The No. 3 Florida State Seminoles rode 20 unanswered second-half points to a 41-14 victory over rivals the No. 7 Miami Hurricanes on Saturday.
Some will talk about the Seminoles' bruising rushing attack, which led the way for the first time all season. Others will tip a cap to the defense, which played lights-out football. Yet the real story is not a stat line—it is the complete control this Florida State team continues to demonstrate.
As head coach Jimbo Fisher said following the game, via the Associated Press:
It's a team that is understanding how to compete in big games and is learning to do it different ways. We were very excited early and had to keep our emotions in check.
The second half we came out and were very physical and were able to run the football and take control. The defense was dominant. I'm just proud of the way our guys competed.
The Seminoles exhibit a calm confidence, a sense of composure and poise that is reminiscent of Nick Saban's Alabama team on a game day.
Offensively, quarterback Jameis Winston had far from his best game. He threw just one touchdown compared to two interceptions to Miami defenders, as Joey Johnston of the Tampa Tribune noted:
However, it did not matter, as Winston, his teammates and most importantly his head coach and play-caller banded together to get the job done.
Following both first-half interceptions, Winston talked with Fisher about what he saw and why he made the wrong decision and poor throw. There was no screaming or anger. Rather, the Seminoles offense approached the adversity with a businesslike attitude and searched for a simple solution.
The answer the 'Noles were looking for came on the ground, where Florida State decided to be the physical bully in the football game. Behind a veteran offensive line, the Seminoles squared up Miami's front seven and opened big holes for running back Devonta Freeman. When the team needed tough yards, it went to power back James Wilder and did not miss a beat.
Although it was a rivalry game and there was some chippiness, Fisher's Seminoles remained in constant control—not just in control of the ballgame, but in control of themselves.
The team was streamlined. Players simply did their specific jobs, winning their one-on-one battles. Success came as every box in the process was checked.
The same held true for the defense. After surrendering yards early to the 'Canes on the ground, the unit regrouped and played gap-sound football. Linebacker Telvin Smith made sure the team was lined up properly, adjusting to tight end trades and motions, so the players were in a position to do their jobs.
It is not simply talent or the new quarterback that makes this Florida State team go. Rather, this team is achieving at a high level consistently because of the laser focus it possesses with respect to achieving its goal of going undefeated in 2013.
The leadership of Smith, Winston, center Bryan Stork and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner keeps this team focused on doing the little things right. Every game is a business trip, a box the Seminoles have to check off in order to reach that goal.
Maintaining gap integrity and making the proper pre-snap reads are critical to ensuring the success of a defensive or offensive play. In the macro world of the college football season, winning individual contests is the critical element to continued success. The same goes for Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State. Teams on a mission have to check all the boxes.
Florida State is a team on a mission, and by taking apart the No. 7 team in the nation, the Seminoles again proved they belong in the national discussion. The same discussion has an Alabama team led by Nick Saban, the coach who has some real influence over how this Seminoles staff operates.
The parallels between the two programs are clear, and they're not just the pro-style offenses and the 3-4 scheme with aggressive defensive back play. Both teams feature a contained rage on both sides of the ball, the desire to be the bully on every play and, most importantly, a focused approach to the game.
Both teams have their scopes zeroed in on the target, a BCS championship, but only Alabama has a clear shot. The 'Noles don't have an open target, even though, as Coaching Search's Pete Roussel pointed out, many folks including ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit believe Florida State should play for the title.
Thus, for Fisher's team, it is about staying in the hunt, remaining focused and hoping Oregon moves aside so that the Seminoles can pull the trigger on Pasadena.