Florida State-Miami: Keys to a Seminoles Victory
The rivalry continues. Without question this is the biggest rivalry in the ACC and one of the most storied rivalries in the history of college football. This game has determined National Championships and has showcased a very long list of future NFL stars, but recently the game has lost it's flair because both programs have been fighting to recapture the national spotlight and both have made strides in that direction.
This game will again feature NFL talent, with both teams littered with individuals who have the potential for long, successful careers in the NFL. This game will also determine how the rest of the season goes.
Can Florida State overcome last year's loss and steal a win at Miami?
Can Miami once again tower over Florida State and win in front of their home crowd?
Saturday night marks an enormous setting for a game that means everything to both sides. Here are some keys to a Florida State victory.
Jermaine Thomas and the Running Game
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Florida State's rushing attack has been a pleasant surprise to all 'Noles fans. Led by Jermaine Thomas, the stable of backs have accounted for 208.6 yards a game. Thomas is paired with Ty Jones and Chris Thompson, and all three running backs have over 200 yards rushing and have been the sparkplug to an offense that hasn't quite matched last year's production.
If the 'Noles are to beat Miami on Saturday, they will need to grind it out on the ground. Miami will give the running games fits with their defensive line, led by defensive end Allen Bailey and tackle Marcus Forston.
If Thomas, Jones, and Thompson can come out and give this Seminole offense the spark that they need, this could be another big game for the running backs and a very long day for the Miami defense.
Christian Ponder Vs. Jacory Harris
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Chirstian Ponder and Jacory Harris were perhaps overhyped in the offseason. Both quarterbacks were labeled as potential Heisman candidates, and Florida State even created a Heisman campaign for Ponder. That seems like ancient history now, for neither quarterback has impressed much at this point in the season.
Last year, Ponder accounted for 320 total yards per game. This year, he's not even averaging 200. He has appeared shaky at times and hasn't displayed the type of poise that made him a household name a year ago. While Ponder has struggled, the offense has been backed by the running game and therefore has been successful. Ponder's individual performance against Oklahoma in Week 2 of this season is a game that 'Noles fans would like to forget.
Harris, on the other hand, has shown flashes of greatness at times, but his ratio of 10 touchdowns to eight interceptions shows that his decision making hasn't quite improved from last season. Harris was heralded last season, and again this year, as the best quarterback in the ACC, but he has yet to show why exactly.
Ponder is due for a breakout game, and what better game to do so than against FSU's biggest rival Miami. If Ponder can lead the offense and put up the numbers that he usually does, there is no question that Florida State will come away with a huge win against Miami.
Brandon Jenkins and the Florida State Defensive Line
Brandon Jenkins leads all Seminole defenders with 4.5 sacks. The defensive unit has tallied 25 sacks thus far and leads the country in that statistic. They accounted for 27 total last season and are on track to double that number this season.
Jenkins has been disruptive so far and leads a defensive line that has been labeled as undersized and unproductive. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and his new zone scheme has proved to be valuable for disrupting offensive backfields.
Markus White was once heralded as the best defensive end in the history of junior college when he first came to Florida State, and up until this season, he has been a bust. He finally has broken through and has been a key factor in the success of this defensive line.
Jacobbi McDaniel and Everett Dawkins have filled in nicely for the injured Moses McCray at tackle, and freshman Demonte McAllister has provided depth to a position that was a major question mark before the season began.
This unit will have their hands full Saturday with a Miami offensive line that showcases Seantrel Henderson, the No. 1 high school prospect of last year. Henderson is a monster, standing 6'8" and weighing 330 pounds. Opposite Henderson is Orlando Franklin, a 6'7" senior with plenty of experience. Joel Figueroa (6'6", 323) and Brandon Washington (6'4", 330) are the guards and Tyler Horn (6'4", 295) mans the center position. This offensive line is massive and will be the biggest offensive line the 'Noles have faced so far.
Jenkins and Company will have to keep making big plays and getting into the backfield in order for the Seminole defense to contain the Miami offense.
Greg Reid Vs. Leonard Hankerson
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Greg Reid is the best player in Florida State's secondary, and he knows it. The sophomore cornerback has been a major playmaker for the defense with a pair of interceptions and plenty of pass break-ups, but his confidence in himself can be mistaken at times for cockiness.
Reid admitted that he was in over his head against Oklahoma when then-wide receiver Ryan Broyles lit up the 'Noles secondary. Since then this unit has been a major strength of the defense. Reid will face another huge challenge against Miami when he will be covering Leonard Hankerson, the 'Canes best receiver and playmaker.
Hankerson has been hot as of late and has 388 yards with 6 touchdowns on the year. His 6'3" frame will be a huge advantage against the 5'9" Reid, but Reid's athleticism could be the deciding factor in this matchup.
The secondary will have their hands full, not only with Hankerson, but also with Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Laron Byrd. Xavier Rhodes, the other starting corner, will have to continue providing big plays in the secondary like he has been, and safeties Terrance Parks and Ochuku Jenjie will need to provide support.
Florida State's Offensive Line
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Florida State boasts one of the best offensive lines in the country and possibly the best left guard in the country, Rodney Hudson. That didn't mean much to Oklahoma's defensive line, and it won't mean anything to Miami's defensive line.
Miami could give plenty of fits to the offensive line, who are still without their best tackle, Andrew Datko; although Zebrie Sanders filled in nicely last week against Virginia.
The Miami defensive line is led by senior defensive end Allen Bailey and defensive tackle Marcus Forston. Olivier Vernon is the other end opposite Bailey, and with Forston, Josh Holmes forms one of the best defensive tackle pairs in the conference.
Senior center Ryan McMahon has been a starter for Florida State since the day he stepped on campus, and right guard David Spurlock has plenty of experience. Right tackle is up in the air with Sanders filling in for the injured Datko, so it will be between Henry Orelus and Antwane Greenlee to fill in. Greenlee is the bigger and more experienced choice, but Orelus has impressed line coach Rick Trickitt and could get the nod.
This unit will have to keep Ponder off the ground in order for the offense to roll against the 'Canes and to ultimately lead to victory.
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Fans have been waiting on Ponder to regain his form from a year ago, and he will do just that on Saturday. Florida State has shown the ability to shut teams down while running all over them, and while Miami proves to be a major threat, this game will belong to the 'Noles.
Harris has been inconsistent at quarterback and will be challenged by the Florida State defense. This game marked his coming out party last season, but this year, against a revamped defense and a better secondary, Harris will not have the same success he had a year ago.
If Ponder can finally provide solid quarterback play and the trio of running backs can have more success on the ground, Florida State should come away with a huge win in South Beach.
The game will be another one to remember for the yearbooks and could be an instant classic, with both teams having veteran offenses and stingy defenses.