- David M. Hale, College football
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It's the second top-10 matchup in three weeks for Florida State, and while the 22-point spread suggests it might not be that close of a contest, history suggests these rivalry games usually include a good bit of drama. In the 57 previous meetings between Florida State and Miami, just 35 total points separate the two sides. With that in mind, here are five areas to watch when the Seminoles and Hurricanes kick off tonight.
1. Florida State's defensive line: The last time the Seminoles played a true power-running team, Boston College jumped out to an early lead, ran for 200 yards in the game and scored 34 points (or roughly 40 percent of the points FSU has allowed all season). That performance gives Miami some hope, but the Seminoles' line has improved since then. Christian Jones is at defensive end full time, Mario Edwards Jr., who sat out against BC, is fully healthy, and the rest of the personnel are far more comfortable in Jeremy Pruitt's scheme. Timmy Jernigan said Miami's will be the best offensive line FSU has faced this year, though, and the Hurricanes will ask tailback Duke Johnson to carry a big chunk of the offensive load. If FSU can win the line of scrimmage on defense, it's going to be tough going for Miami.
2. Stephen Morris' mobility: It was just a month ago that Morris was considered one of the top NFL quarterback prospects in college football, and for good reason. He capped a strong 2012 season by averaging 10.3 yards per attempt with 11 TDs and no interceptions in his final four games. But Miami fans haven't seen the same Morris in recent weeks. An ankle injury has limited his mobility, and defenses have taken advantage. He has not moved well in the pocket, has been reluctant to run, and at times Morris hasn't delivered the ball with the same zip he used to. He insists the ankle feels as good as it has all year now, but FSU's aggressive defense will test that notion this week. If Morris can't avoid the blitz -- and the big hits -- Miami will be in trouble. So far this year, Morris has accounted for nine first-half TDs and just three turnovers, but as he -- and the O line -- wear down in games, he has struggled, with just one second-half TD to go with five turnovers.
3. Takeaways set the tone: Florida State leads the ACC in turnover margin. Miami is fourth. Both teams have used takeaways to secure big wins this year, too. Each of FSU's last two opponents turned over the ball on their first drive, and the Seminoles dominated from there. Miami's big win over Florida in September was predicated on the five takeaways the defense mustered. But in a battle of playmaking defenses, it might be the Florida State offense that proves to be the difference. FSU has coughed up the football only six times all year, less than half Miami's total (13) and the second fewest overall in the country.
4. Eliminate the clutter: Jimbo Fisher's mantra looms larger every week for Florida State, which is enjoying national attention after a 7-0 start. Normally, getting up for Miami -- particularly a No. 7-ranked Miami team -- wouldn't be tough, but it has been a full month of praise for the Seminoles, and the sizable point spread only underscores what a mismatch the general public thinks this week's game might be. So far, Fisher's crew has done a good job of shrugging off the attention and hype and keeping each game in perspective. But as the platitudes and point spreads get bigger, focusing on the details only becomes tougher.
5. Win on special teams: This goes without saying in a Miami-Florida State game, but special teams can make a big difference. And while it's entirely possible this game won't come down to another field goal try, it's also likely that if Miami is going to have a chance, it's because FSU allowed a big play or two on special teams. FSU ranks 12th in the conference in punting and 14th in punt coverage, which could open the door for the Hurricanes. Of course, Miami will need to slow Jameis Winston enough to force a few punts, and that hasn't happened often this season.
It's the second top-10 matchup in three weeks for Florida State, and while the 22-point spread suggests it might not be that close of a contest, history suggests these rivalry games usually include a good bit of drama.