The big game between No. 7 Miami and No. 3 Florida State is almost here. So what does each team have to do to win Saturday in Tallahassee? Glad you asked. ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and David Hale give you the breakdown.
WHY FLORIDA STATE WILL WIN
1. Jameis Winston. Miami’s pass defense has been exceptional this season. The Hurricanes have allowed just six passing touchdowns, and they’ve been especially tough on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 28 percent of their throws, with just one touchdown and five interceptions. The antidote for all that? Winston has thrown at least three TDs in each of his ACC games so far, and he’s converting a nation-best 68 percent of his throws for first downs, averaging 12.5 yards per attempt (third nationally) and has five touchdowns passes with just one pick.
2. The rejuvenated defense. It took the Seminoles a while to adjust to new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s scheme, but they seem to have things pointed in the right direction now. They ended September by allowing 200 yards rushing to Boston College, and for the month, they coughed up an average of 152 yards per game on the ground. In October, however, they’ve trimmed that average by nearly 40 yards (against better teams). Moving Christian Jones to defensive end and getting Mario Edwards Jr. healthy has been a big part of the improvement, but much of the difference is simply experience in the new system. Add in FSU’s aggressive blitzing strategy against a quarterback who’s battled an ankle injury all season, and there’s a good chance the Seminoles’ D could have a big day.
3. The intangibles. The numbers already suggest a pretty clear advantage on the field for Florida State, which enters the game as a three-touchdown favorite. But more than that, all the off-the-field markers are tipped in FSU’s favor, too. Seniors like Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks and Telvin Smith are eager to wrap up a 4-0 career against their archrivals. Florida State is expecting a sellout crowd at Doak Campbell for the first time this season. It’s a big-game environment, but FSU already knows that feeling, having played two prime-time games already, including one against Clemson just two weeks ago.
WHY MIAMI WILL WIN
1. Duke Johnson and the run game. The Hurricanes have relied heavily on their run game all season, specifically to pull out comeback wins in the fourth quarter of their past two games. Miami is averaging 214.7 yards per game on the ground this season -- its highest total going back to 1960. In fact, Miami has averaged more than 200 yards rushing just twice in that time span. Johnson leads the way with a league-high 6.7 yards per rush. Dallas Crawford runs hard, too, and he won the North Carolina game for the Canes. Do not overlook this offensive line, either. Miami only has one underclassman in its starting lineup and presents the best line the Seminoles have seen to date.
2. Stephen Morris is finally healthy. Morris is the healthiest he has been since the start of the season after playing through a lingering ankle injury in the past five games. That injury forced him to change his footwork and mechanics, and it did not allow him to take snaps under center as much as Miami wanted. The Canes are hoping a healthy Morris means fewer mistakes and better decisions. "Definitely need to be better on first-down efficiency, making the right decision on first down," Morris said. "Setting up an easy second and third down is huge for us, and when we get into our third down, our money downs, we have to stay on the field. I need to make better decisions, I need to see the field better, and especially in the red zone, converting touchdowns instead of field goals."
3. Improved pass defense. As was mentioned above, Miami is much better defensively this season than last. One of the biggest keys to slowing down Winston is not so much flustering him or blitzing him, because he does well under pressure. Rather, the Hurricanes need to take away the guys who make plays for him. In this instance, Miami must do an excellent job covering receivers Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, along with tight end Nick O'Leary. That means tackling well and not allow those guys to get behind them for a big play. Miami has forced 19 turnovers in 2013, second-highest in the ACC and better than Florida State. Of those, 12 are interceptions, which is tied for No. 12 in the nation.