- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was billed as a return of one of college football’s best rivalries. For the first time in nine years, Miami and Florida State met with both ranked in the top 10 and both undefeated.
The first half saw Miami prove the hype was deserved, and Jameis Winston struggle for the first time in his career, but by the time it was over, Devonta Freeman and the third-ranked Seminoles had once again asserted their dominance, thumping No. 7 Miami 41-14.
It was over when: Nate Andrews picked off Stephen Morris on Miami’s first drive of the fourth quarter, effectively ending the Hurricanes’ hopes for a comeback. Miami moved the ball relatively well on the previous drive, but Nile Lawrence-Stample stuffed Duke Johnson on a fourth-down run, leaving the Hurricanes with no wiggle room the rest of the way. Unfortunately for Miami, Morris coughed up his second pick three plays into its next drive, and Florida State (8-0, 6-0 ACC) largely ran out the clock from there.
Game ball goes to: Freeman. The Miami native picked up the slack when Winston, the redshirt freshman quarterback, struggled, and for the second consecutive season, he was the difference in a Seminoles victory over their in-state rival. Freeman finished the game with 29 touches for 176 yards and three touchdowns. His 48-yard catch-and-run was the game’s highlight play, but his punishing style in the ground game was the tone-setter.
Stat of the game: 44. That’s the number of rushes for Florida State’s offense, tallying a total of 192 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. On a day when the passing game scuffled at times, the runners -- including Winston, who converted two third downs with his legs -- made all the difference. There were big runs -- 19-yard scampers by both Winston and Freeman -- and a bunch of tough ones that helped FSU dominate the time of possession and control the tempo of the game. The 44 rushes were a season high for the Seminoles.
What Miami learned: It’s not at an elite level yet. Al Golden’s bunch actually put up more of a fight than a lot of pundits believed it would, but in the end, Miami got most of the breaks it needed and still wasn’t particularly close to knocking off Florida State. Johnson ran fairly well, Morris made some of his best throws of the season, and Winston gave Miami 14 points. That was supposed to be the recipe for an upset, but it wasn’t to be. Miami (7-1, 3-1) has clearly made progress, and with the black cloud of NCAA sanctions mostly gone, that progress should continue. But Florida State is clearly playing at another level.
What Florida State learned: It can win without Winston. It’s not that the phenom was horrible, but he did throw two big interceptions that led directly to Miami’s two first-half touchdowns. Both occurred on deep balls over the middle, while the bulk of his success came on check-downs to Freeman and tight end Nick O'Leary. Still, Winston’s struggles didn’t exactly hamper the offense. The unit piled up 517 yards, led by Freeman’s big game. Of course, while it was Winston's worst performance thus far, he still finished 21-of-29 for 325 yards.
What it means: Florida State has made its case for the BCS. The rest is up to the voters. Yes, the Seminoles still have five more games to impress, but there won’t be another showcase like Saturday’s game. The remaining slate -- Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho, Florida and a potential rematch with Miami in the ACC title game -- won’t have the same hype, but the Seminoles’ two wins over top-10 teams by a combined 92-28 margin make an awfully strong argument that, if they finish the season without a loss, they belong in the national title game.
5dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna