Miami Florida State Preview

By: Shasky Clarke

#7 Miami (FL) (7-0, 3-0 ACC) at #3 Florida State (7-0, 3-0 ACC)

Players to watch

Quarterback Jameis Winston 6’4” 228, Freshman (RS)

Winston is clearly ahead of where anyone could have hoped for entering this season. He is polished. He has world class arm talent with top arm strength, elite accuracy to all levels and a delivery coated with ease. He is super poised in the pocket against pressure, takes his punishment, but gets the ball out quickly and accurately in the face of it. If that’s not enough, he has NFL size and the strength to break tackles in the pocket and extend plays with good athleticism. Fans are still waiting for the down game, but it appears at least possible that he may be the best quarterback the game has seen.

Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner 5’8” 195, Senior

The undersized Joyner is a do-it-all star with massive hitting ability and instinctive ball-hawking skills. He will play inside in nickel situations and fills a role that is part cornerback, part safety and part linebacker. An excellent athlete, he is also a dangerous return man.

When Miami has the ball:

The Hurricanes will have to put some points on the board in order to keep up with a Seminoles team that has scored almost 53 points per game. And in the match up of the day, Miami’s top ten offense goes up against Florida State’s top five defense.

FSU has been one of the top two or three pass defenses in the country, displaying top notch athleticism at all three levels of the defense. Upfront, the group is led by junior defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, an explosive penetrator and elite athlete for the position. At linebacker, seniors Christian Jones and Telvin Smith bring aggression and defensive back-like athleticism. And in the secondary joining nickel cornerback Lamarcus Joyner are super talented sophomore cornerback Ronald Darby, senior instinctive playmaking safety Terrence Brooks and five-star true freshman safety Jalen Ramsey.

The unit, however, is good but not always great against the run and that is where the Hurricanes can be successful. Inside on the defensive line, FSU is not always stout, particularly when defensive tackles Demonte McAllister and Nile Lawrence-Stample rotate into the game. The 6’2” 290-pound McAllister and 6’1” 305-pound Lawrence-Stample struggled mightily against Boston College’s power run game when BC running back Andre Williams ran for 149 yards. And while all conference tackle Timmy Jernigan has excellent strength, he also lacks top overall bulk and can be moved off the ball by double teams.

Miami should take advantage of the times when FSU places seven or less defenders in the box. But even in base situations, the Seminoles will play a stand-up edge outside linebacker, leaving only two linebackers on the second level. They can be vulnerable to losing contain on outside runs and Miami can find some numbers advantages in the ground game. With a big and talented offensive line and star running back Duke Johnson, Miami should find some room on the ground.

If Miami can get FSU to bring extra defenders into the box, it could be possible to attack FSU downfield. In situations when FSU plays one single high safety, the defense has given up some big plays on designed misdirection pass plays where offenses show action one way and pass catchers sneak out and don’t get picked up as they run routes to the other side.

The Seminoles lack elite edge rushers. Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner leads the team with three sacks. Further, Stephen Morris has the benefit of having several weapons at receiver capable of making big plays in one-on-one situations. In what should be an excellent test, FSU will face a Miami offense the likes of which it hasn’t faced so far this season. Miami just can’t afford to beat itself with turnovers.

When Florida State has the ball:

Miami’s defense has acquitted itself well so far in 2013, getting good pressure and forcing turnovers. Unfortunately, ahead of them in Tallahassee is a supreme offense that features possibly the best quarterback and passing game in the country.

Florida State has one of the most multiple offenses in the country, utilizing numerous formations and personnel packages over the course of games. And not only is Jameis Winston playing at an unbelievable level, but the Seminoles have three wide receivers capable of consistently making big plays.

Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw may not have the best size, but they are blessed with an excellent combination of game-breaking speed, quickness and tight route running from both the outside and slot positions. 6’5” 240 pound sophomore Kelvin Benjamin has become more polished and is a terrifying threat down the field and in jump ball situations. At tight end, Miami will have to match up with Nick O’Leary, a sure-handed weapon who already has six touchdowns on the year.

FSU also possesses one of the best rushing attacks, spearheaded by one of the most dynamic backfields in college football. Juniors Devonta Freeman (5’8” 203) and James Wilder Jr. (6’2” 230) may differ in physical build, but they share a similar ability to challenge opponents’ open field tackling. Freeman regularly runs through tackles, utilizing his balance, lower body strength, explosiveness and a naturally low center of gravity. The versatile James Wilder is a freak of nature, translating his immense weight room strength and proportions into possibly the most violent running style in the nation.

Nonetheless, Florida State’s weakness is pass protection. Upfront, junior left tackle Cameron Erving and junior right guard Tre Jackson, in particular, have shown significant liability versus speed and quickness this year. Even senior center Bryan Stork has shown inconsistency in that area. The offensive line has struggled at times with blitz pick-up and, though Winston has handled it with Heisman skill, it only makes life more difficult.

FSU will give up pressures. To have some success defensively, Miami should play tight man coverage, prevent big plays by playing two deep safeties and tackling well in the open field, and challenge FSU’s offense with a well-timed variety of blitzes. Winston has feasted on three deep and single high coverage looks downfield. But for Miami to play this way will require them to successfully contain FSU’s running game with their front six and seven.

X Factor: Special Teams

Florida State has shown flashes of being vulnerable to kick and punt returns. Meanwhile, Miami sports some of the most dynamic open field runners in the nation. Dazzling running back Duke Johnson is as good as it gets as a kick returner. And freshman receiver Stacey Coley is a menace in space with top short area quickness.

Further, senior punter Pat O’Donnell is one of the best punters in football, averaging almost 46 yards per punt. In a game where Florida State has a strong advantage on offense, Miami could use a boost from its special teams.