Tallahassee, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - A Top 25 matchup is on tap in the Atlantic Coast Conference, as the eighth-ranked Florida State Seminoles play host to the surprising 25th-ranked Maryland Terrapins.
Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles were supposed to be undefeated at this point in the season and have not disappointed, as they look to successfully defend their ACC title. Behind the play of one of the most exciting freshmen in the nation, FSU has knocked off Pittsburgh (41-13), Nevada (62-7), Bethune-Cookman (54-6) and most recently, Boston College (48-34). Last week's victory over the Eagles was the eighth straight for Florida State against ACC foes, dating back to last year.
Randy Edsall's Terrapins will attempt to end FSU's win streak, while extending their own. Thoughts of an undefeated season heading into October play were few and far between in College Park heading into the 2013 campaign. The Terps opened the season with blowout wins over FIU (43-10) and Old Dominion (47-10). The team's lone road trip to this point resulted in a 32-21 victory at Connecticut, followed by the team's most impressive win of the season, a 37-0 shutout of rival West Virginia on Sept. 21. Maryland has had some extra time to prepare for the Seminoles, sitting idle last weekend.
Florida State has won six straight over Maryland and has dominated the series all-time with a record of 21-2, including a perfect 11-0 mark in Tallahassee. Maryland's last win in the series came in 2006 in College Park (20-14).
With all the quarterback woes that Maryland suffered through in 2012, it was no wonder the team struggled to produce wins. The 2013 campaign has been a completely different story thanks to the health of C.J. Brown. The dual threat signal caller currently leads a balanced offense that is churning out just under 500 yards per game, with a good mix of the run (226.8 ypg) and the pass (271.8 ypg).
Brown has been superb, dominating with both his arm and legs. He has completed 66.7 percent of his passes, for 1,043 yards, with seven touchdowns and just one interception. Brown is also averaging 6.3 yards per carry and is averaging just over 70 yards per game rushing. He is also responsible for six of the team's nine rushing scores on the season.
Other playmakers on the offensive side of the football include tailback Brandon Ross (332 yards, 83.0 ypg, two TDs) and standout wideout Stefon Diggs (18 receptions, 400 yards, three TDs). Fellow WR Deon Long (21 catches, 271 yards, one TD) is a viable second option in the passing attack.
As good as the offense has been for Maryland, it is the defense that has really shocked its opponents. The Terrapins rank third in the nation in scoring defense (10.2 ppg), 13th in rush defense (98.5 ypg), 14th in pass defense (165.3 ypg) and sixth in total defense (263.8 ypg). In addition, this big play unit has recorded 17 sacks and 13 takeaways, including eight interceptions.
Linebacker L.A. Goree has taken over as a defensive leader. The junior has recorded a team-high 26 tackles, with one sack and one forced fumble. Fellow junior LB Cole Farrand is a close second in total stops with 25 tackles. Senior LB Marcus Whitfield (18 tackles) paces the team in both TFL (6.5) and sacks (5.5), while senior DB Dexter McDougle has been a ball hawk in the secondary with three interceptions thus far.
Maryland's defense has been up to the task thus far, but will be facing its toughest test to date with Florida State and freshman phenom Jameis Winston. The Seminoles are averaging 51.2 ppg this year (fourth nationally), moving the ball at will both on the ground (239.5 ypg) and through the air (293.2 ypg), resulting in 540.3 ypg (10th nationally).
Winston has been playing as well as any quarterback in the country, completing 73.6 percent of his throws, for 1,048 yards, with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. A full array of weapons in the passing attack have eased Winston's transition, with wideouts Rashad Greene (19 catches, 299 yards, five TDs), Kenny Shaw (18 catches, 370 yards, two TDs) and Kelvin Benjamin (12 catches, 239 yards, one TD) and tight end Nick O'Leary (three TDs).
Edsall is certainly concerned with the skill set that Winston brings to the table.
"When you look at him physically, he looks a little bit like E.J. Manuel in terms of his body type. But he is just a very good player. He is strong and a big guy. He is tough to bring down and has got good escape ability. He's got really strong arms and can make all the throws. Really good people surround him and he is executing the offense very well. He is somebody that you can see is doing all of the things that they are asking him to do. He is a very good football player and someone who you are concerned with when you have to go up against him on defense. He's a guy that has the ability to throw the ball and has the ability to do something with his feet. When you get that type of quarterback, it makes the job very difficult for the defense."
The FSU backfield is equally stacked with tailbacks Devonta Freeman (8.7 ypc, two TDs), Karlos Williams (9.3 ypc, four TDs) and James Wilder Jr. (5.8 ypc, two TDs) all possessing game-breaking ability.
Florida State has long been known as a strong defensive squad and there is reason to believe that 2013 will be more of the same. The Seminoles are allowing just 15.0 ppg and have been dominant with the exception of last week's game against Boston College. The strength of the unit is the pass defense, with FSU ranking fourth nationally at a mere 136.0 ypg.
A lot of that has to do with All-American candidate Lamarcus Joyner cutting off half the field with his play at cornerback. A 5-8 senior, Joyner hasn't recorded an interception yet, but ranks second on the team in tackles (24), with two sacks. Senior linebacker Telvin Smith leads the team in tackles (27), with 4.0 TFL, one sack and one interception and his leadership has been instrumental in FSU's strong play this year.
"There is an old saying I always use, 'your actions speak so loud I can't hear what you are saying,'" said Fisher. "But now he is living everything he is talking and I think it has made a huge difference in us and him, definitely the consistency in which he plays with and I think it's a big difference in our football team.".