Sunshine State rivals square off in ACC action this weekend, as the 12th-ranked Florida State Seminoles make the short trip south to take on the Miami-Florida Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium.
Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles had their perfect season come to an end with a humbling 17-16 loss at NC State two weeks ago. FSU got back to its winning ways this past weekend though, moving to 6-0 overall and 3-1 in ACC play with a dominant 51-7 drubbing of Boston College.
Al Golden's Hurricanes have played to mixed reviews in 2012. The team sits at 4-3 overall, but holds a 3-1 mark in-conference, good for the top spot in the ACC's Coastal Division. Miami however, comes into this contest with a two-game slide in tow, falling to Notre Dame (41-30) and most recently, North Carolina (18-14).
Still, Golden expressed his desire for his team to keep pressing forward after the UNC loss.
"There's a lot to learn from this game, there's no question. We made too many critical errors to win the game, some of them I mentioned already. We have to continue to learn and grow, said Golden following the loss. "We're playing a lot of guys that are learning. They have to continue to grow. Sometimes when you play guys before they're ready, they can have negative reinforcement and we can't have that right now. We have to keep pushing them forward and be positive. They're playing a tough schedule, and it's not getting any easier this week. We have a rival coming in here, we have to get rested up tomorrow, shake it off and get ready to go. We just have to keep going."
This marks the 57th all-time meeting between these two rivals. The Hurricanes hold a 31-25 series advantage, but Florida State has won two straight and five of the last seven meetings, overall.
Florida State's offense doesn't get the credit that the defense does, but the unit has far exceeded expectations this year. The key has been success in the running game. The Seminoles are averaging 46.0 ppg, on 530.6 yards of total offense, with the rushing attack responsible for 233.1 yards of that.
Tailback Chris Thompson has been the top performer on the ground, amassing 640 yards and five TDs on 7.6 yards per carry. James Wilder Jr. is also a integral part of the backfield, netting 6.0 yards per carry and scoring six times.
Quarterback EJ Manuel has gone a little under the radar in terms of national notoriety, but has played impressively thus far, completing 72.1 percent of his passes, for 1,804 yards, with 14 touchdown and just four interceptions.
Not many teams are getting it done defensively like Florida State. The Seminoles rank fourth nationally in scoring defense (11.6 ppg), third in total defense (222.0 ypg), while placing fifth against the run (74.9 ypg) and sixth against the pass (147.11 ypg).
The loss of All-ACC defensive end Brandon Jenkins has been assuaged by the play of rush ends Cornellius Carradine (41 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 7.0 sacks) and Bjoern Werner (21 tackles, 10.0 TFLs, 6.5 sacks). Linebacker Christian Jones (39 tackles) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (22 tackles, two interceptions) headline the play in the back seven.
The Hurricanes have been plagued with offensive inconsistency this season, showing flashes of big play ability coupled with long stretches of stagnant play. The team is fueled by the passing game this season, which is netting just under 300 yards per game (296.9).
Quarterback Stephen Morris has been a big part of the success, but has also been the primary reason for the offensive failures, completing just 57.5 percent of his passes, for 1,991 yards, with nine TDs against six INTs. Morris injured his ankle against the Tar Heels and was unable to return to the game. He is listed as doubtful for this week and if he can't go, redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams is likely to get the start.
Tailbacks Duke Johnson (428 yards and five TDs) and Mike James (402 yards, four TDs) give the team a solid one-two punch in the backfield, while Phillip Dorsett (32 receptions, 503 yards, three TDs) and Rashawn Scott (27 receptions, 431 yards, two TDs) do the same in the receiving corps.
The Miami defense has struggled this season, especially against the run, where foes are netting 253.7 yards per game on a hefty 5.1 yards per carry. The team on the year is allowing a generous 32.3 ppg, on 506.6 yards of total offense. Big plays have also been hard to comes by, with Miami recording just seven sacks over the first six games.
Defensive end Shayon Green leads the defensive unit in stops with 42 tackles. Linebackers Eddie Johnson (39 tackles) and Denzel Perryman (35 tackles, team- high 6.0 TFLs) follow.
Fisher knows the importance of this rivalry for the team and fan base.
"That's one of the big games you're here at Florida State for," said Fisher on the team's website this week. "That's always one of the great rivalries in college football. A lot of history, a lot of tradition. It means a lot to us, I know that. That's one you have to be aware of. It's a battle and it's a lot of history in it, tradition in it. It's always a battle when FSU and Miami play. It means a lot to the people here; it means a lot to the players that played here and it's always a great game."