Largely forgotten among the nation's one-loss teams, the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles will look to clinch a spot in the ACC championship game with a win over the lowly Maryland Terrapins on Saturday.
The Seminoles come into the contest as 31-point favorites (per Vegas Insider) over the 4-6 Terrapins and should waltz to an easy victory. Nevertheless, playing on the road against an overmatched team has befallen Florida State before this season.
With so much riding on a victory, it's critical that the Seminoles get out of the gate early and execute to avoid a deja vu situation. For that reason, here is a look at what the Seminoles must do to avoid an upset against the Terrapins.
Resurrect the Running Game
Since losing scintillating running back Chris Thompson to an ACL tear, the Seminoles' ground game has been a mixed bag of effectiveness. After torching an overmatched Duke team to the tune of 261 yards on the ground in Week 10, last Saturday saw the Florida State ground game fall off a cliff.
Facing a wall of Virginia Tech defenders, James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman combined for just five yards on 11 carries. Overall, the Seminoles floundered to a negative 15 yards and needed a last-minute drive to avoid being upset by the Hokies.
While Maryland certainly isn't even on the same level as a disappointing Virginia Tech squad, Florida State may fall if its run game continues to struggle. The Terrapins actually have the second-best pass defense in the ACC, giving up 202.5 yards per game. What's more, quarterbacks seem to struggle accuracy-wise against Maryland, completing just 52.3 percent of their passes thus far.
That means it may be more difficult than expected to rely on E.J. Manuel's arm to win the game. If Wilder Jr. and Freeman have a second poor performance in a row, an upset isn't totally out of the question.
Don't Allow Stefon Diggs to Make Big Plays
As one of the team's only consistent playmakers, Maryland is desperately hoping that wide receiver Stefon Diggs is in the lineup on Saturday. Though he missed last week's game against Clemson due to an ankle injury, Diggs is making good progress, according to the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker.
While that doesn't mean he's definitively playing, the Seminoles need to prepare like Diggs be in the lineup. The freshman star has been one of the few bright spots for head coach Randy Edsall, leading the team with 43 receptions for 721 yards and six touchdowns this season.
He's also a dynamic playmaker. Edsall has made a habit of getting the ball in Diggs' hands any way possible, including carries out of the backfield and reverses.
With the odds stacked, Maryland will certainly try some form or trickeration on Saturday. The Florida State defense has been solid all season and has noticeably shut down the opposition's best player.
Nonetheless, the Seminoles can't let the injury fool them. If Diggs is in the lineup, he's a dynamic force who could shift the game's paradigm on one play.
Don't Take Maryland Lightly
It's not exactly a stretch to say that Florida State is out of the national championship picture because it took North Carolina State lightly. The Seminoles came into that contest ill prepared and consistently failed to execute against a less talented squad.
While they haven't had that problem since, eviscerating the Dukes and Boston Colleges of the world, Saturday just smells like the classic trap game. On the road, facing what should be an overmatched team and with No. 6 Florida on the schedule for next week, it would be hard to blame the Seminoles for looking ahead.
But that's exactly what got the team into trouble against the Wolfpack. If Florida State comes in with the goal of abjectly destroying Maryland, this game should be no problem.
However, any slight relaxation and the Seminoles might be taken out by the "Black Ops" on Saturday.