TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State showed it can rely on its running game when redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has an off night.
The third-ranked Seminoles pounded out 192 yards on the ground in their 41-14 win against Miami.
Devonta Freeman, the No. 3 rusher in the Atlantic Coast Conference, had 78 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts. He continued to play bigger than his 5-foot-9, 203-pound frame and grind between the tackles while his speed makes him a home-run threat at all times.
James Wilder Jr., a preseason Doak Walker award candidate, returned and ran for 42 yards and two touchdowns on 81 yards. He was held out last week with the concussion and a shoulder injury had previously limited him all season. Wilder Jr. looked like his old, bruising self against the Hurricanes.
Karlos Williams also had 46 yards on just five carries.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said earlier this season the offensive line might be the best he's had at Florida State — and they're playing like it. The blocking from the tight ends and receivers has opened more room on the second level.
This is the three-headed monster Fisher envisioned when he switched Williams to offense.
"Our backs are truly being more accountable and dependable on a down-in, down-out basis," Fisher said. "Especially on those critical downs.
"You call what you do well. We've (run on short down-and-distance) well in camp, done it well in practice and it's succeeding in games. ... Last year we had problems, so we had to find ways to try to overcome that."
The Seminoles (8-0, 6-0) converted 11 of 15 third downs against Miami and were 5 for 5 on third-and-less-than-5. Wilder Jr. rushed for three of those first downs, Freeman converted one and Winston threw a screen to Rashad Greene on the other.
"Very physical. Ran at the goal line very well. Blocked very well," Fisher said of Wilder Jr. "Played a very good football game. Glad to have him back out there. He looked strong and healthy. ... He and Karlos are big-body guys that can hit it up in there. James has done it a lot of times and been in those situations and is very physical at the point of attack.
"We were great on third down, but we were in third and manageable situations a lot, too. ... We were able to be physical with the offensive line. Physical at tight end. Physical at fullback and being able to run the ball up in there, which is critical."
The Seminoles actually have the No. 2 run offense in the ACC at 209.8 yards per game, but Georgia Tech (311.2 yards) is the only conference team ranked in the Top 25 in the FBS. Florida State is No. 27.
Winston is a Heisman Trophy contender, but an increasingly productive ground game puts defenses in a troubling position. Winston and the receivers will win 1-on-1 matchups more often than not if opponents bring extra bodies into the box. At the same time, the Freeman-Wilder Jr.-Williams combination will gouge a defense that drops extra defenders in coverage.
Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4) will try to slow down the No. 3 scoring offense in the nation Saturday.