Halfway to a State Championship

Florida State's win against Miami showed how far this team has come—and how far it still has to go.

The FSU-Miami series has always amazed me, and this game was no different. I simply can't understand why FSU has to be 30–40 points better than Miami in order to win by two. FSU has at times (see 2002) dominated the game and still lost. That said, this team showed a lot of character in still coming out with the win despite all the crazy FSU-Miami bounces and swings in momentum.

Even better, Florida State won this game because of their offense. Best of all, the Seminoles won because of steady play from their young quarterback. If anyone had known Miami would score 39 points before the game, how many people would have given FSU a chance to win the game? And yet Jimbo Fisher's offense took another giant step forward in this game, marching up and down the field seemingly at will against a Miami defense that gave Florida all it could handle just a few weeks ago.

Though it may be in bad form to say, "I told you so," several things this space has asserted the last couple weeks were borne out in this game. Even after the Wake Forest game, we argued that we were close on offense, that once things started slowing down a little for the youngsters, this offense would be dangerous. Despite some bumps in the road to this point, this team is headed in the right direction; the ship is being captained by coaches with proven experience and a well-defined and proven plan.

This is a game that Florida State would have lost any other time I can recall. Our critical mistakes on special teams (a week after they had been so instrumental in beating Colorado) and a couple fluky turnovers were par for the course for an FSU team against Miami, but this time the young ‘Noles offense showed its character with a dominating late fourth-quarter drive culminating in Greg Carr's fantastic TD grab Antone Smith's game-clinching TD run. This is an FSU team that finally refused to lose.

And despite my criticism of the defense the last several weeks, this was one of the best performances by a defense giving up 39 points one could ever see. The front seven did a tremendous job with gap control and kept Miami from favorable down-and-distance scenarios, leading to Miami's 2 for 15 day on third down. That, combined with FSU's ability to control the line of scrimmage on offense and make their third down conversions, was the story of the game. Florida State flat dominated the game in the trenches on both sides of the ball, something that hasn't happened against a decent opponent in years.

Christian Ponder's performance showed why Jimbo Fisher has put his faith in the redshirt sophomore. The game finally seemed to start slowing down for him in the fourth quarter of the Colorado game, and he looked like a veteran against Miami. Sure, he missed some throws and made a few mistakes, but his settled presence is what kept the offense from folding when things were getting dicey. As he continues to grow and become an extension of Fisher on the field, the offense will continue to take on Fisher's aggressive and confident attitude.

Ponder's running ability also proved to be the x-factor for FSU's offense—it was the one thing the Miami defense could not account for. Spread-option offenses (that is, offenses that spread the field with multiple receiver sets and then run single-wing and option plays featuring a running quarterback) have of course become a major trend in college football over the last few years. This trend is based on the principle that the quarterback is the one player the defense cannot account for in the running game (for example, in a 3WR, 1RB set, the front seven gets blocked by the five OLs, a TE, and the RB, while the QB is unaccounted for) while maintaining effective deep zone coverages. Miami is of course known for its love of the cover-two defense, often playing man-to-man underneath a two-safety shell.

Fisher's offense came into this game fully prepared to crack that defense with a healthy dose of Ponder's running ability. Whenever the defense was in "cover two man-under," Ponder was able to take off running while all the players in man coverage had their backs turned to the quarterback; since the safeties were already 18 yards upfield, Ponder was able to chew up substantial yardage from the quarterback position. In addition, when the ‘Noles were in their spread formations, Ponder was able to check to QB runs whenever Miami showed certain keys that demonstrated he was unaccounted for; 144 yards later, Fisher's preparation showed why the ‘Noles will now be the aggressors in the FSU-Miami series. Even better, because FSU's offense is still largely predicated on a more traditional spread passing attack and power running game, this element of the offense should be harder for opposing defenses to focus on and stop than it is for a team that runs the spread-option as its base offense (teams like UF and West Virginia).




Other Observations



Marcus Sims' presence brought a much-needed element to the offense. His tough third-down run on the ‘Noles first drive showed why he can be a weapon in third and short situations the rest of the year (I hope we start seeing him as the primary RB in those situations rather than Smith). As he gets reincorporated in the offense, we'll also see him as a threat in the passing game. The fullbacks in general did a tremendous job clearing the way for Antone Smith and Ponder. Having our full depth helps immensely.

Caz Piurowski's absence may have been the difference between a win and a loss against Wake Forest. The difference he has been able to make in the running game is substantial. We have had no problem sealing off the outside in the running game in the two weeks he has played.

This space gave Louis Givens a shout out last week. If it could give him several this week, it would. That kid has tremendous closing speed and actually may have a chance to earn a special teams spot at the next level. He is in the picture at the end of pretty much every special teams coverage play. Without him, FSU probably loses this game.

This was the best an FSU secondary has played in quite some time. That said, Miami's receivers are young, so I am still not totally confident in this group. Jenije and Mangum have been great surprises this year, however, and Patrick Robinson's return will certainly be a shot in the arm.

Miami did not score as the result of a sustained drive until their last one (with some help from a no-call on a BLATANT hold on an FSU defensive tackle on a fourth down conversion inside the twenty). That is both encouraging and discouraging. It is encouraging because it means the defense played well over the course of the game. It is discouraging because the defense needs to learn to shut the door on teams at the end of games. We simply haven't learned how to finish teams yet.

This team is taking on the character of its coaches—the offense is playing physical and aggressive, and the defense is, well, it's still a Mickey Andrews defense.

Aside from a bust on the halfback pass, Tony Carter might have played his best game in a Seminole uniform this week.

Florida State beat Miami and scored 41 points on them in their home stadium. Remind yourself of that anytime this week seems to be getting difficult.


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