The 10th-ranked Florida State Seminoles take aim at the ACC's Atlantic Division title, as they take on the Maryland Terrapins in conference action in College Park on Saturday.
Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles are 9-1 on the season and 6-1 in league play, tied with Clemson atop the divisional standings. However, a 49-37 victory over the Tigers in late September gives FSU the tie-breaker and on the precipice of its second divisional crown in the last three years. Florida State has won four straight games since its only loss of the season (17-16 at NC State), including a hard-fought, last minute, 28-22 win at Virginia Tech last time out.
Randy Edsall and his Terrapins have dealt with a great deal of adversity this season, as they head into this contest working on their fifth quarterback and he is a converted linebacker. Since sitting at 3-2 in mid-October, Maryland has lost four straight to plummet in the conference standings (2-4). Last weekend, the Terps were no match for Clemson in Death Valley in a 45-10 loss.
Florida State has dominated this series, winning 20 of the previous 22 meetings. The Seminoles have won each of the last five meetings, including a 41-16 lopsided affair last season in Tallahassee.
Florida State improved to 9-1 on the year for the first time since 2000, with its six-point win in Blacksburg last Thursday. It wasn't the greatest offensive performance for the 'Noles, who managed a mere 311 total yards, including a season-low -15 yards rushing. However, the offense came up big when it counted the most on the final drive, with a 39-yard TD pass with just 40 seconds remaining.
"A lot of people probably thought the game was over, but we knew within ourselves that we were going to win that game," wide receiver Rashad Greene said. "I looked at EJ, he looked at me and I told him we weren't going to lose."
The numbers on the season have been much better than last week, with FSU averaging a gaudy 503.2 yards of total offense, with great balance between the run (209.6 ypg) and the pass (293.6 ypg).
The ground game took a big hit a couple of weeks ago with the loss of tailback Chris Thompson to injury, but the team has a stable of backs that are serviceable, including James Wilder Jr. (5.8 ypc, eight TDs) and Devonta Freeman (6.4 ypc, five TDs).
The passing game has been lethal at times, thanks to the steady play of quarterback EJ Manuel, who has completed just under 70 percent of his passes, for 2,641 yards, with 19 TDs against just five INTs.
While the offense struggled in Blacksburg, the FSU defense provided its usual dominant play. The Seminoles are one of the top defensive units in the country, ranking fourth nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), second in rush defense (74.3 ypg), fifth in pass defense (168.6 ypg) and first in total defense (242.9 ypg).
The Seminoles lost standout defensive end Brandon Jenkins early on to injury, but both Cornellius Carradine (64 tackles, 10.0 TFLs, 9.0 sacks) and Bjoern Werner (29 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 8.0 sacks) have dominated off the edges. Linebacker Christian Jones (64 tackles. 6.0 TFLs, two fumble recoveries) has been active in the middle of the defense, while cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes (29 tackles, two INTs) and Tyler Hunter (20 tackles, three INTs) headline the play in the secondary.
The revolving door at quarterback has definitely derailed Maryland's season, as the team has struggled to generate much offense week-in and week-out. On the season, the Terps are averaging just 18.9 ppg, on an anemic 284.3 yards of total offense, last in the FBS.
The team is down to former LB Shawn Petty under center and the results have been less than spectacular. Despite the poor play at the quarterback position, freshman Stefon Diggs has emerged as the team's top offensive weapon, amassing 43 catches, for 721 yards and six touchdowns.
Edsall commented on Petty's reaction to the position change at his weekly press conference.
"Well he really had no choice. It wasn't 'Shawn do you want to do this?' It was a 'Shawn you're gonna do it.' So there was no choice when I talked to both he and Brian McMahon. But I think deep down in Shawn's heart he always thought he was a quarterback and really relished the opportunity to go out there and play."
A lack of offense has resulted in a poor overall record, but the Maryland defense has done it best to keep the team competitive. The Terrapins rank 16th nationally in total defense, while yielding just 315.1 yards of total offense.
The team did suffer a devastating loss a couple of weeks ago when leading tackler Demetrius Hartsfield (78 tackles) was lost for the season to injury. Linebacker Cole Farrand has done his best to assuage the loss, ranking second on the team in tackles (63), with 6.0 TFLs. Up front, defensive lineman Joe Vellano (58 tackles, 14.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) and A.J. Francis (39 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) have made a lot of plays upfield.
The Terrapins get this game at home, but are out-manned on both sides of the ball. Expect the Seminoles to completely shut down the home team, while riding Manuel's strong arm to the division crown.