the turnovers this game will go right down to the wire. I think the Noles will be able to keep the Duke under control and take down the Canes for the fifth straight time 37-28.

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