Florida State Seminoles: 2013-FSU-Miami

Freeman sparks emotional win for FSU

November, 3, 2013

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Devonta Freeman's voice is usually quiet, subdued. But when he speaks, his teammates listen.

Freeman provided a voiceover for a video Florida State watched in advance of its showdown Saturday against No. 7 Miami. He told his teammates he loved them, that he’d fight for them, that he’d carry them.

The message resonated with quarterback Jameis Winston, who pulled Freeman aside before the game to exchange an emotional embrace.

“From then,” Winston said, “I knew he was ready.”

Winston struggled early, throwing two first-half interceptions, but just as he’d suspected, Freeman picked up the slack. Freeman, a Miami native, finished with 176 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, carrying the load in Florida State’s 41-14 win against the Hurricanes.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman, Giorgio Newberry, Bryan Stork
AP Photo/Steve CannonFlorida State running back Devonta Freeman (8) celebrates with tight end Giorgio Newberry (4) and offensive linesman Bryan Stork (52) after scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
It’s the second win over a top-10 team in the past three weeks for No. 3 Florida State. The two victories have come by a combined score of 92-28, but they played out in far different fashion.

Against Clemson on Oct. 19, Winston was the star, throwing for 444 yards and accounting for four touchdowns. Against Miami, however, Winston stumbled early, misfiring on a handful of first-half throws, including two deep balls down the middle that the Hurricanes picked off, then turned into points.

“I was very high emotionally and sometimes you can’t let the emotions affect the way you play,” said Winston, who admitted he was eager to complete the deep ball rather than settling for shorter routes in the early going. “I was in the game emotionally and mentally, but the emotions took over the mental part of it.”

But if the emotions rattled Winston, they fueled Freeman.

The junior tailback grew up in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods, but he wasn’t heavily recruited by the Hurricanes until late in his senior season of high school. He never wavered in his commitment to Florida State, but he’s always held a grudge.

“Every time I get a chance,” Freeman said, “I want to destroy them.”

Freeman did plenty of damage Saturday.

His 5-yard touchdown run capped Florida State’s first drive. His 48-yard reception -- a dump-off pass followed by a long run -- provided the game’s biggest play, swinging momentum back in Florida State’s direction after Miami held tough early. But it was his powerful, punishing runs throughout the game that drained time off the clock and set the standard for how Florida State enforced its will against the overmatched Hurricanes.

“I wanted to let people know we’re hard-nosed,” Freeman said. “We’re coming.”

Freeman scored again late in the third quarter, effectively ending any comeback hopes for Miami. His 29 touches were a career high, and his punishing hits on Miami defenders provided a spark for his teammates.

"He's one of those guys, he's got the heart of a lion," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "We feed off him."

After each big run or physical hit, Freeman celebrated. He flashed the Miami “U” with his hands, signaled a “305” as a nod to Miami’s area code.

For Freeman, each play was personal, a message he wanted to send.

In three career games against the Hurricanes, Freeman has 343 total yards and five touchdowns.

“This game, I had more of a chip on my shoulder,” Freeman said. “Just to let everybody know, I’m from Miami -- including the kids in my neighborhood, to show them you don’t have to be in Miami to do something special. You can go anywhere and do something special and still rep your hometown. That’s kind of what it was.”

Freeman kept Florida State chugging along early, but Winston responded late.

At halftime, Winston promised his teammates he wouldn’t turn the ball over again. In the second half, he threw just two incompletions.

The turning point, however, may have been an on-field skirmish between FSU tackle Bobby Hart and Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo. Clinging to a seven-point lead midway through the third quarter, Winston completed a pass to Kenny Shaw for 26 yards to the Miami 5. On the play, FSU tackle Cameron Erving blocked Chickillo to the ground. Hart then pounced on Chickillo, who ended up underneath the Florida State lineman. Chickillo grabbed Hart’s face mask without letting go, and as officials tossed flags, the two players argued. Eventually both teams were posturing on the field before coaches intervened.

Before Florida State lined up for its next play, Winston shouted at each of his teammates, pounding his fists in the air and slapping hands with his linemen.

“That’s me telling the guys, 'It’s on,'” Winston said. “We’re not taking no prisoners. We don’t care about those guys anymore. At first, we respected them because they’re a great team with great players. But after that skirmish, it was over. All that nice stuff, all the game day and that stuff of them being compared to us, it was over. We know we had one goal, and that was to beat them bad.”

Winston proved his point. What began as a close game ended as a 27-point victory. Miami’s only points came off turnovers, and Florida State dominated at virtually every level, nearly doubling the Hurricanes’ total yardage.

It was exactly what Freeman had predicted before the game. It was, Freeman said, a message delivered.

“I told them, [the Hurricanes] aren’t like us,” Freeman said. “We’re different. We grind different.”

#CampusConnection: Canes-Noles Live

November, 2, 2013
For the first time in nearly a decade, Miami and Florida State meet as top-10 teams. The rivalry matters again -- in both the BCS and Heisman races -- and we’ll be watching intently Saturday night.

Head on over to Campus Connection at 8 p.m. ET and follow the game along with five of our reporters, including Mark Schlabach, Andrea Adelson and David Hale on site at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Video: Countdown to Kickoff

November, 2, 2013

"College GameDay" remembers the spirit drum that Florida State beat for 72 straight hours leading up to their matchup with Miami 20 years ago.

Five things: FSU vs. Miami

November, 2, 2013
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.
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.


[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Lane Turner/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesJameis Winston has to be on his game against a Miami pass defense that has been outstanding this season.
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.


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.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Bobby Bowden was peppered with questions about the old days when he made his long-awaited return to Doak Campbell Stadium last week, and he was happy to indulge. But when asked for any advice he might pass along to Florida State's current coach, Bowden was reticent.

It's Jimbo Fisher's team now, Bowden said, and the new coach knows what he's doing. If pressed though, there were some words of wisdom Bowden said he might impart in advance of this week's meeting with Miami.

"I'd say, Jimbo, have a talk with your kicker, and tell him where that goalpost is," Bowden joked. "Tell him to stay away from that bar on the right."

That right goalpost, the bane of Bowden's coaching career.

[+] EnlargeRoberto Aguayo
Fred Kfoury III/Icon SMIRedshirt freshman Roberto Aguayo hasn't missed a kick in his young career ... but this is Miami week.
The mythology of missed kicks in this series has been told again and again -- each named for the direction they wandered and punctuated with a Roman numeral. It's Florida State's version of horror movie sequels, the villain that won't die.

Fans have been happy to remind Roberto Aguayo of the stories this week, too, but honestly, he didn't need the history lesson. The first three kicks predated his birth, of course, but he's well aware of what happened. The last wide right, in 2004, still stings.

Aguayo was at a friend's house. The rest of the crowd was comprised of Miami fans, Aguayo and his brother the lone Seminoles supporters. Xavier Beitia missed a potential game-winner, Florida State fell in devastating fashion, and Aguayo left the house in tears.

"It broke my heart," Aguayo said.

This week, he has done his best to ignore that lingering memory, along with the slew of reminders from fans still wounded from all the misses that came before. Misses, after all, aren't really part of Aguayo's vocabulary.

Through seven games, the redshirt freshman hasn't exactly been tested. He has lined up for just 10 field goals, none longer than 45 yards. He has worn out his leg booting extra points, 48 of them in all. It has been a bit frustrating, he said, because Jameis Winston and the offense simply haven't provided him with many chances for big kicks.

"I'll be getting ready, all warmed up kicking them into the net," Aguayo said. "Then he gets the first down, and I go back and sit down."

Still, Aguayo's debut season hasn't been without accolades. So far, he has lined up for 58 kicks in his career, and he has made every one of them.

Turns out, that's a school record for consecutive kicks made, though Aguayo wasn't exactly celebrating his place in history. He wasn't aware of the record at all until a fan approached him after last week's game with the news.

"I was like, 'OK, that's pretty cool,' " Aguayo said.

But for Aguayo, that record actually might be the most appropriate marker of his success. He is not interested in the pressure of a big moment or the length of a booming kick. His goal, he said, is to treat each kick the same -- whether it's one of those 48 PATs or a potential game-winner at the end of another close game against an in-state rival.

Yes, Aguayo knows the history. It's Miami week, which means the kicker will be a talking point for everyone from casual fans to a legendary former coach. But for Aguayo, the key to his success is that it's just another day at work.

"Every kick's a game-winning kick," he said. "That's how you've got to think about it. So when you get into that position, you've already kicked it a million times."

Video: ACC Game of the Week

October, 31, 2013

David Hale previews the battle between No. 7 Miami and No. 3 Florida State.

Winston gets first taste of FSU-Miami

October, 31, 2013

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jameis Winston dispensed with the formality of NC State in less than 15 minutes of action, exploding for 35 points in the first quarter before he and the rest of the offense took seats on the bench for the entirety of the second half last week.

After the game, there was little point in dissecting the carnage. Instead, focus quickly shifted to the next opponent, the arch nemesis from down south, the next installment of a rivalry against Miami in which Winston, Florida State’s most recognizable star, wasn't entirely well-versed.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Steve CannonJameis Winston has been mostly all smiles in big games this season.
“What is it, wide left or something?” Winston said. “Wide right?”

Actually, it’s both. But given his Heisman-caliber start to the season, Winston can be forgiven for being a bit rusty on the details.

He’s an Alabama native, after all, but the Florida State quarterback now understands the nature of this week’s game. Winston has been taught the significance from his teammates, the ones who grew up in south Florida, the ones who've heard the phrase “wide right” from taunting neighbors for years.

There’s a lot on the line, and Winston’s fully appreciative of that.

“You come to Florida State to play in the Miami and Florida games and national championships,” Winston said. “We’re playing against the enemy right now.”

The bulk of what Winston knows about the history of the rivalry comes from a documentary he’d watched on Miami, when Florida State was pegged by Hurricanes players as the “little brothers” eager to steal Miami’s spotlight.

There hadn't been much spotlight to steal during the past decade, though. This is the first time the two teams have faced off with both ranked in the top 10 since 2004 — when Winston was just 10 years old. But with two undefeated seasons and National Championship implications on the line, there’s ample significance for this year’s showdown.

“They said how Florida State stole the swag from Miami,” Winston said of the rivalry’s history. “That’s going to be a big thing, with us trying to bring the swag back and Miami trying to get the swag back. It’s going to be a big thing.”

Through seven games this season, Winston’s had plenty of swag. He’s among the nation’s leaders in virtually every passing category, and he’s a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. In each of his first five ACC games, he’s thrown for at least 292 yards and three touchdowns. In his first matchup against a top-10 opponent, two weeks ago in Clemson, he turned in perhaps the best performance of his young career, throwing for 444 yards and accounting for four touchdowns.

But Miami presents a new challenge, and Winston knows the task this week will be tougher because of the names on the front of the uniforms as much as the names on the back.

“When you have a great team, by it being a rivalry, those great players are going to turn into amazing players,” Winston said. “It’s going to be a battle. We are expecting it to be a good game. There is a lot of pride on this game just because of what they have to lose and what we have to lose.”

For the season, Miami ranks 10th nationally in opposing quarterback rating. The Hurricanes have allowed just six passing touchdowns all year, third-fewest in the country. The 6.2 yards per attempt Miami has allowed is the best of any opponent Winston has faced to date.

Of course, Clemson’s defense looked sharp before facing Florida State, too. Maryland was off to an undefeated start, but Winston disposed of the Terrapins’ defense with minimal effort. NC State had held up well against the pass before Winston hung 35 on the Wolfpack in the first quarter a week ago.

There’s plenty of history to this rivalry, but Winston isn’t overly interested in the specifics. He has another chapter of the rivalry to write this week, and he’s eager to add those bitter rivals from the south to his growing list of vanquished adversaries.

“It’s a big rivalry but it’s going to be like we are in the backyard,” Winston said. “It’s like a brotherly game, and we want to beat our brother.”

What to watch in the ACC: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
For the second time in three weeks, the ACC has the national stage with a top-10 matchup. Florida State and Miami will be the headlining act, but there’s plenty to watch across the conference in Week 10.

1. Winston in a rivalry: We’ve seen Jameis Winston embrace the big stage of his first spring game, his first regular-season game and his first top-five game. Now the Florida State quarterback gets introduced to his first true rivalry game when the Seminoles host No. 7 Miami. Winston has thrown for at least 290 yards and three touchdowns in all five of his ACC matchups, and another big performance against a longtime rival on a national stage could go a long way toward winning over Heisman Trophy voters.

2. Return of the rivalry: There’s plenty more to watch in this rivalry game than just Winston, of course. It’s the first time in nine years that FSU and Miami are both ranked in the top 10 at the time of their meeting, giving the ACC a matchup it dreamed about when the Hurricanes first joined the league. For FSU, it’s a chance at another marquee victory as the Seminoles try to sway voters in the razor-thin BCS standings. For Miami, it’s a chance at a signature victory in the Al Golden era and an opportunity to go 4-0 against in-state opponents.

3. Johnson versus FSU defense: Perhaps the most intriguing matchup in Saturday’s top-10 showdown is Miami’s Duke Johnson going against the stout Florida State defensive front. Johnson was the hero in last Saturday's rally over Wake Forest, carrying a career-high 30 times and scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns. FSU’s defense has improved dramatically in the past month, particularly up front. Still, the Seminoles' success came largely against spread offenses. Johnson and Miami bring more of a power attack. Boston College gained 200 yards on the ground and scored 34 points against the Seminoles in September with its power-based approach.

[+] EnlargeBryn Renner
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesBryn Renner and North Carolina have shown signs of life heading into their matchup against in-state rival NC State.
4. That other rivalry: Well outside the spotlight of FSU and Miami’s top-10 matchup of in-state rivals is North Carolina and NC State. The two programs are a combined 1-7 in ACC play this year, serving as two of the conference’s bigger disappointments. But for two schools separated by only 25 miles, there’s always a lot at stake. UNC finally showed signs of life in last Saturday's victory over BC, while NC State continued to fight even after FSU jumped out to a big lead. Neither program will be taking this week's showdown lightly.

5. Doubting Thomas: It’s been a rocky two years in Blacksburg for Logan Thomas, but last week’s disaster against Duke might have been a low point. Virginia Tech dominated the game by virtually any statistical measure, but the Blue Devils still emerged with a 13-10 victory, at least in part due to another shaky performance from Thomas, who threw four interceptions, including a game-clincher late in the fourth quarter. Thomas will look to rebound this week against a Boston College pass defense that ranks last in the ACC in QB rating allowed.

6. Williams versus Hokies: The conference’s leading rusher faces off against the ACC’s best rushing defense as both sides look to remedy ugly Week 9 losses. Virginia Tech is allowing just 2.6 yards per carry and has given up just five rushing touchdowns. Andre Williams scored five times in one game against Army, and he’s one of just six players nationally to have cracked the 1,000-yard mark.

7. Battle for a bowl: Wake Forest and Syracuse face off at the Carrier Dome in a game that could push the winner toward bowl eligibility and leave the loser with long-shot odds at a postseason berth. With a loss, Wake would need to win two of its final three games (FSU, Duke, Vanderbilt). Syracuse would need three of its last four (Maryland, FSU, Pitt, BC). The Deacons are playing better football at the moment, but both teams have much to lose.

8. Clemson’s playmakers: After a rocky performance against Florida State, Clemson’s big three responded with monster performances in last Saturday's victory over Maryland. Tajh Boyd collected his 15th career 300-yard game, Sammy Watkins reeled in 14 passes for 163 yards and Roderick McDowell rushed 30 times for 161 yards and two TDs. The trio gets a crack at Virginia this week. The Cavaliers have allowed at least 468 yards of offense to five of their past six FBS opponents.

9. Pitt versus the option: If nothing else, the beleaguered Panthers will at least be ready for what’s in store when they travel to Georgia Tech this week, having just faced Navy, which runs a similar option offense. But that Navy game didn’t go too well -- Pitt allowed 220 rushing yards in a 24-21 loss -- and Georgia Tech appears to have righted the ship after a rocky stretch. Tech has won its past two games by a combined 91-25, racking up 788 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs in the process.

Planning for success: Florida State

October, 31, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A week ago, Miami needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to preserve its undefeated record. It took the Hurricanes 18 plays to score those two touchdowns, and their talented tailback Duke Johnson had the ball in his hands for 13 of them.

In all, Johnson carried a career-high 30 times for 168 yards, but his workhorse fourth quarter underscored what kind of football Miami wants to play.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsDuke Johnson and the Miami offense like to be physical and mix it up, something that Florida State's defense is wary of.
“Duke’s one of those energetic players, very emotional,” Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said. “We counted on him and the offensive line did a great job of opening up the holes.”

It’s a recipe for a power running game, for old-fashioned smash-mouth football. And that’s exactly what Florida State expects to see when the two teams face off in Tallahassee on Saturday.

“It’s smash-mouth football,” cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. “You have to embrace it because if you don’t, you’re going to get smashed.”

Joyner and the rest of the Florida State defense understand the predicament.

While the Seminoles have dominated their past three games -- allowing just seven points total to Maryland, Clemson and NC State while the first-team defense was on the field -- a tough lesson on smashmouth football came just one month ago.

Boston College was the last power-running offense Florida State faced, and the Eagles manhandled FSU’s defensive front to the tune of 200 rushing yards. Jameis Winston and the offense did more than enough to overcome the setback, but it was still a wake-up call for Joyner’s crew.

“When you have mistakes you learn from them, you own them and you don’t repeat them,” Joyner said. “Just remembering the disaster we had [against Boston College], we just have to own those mistakes and learn from them.“

Indeed, Florida State defenders say they’ve grown in the month since the shaky outing in Chestnut Hill, Mass. They’ve grasped the finer points of new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s defense, and a handful of personnel tweaks should improve the overall performance. Christian Jones has moved full-time from linebacker to defensive end, while Mario Edwards Jr., who missed the BC game with a hand injury, is fully healthy and making an impact now.

That should make for an interesting battle in the trenches. Johnson, who checks in at 196 pounds, is the ACC’s best runner between the tackles, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. His size doesn’t suggest such a punishing approach, but he runs with the fury of a much bigger back.

“He’s patient, and when he hits holes, he hits them full speed,” FSU defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. “And he doesn’t go down on first contact.”

Still, this should be a big test for Johnson, too. Florida State’s defense allows just 3.3 yards per rush between the tackles, the second-best mark in the conference. Johnson mustered just 27 yards on nine carries in last year’s game, and in four career games against ranked foes, he’s averaged just 2.8 yards per carry with one touchdown.

For Miami, it’s imperative the passing game can take some of the pressure off Johnson, but a nagging ankle injury for Morris could make things tough. His mobility in and out of the pocket has appeared compromised at times, and that could open the door for an aggressive FSU attack.

“We’re going to try to affect the quarterback no matter what, that’s one of our main goals on defense whether he can move, he can’t move,” Jimbo Fisher said. “You’ve got to affect the quarterback.”

Of course, whether it’s pestering Morris or smothering Johnson, the biggest obstacle for Florida State’s defenders might be the big guys in their way.

“A lot of that [success] comes from their offensive line,” Jernigan said. “I think they’re one of the best in the country, and I think it’s going to be a real good test for us up front.”

The routine task of breaking down game film of an opponent was “different” this week for Miami offensive coordinator James Coley.

As Coley studied No. 3-ranked Florida State’s defense in preparation for what is arguably the biggest game on the Hurricanes’ schedule, Coley caught himself thinking about the days he recruited so many of those players as an assistant on the Seminoles’ staff.

“It’s different from when you watch other teams,” said Coley, a 1997 graduate of Florida State. “You know the history behind every player. Some of the guys as seniors, you remember them as freshmen, or guys that I recruited, like Lamarcus Joyner, you watch him and at the same time there’s a thought process of, ‘OK, what does he do well?’ and then in the back of my mind it goes back to, ‘Oh, man, I remember recruiting this kid.’ There’s a pride factor. I’m happy for them.”

(He’d also like to win on Saturday -- nothing personal.)

With the exception of the relationships he built with his former players, Coley said there hasn’t been any time this week to get emotional about returning to his alma mater, where he coached for five years before being hired by Al Golden as the rival Canes’ offensive coordinator. Two of the biggest selling points in leaving Florida State were the opportunity to call plays, which he didn’t do for the Noles in three seasons as the offensive coordinator, and returning to his hometown of Miami, where he grew up near the Orange Bowl cheering for the Canes.

“I think it’s all business,” Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said. “When you get to this point, you understand coaching at this level is business. Coach Coley saw a great opportunity to come down here, call his plays and do everything he wanted to do as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and he took it. Coach Golden did a great job of finding him.”

James Coley
Getty ImagesJames Coley knows all about the Miami-FSU rivalry, but will be seeing it for the first time from the Hurricanes' vantage point Saturday.
Given Coley’s ties to both Florida State and Miami, he has a unique perspective of the storied rivalry. Just a year ago, he was sitting in staff meetings with FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. He spent two years on Bobby Bowden’s staff. Yet Coley said there’s never been a moment this week where he’s shared any insider trading secrets with other assistants -- because he doesn’t have any. Florida State has since replaced six assistants on staff, including Coley.

“Everybody thinks Coley is giving out the goods,” he said with a laugh. “You know the players, but they’re not running the same stuff, so it’s not the same deal.

“If they still had Mark Stoops, and Eddie Gran was on special teams, and stuff like that, I would’ve had a lot of input,” Coley said. “But they have a brand-new defensive staff. I’m sitting there and I’m watching the defense, and I’m trying to figure out, ‘OK, what are they trying to do with this?’ It’s different from what I saw last year being in the program. And the offense, they’re not running the same stuff they ran last year. They’ve got a different quarterback. With a different quarterback there’s always a different dynamic.”

This will be Coley's first trip to Tallahassee since he moved his family to his hometown in March. He and Fisher have only exchanged a text message since Coley left, but the two of them remain friends.

“Coley's done a great job,” Fisher said. “I've always said Coley's a great offensive mind. He's a very good coach, a great recruiter, and he's got a great future in this business."

So far, Miami’s offensive numbers have only improved under Coley’s watch. The Canes have increased their averages in scoring offense, rushing offense, passing offense and total offense from a year ago. The most dramatic increase was in rushing offense, where Miami improved from 144.75 yards per game to 214.7 this year. The Canes have rushed for over 200 yards in all but two games this year -- Florida and South Florida. Miami has also boosted its scoring average from 31.42 points to 39.6.

Miami coach Al Golden said both of his coordinators have full autonomy of the play-calling.

“I always want my coordinators to feel the game, and James does a great job of really preparing, especially in the final 48 [hours] of just seeing the game, being able to conduct the game, being able to set up what he wants to set up -- run to pass or pass to run,” Golden said. “I don’t like to disrupt that. What I like to do is have a lot of input early in the week, especially from a defensive standpoint, trying to share with the offensive staff what the team’s philosophy is and what they’re trying to do to us.”

Golden can relate to Coley’s situation this week. He left a job as linebackers coach at his alma mater, Penn State, to become defensive coordinator at Virginia, and had to coach against the Nittany Lions.

“I did the same thing,” Golden said. “James is operating with class. He’s just worried about coaching the quarterbacks and orchestrating the offense. He’s not talking about anything else, not worried about anything else. I’m sure there’s a lot of young people up there he made a difference in their lives, he gave them their all. I’m sure they were disappointed when he left, but that’s the sign of a good coach.”

Coley has already left Tallahassee once. This time, when Coley heads back south, he’s hoping to leave with a win.

Are Florida State and Miami back?

October, 30, 2013

Back /bak/, adv. Expressing a return to an earlier or normal condition.

Miami and Florida State have returned to the Top 10, a home from a bygone era that continues to influence both programs still today.

Because the natural question before us headed into their showdown Saturday is one that has trailed both programs for close to 10 years now:

[+] EnlargeJacobbi McDaniel
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIFlorida State has enjoyed more recent success, and has won three straight games over Miami, but the games have not carried the weight they once did.
Are the Hurricanes and Seminoles back?

Furthermore, what does it even mean to be back?

College football has waited on their return to prominence after a dominating 20-year stretch that put both programs on the national map. Twelve times between 1987 and 2004, Miami and Florida State met as Top 10 teams -- including a whopping seven consecutive meetings. National championship implications became the norm, not the exception. The programs combined to win six national titles in that time span and played for six others.

Both set standards that today seem unsustainable. College football has changed since Miami and Florida State rose in the mid-1980s. Their recruiting territory is no longer truly theirs; neither is their philosophy to win with athletes and speed. Everybody else has caught up to the once-trailblazing programs.

Since 2004, Miami and Florida State have combined to play in two BCS games. Miami has won zero conference titles. Florida State has won two. Yet every year, thanks to the weight of history, the inevitable question has been asked of one program. Sometimes both.

Are you back yet?

So seeing both unbeaten this late in the season, ranked in the Top 10, with national title implications again on the line has revived the irresistible notion that both are, indeed, back. But neither side believes as much. Not when their recent history speaks more to unmet expectations than championship rings.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t say we’re back because we’re not the past,” Miami tight end Clive Walford said. “I have a lot of respect for what happened in the past, but we’re trying to build our own new legacy. We’re a whole new team, with a different mindset. And we’re just trying to win every game, that’s all.”

To be sure, the Miami of today is a distant cousin to the Miami of yesteryear. They have the same name, but they bear little resemblance. What Walford says is true. This Miami team is not the past. There are no larger than life personalities. There are no household names. There are no All-Americans. There are no swaggering, trash-talking, in-your-face, we-don’t-care-what-you-think players roaming that sideline.

All those qualities that made the U one of the most despised teams outside South Florida? This team embodies none of them. Not one quote has made a bulletin board in Tallahassee. When given the opportunity to talk some smack, Miami players have politely declined and given clichéd quotes about this being just another game. Do the Canes feel disrespected knowing they are 21-point underdogs? This is as close to an inflammatory quote as you will get.

“It doesn’t really matter about whether someone respects us or not,” Miami running back Duke Johnson said. “We don’t care. We’re just here to play football and do it the way we’re being taught to.”

All of this is by design, the way Miami coach Al Golden wants it. He has his players believing in “the process,” so much so that a week generally filled with friendly back-and-forth has been doused with cold water.

In this way, Miami might never be back. But it does not have to embody an old persona to win championships. That is the key, of course. Miami has not won championships recently. Then, and only then, can Miami begin taking steps on the road back.

Quarterback Stephen Morris is not toeing a line when he says, “When you bring up the term back, our biggest thing is let’s talk about that at the end of the season.”

Florida State is closer than Miami is given what it has done over the last two seasons. The Noles won the ACC last season and went to a BCS game. They are No. 3 and more closely resemble the Florida State teams of the past -- with a dynamic quarterback in the Heisman race and NFL talent up and down its roster. But there remain skeptics who are not quite sold. Not until they see the Noles put a complete season together, and then stack them on top one by one, the way they used to.

"Is Florida State back on a national stage? Right now we are," Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. "Like they were in the ‘90s and late ‘80s, I guess we’re doing the same things those guys were able to do. But as far as being back? What’s in the past is in the past. We just have the responsibility of carrying the respect, the tradition and the legacy around here.”

There is no question both teams are trying to forge their own identities, and their own legacies. Whether or not their rise back up continues, the past can never truly be in the past for Miami or Florida State.

Florida State reporter David Hale contributed to this report.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Devonta Freeman finished last year’s Miami game with his teammate’s initials scrawled on his wrist tape.

Chris Thompson had been Florida State’s most explosive offensive player before blowing out his knee on a 32-yard reception early in the second quarter. At halftime, the remaining Seminoles running backs decided to dedicate the rest of the game to their fallen teammate.

It was a fitting tribute. Freeman carried 10 times in the game for 70 yards. No carries went for a loss and two finished in the end zone. A 10-3 Miami lead at the time of Thompson’s injury turned into a 33-20 Florida State win, with the Seminoles rushing for 218 yards.

But Freeman didn’t need the extra motivation. It was Miami. It was home. It’s the game he’d been waiting for.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesDevonta Freeman is emerging as a leader for Florida State, and as a player from Miami, this week is extra special.
“I’ve always got a chip on my shoulder, but it's an even bigger chip on my shoulder knowing that more people from Miami are going to be watching,” Freeman said. “It’s always going to be that edge about it. This is Miami.”

Thompson’s injury was a gut punch a year ago. He was a feel-good story after working his back from a broken bone in his back that cost him the bulk of the 2011 season. He was on pace to cruise past the 1,000-yard mark, something no FSU runner had done in 16 years. He was the hard-working heartbeat of the Seminoles' ground game, and his loss seemed enormous.

A year later, a familiar story is being told, but it hasn't earned the same spotlight. Freeman lacks Thompson’s injury-riddled back story, but the path he’s traveled was every bit as challenging. He’s now on pace to finally end that 1,000-yard curse, yet his offensive prowess is widely overshadowed by his nationally renowned teammate, Jameis Winston. And Freeman is every bit the emotional leader that Thompson was; he just does the bulk of his work away from the cameras and microphones, with a quiet confidence more befitting his reserved personality.

“His heart is about as genuine as the day is long,” Jimbo Fisher said. “He’ll do whatever you ask him. Whatever you want him to do and however you want him to do it, he says, ‘Yes sir,’ and goes 100 miles per hour.”

Freeman’s numbers tell part of the story. He’s rushed for 580 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that figure to lead the team for the third consecutive season. He’s used his speed to avoid defenders, but still has picked up nearly 200 yards after contact. He has scored on short runs and long runs, has been exceptional outside the tackles and between them and has caught passes in key situations. He said the plays he’s most proud of are the ones when the ball isn’t in his hands.

He’s been Florida State’s ultimate offensive Renaissance man, and yet so often, Freeman still managed to fly beneath the radar.

“He’s not as fast as me, not as big as James [Wilder Jr.],” Karlos Williams said. “But I believe he’s the best of the three because of the way he carries himself.”

The truth is, Freeman isn’t much interested in the spotlight. He’s in the weight room before most of his teammates and he’ll stay on the practice field even after everyone else has gone. During position meetings, he snags a seat in the front row, peppering position coach Jay Graham with questions to ensure his teammates learn the answers. He’s the four-star recruit in a backfield of five-star talent, the quiet leader amid a group of social butterflies.

“Devonta can be a high-energy guy, but it’s never been that crazy, let’s get everything pumped up. He leads by example, by his energy on the field,” Williams said. “It comes from where he’s from, the high school he came from. He comes with an edge.”

But if Freeman is used to toiling in the shadows, this week provides the lone exception. Miami is home, and the Hurricanes’ roster is filled with familiar names.

Freeman grew up in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods, and he understands what’s at stake in a rivalry. This year, in particular, with so much on the line, Freeman isn’t interested in going unnoticed. He’s out to deliver a blow.

“It's going to be back to that old Miami – two top-10 teams,” Freeman said. “It's going to be a dog fight.”

Florida State should be well prepared for the fight. Williams has been explosive since moving from safety to tailback. He’s scored seven times on just 44 rushes, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry. Wilder’s season has been marred by injuries, and he sat out last week with concussion symptoms. He returned to practice Monday, however, and should be ready for Miami.

But it’s Freeman who promises to carry the load.

Freeman doesn’t look for the spotlight and doesn’t want a bigger share of the carries. But each year against Miami, it’s a chance to see how he measures up, to see how far he’s come.

“I can feel myself getting better,” Freeman said. “I’m running way better than I was three, four weeks ago. That's a big improvement for me, but I know I've still got a lot of work to do.”

No. 3 Florida State is set to meet No. 7 Miami in yet another Top 10 matchup for the ACC. Miami is the final ranked team on the Seminoles' regular-season schedule, leaving us to wonder whether the Hurricanes actually are the Seminoles' toughest remaining opponent on the road to an unbeaten season.

Heather Dinich and Andrea Adelson debate that very question.

Heather says: Miami on Saturday

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaCoach Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles defeated Miami 33-20 last season.
It’s not going to get any more difficult than this.

No. 7 Miami is the biggest obstacle still standing in the way between the Seminoles and an undefeated season.

A road trip to Gainesville you say? Psh. Even the Canes beat the Gators -- and that was when Florida was good.

Everything Miami has -- or, more accurately, hasn’t -- done this season is a moot point. The key is that the Canes have done enough to set up a top 10 showdown between two undefeated rivals in front of an ESPN College GameDay crowd. Florida State is going to get Miami’s best shot -- and the Seminoles know it. Not that Florida won’t be aiming for that same bullseye, but Miami is simply a better team than Florida and has proven it in head-to-head competition.

The Gators have lost back-to-back games against ranked opponents. They’re 4-3 and dropped out of the rankings in Week 8 after losing to Missouri, 36-17. They’ve also lost to Florida State in two of the past three seasons. This is a Florida team that’s projected to go to the BBVA Compass Bowl right now -- a freefall from last season's Sugar Bowl appearance. Eight players have suffered season-ending injuries since summer camp, including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, and the team’s top defender, Dominique Easley. The Gators rank 12th or worse in the SEC in scoring, passing, rushing and total offense.

By comparison: Virginia Tech ranks No. 110 in the country in total offense -- right behind Florida.


Which is the toughest opponent left on the Florida State regular-season schedule?


Discuss (Total votes: 13,627)

Unlike the Gators, Miami can move the ball. The Canes are No. 19 in the country in scoring offense. They’ve got one of the most productive running backs in the country in Duke Johnson. And the defense is averaging 3.14 sacks per game -- a huge improvement from last year, when Miami averaged just 1.08 per game.

If Florida State can get past the Canes on Saturday, the most difficult stretch of the season will be behind the Noles. The ACC -- the entire country for that matter -- has been waiting for this rivalry to be relevant again.

Now it’s Florida’s turn to wait.

Andrea says: at Florida, Nov. 30

Florida does not appear to be a tough opponent today, not with all the injuries that have taken a preseason Top 10 team and turned it into an also ran.

But this will undoubtedly be the toughest test on the remaining Florida State schedule. First, this game will ultimately define the Florida season, especially if the Gators lose to Georgia this weekend. Should Florida State come into the regular-season finale against Florida unbeaten, then you can be assured the Gators would love nothing more than to wreck any shot Florida State has at winning a national championship. Laughable?

Rewind to 1997, when double-digit underdog Florida beat No. 1 Florida State 32-29, denying the Noles a shot at the title. It is true that 1997 Florida team is better than this 2013 Florida team but, nonetheless, upsets in rivalry games do happen. And they have happened in this series.

Secondly, and most importantly, Florida presents much tougher matchups for the Seminoles. The Gators rely on a power ground game, and the Florida State defense has been built to best defend a different type of offense. Linebacker Terrance Smith confirmed that point, saying after the NC State win, "I feel our defense is kind of made for the spread.” Against power run teams like Boston College and even Bethune-Cookman at times, the Florida State defense had its share of struggles. The Noles gave up 392 total rush yards in those two games.

There is no doubt Florida will have the best defense Florida State has faced this year, despite the injuries. That includes the all-important secondary, where Florida features future Freshman All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. He is tied for the SEC lead in passes defended and tied for second in the league with three interceptions.

Opposite him, Loucheiz Purifoy is one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Through the first seven games this year, opposing quarterbacks have completed just 47.5 percent of their passes on this Florida secondary -- good for No. 5 in the nation. Quarterbacks are averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt, which is No. 4 in the nation. Coach Will Muschamp is a defensive guru. Perhaps he can devise a plan to slow down Jameis Winston. That is what Florida did last year to Johnny Manziel (173 yards passing, one total touchdown).

Third, all the pressure in the world is going to be on Florida State to beat an overmatched rival. Everybody expects Florida to roll over. Florida State has done well handling pressure all season, but what it will face in this game is nothing compared to Death Valley. The finish line will be in site, against a bitter in-state rival that has won seven of the last nine games in the series. Simply put, no matter the record, Florida is not NC State. Nor is it Wake Forest or Syracuse.

Florida will be a tough out. The toughest out on the remaining slate.
Duke Johnson worked long hours in the summer heat to do what he did Saturday against Wake Forest.

With the game on the line, in the fourth quarter, Miami's sophomore running back was tough enough and strong enough to put the team on his back. Last season? That would not have been the case.

Indeed, more impressive than his two fourth-quarter touchdown runs was the way he ran in that final period. Johnson finished with a career-high 30 carries for 168 yards in the 24-21 win. In the fourth quarter alone, Johnson had 14 of the team’s 18 carries for 85 yards -- and saved the game.

Those two stats alone underscore just how different Johnson is in 2013, compared to the last time Miami and Florida State played, a year ago.

"This time last year I was banged up a lot, ankle injuries and toe injuries to where I couldn’t provide the best for the team," Johnson said on a teleconference with reporters. "Now, I’m bigger and stronger than I was last year so I’m able to take the pounding I couldn’t last year.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsThink Miami is anxious to get Duke Johnson back? The Canes went 2-4 without their star running back.
"It feels good knowing moments like I had last game was what I prepared for the whole offseason, what I trained so hard for and worked so hard for, situations like that."

Johnson and the Miami run game have been the most consistent part of the Canes' offense so far this season, and the past two games provide the perfect example. While quarterback Stephen Morris has struggled because of a lingering ankle injury, Miami has been able to turn to its run game in the pair of victories.

In a come-from-behind win over North Carolina, it was Dallas Crawford who shouldered the rushing load with Johnson out because of a head injury. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Miami has averaged 99.5 yards rushing in the fourth quarter in its past two games, compared to 117.5 yards in the first three quarters combined.

Having good running backs helps. As Morris said afterward, “Duke did Duke. He ran.” But having a veteran offensive line that has risen to the occasion at the end of games is a big help, too. Johnson said the linemen have asked the coaches to let them help win the game.

“I see a toughness,” Johnson said. “The guys are asking to run the ball, telling coaches to trust them, that they’re going to get us where we need to go, and telling me to run right behind them, that they’ve got me. There’s a lot of trust. They haven’t proven us wrong yet.”

That toughness is something Florida State will have to deal with right from the start. Miami ranks No. 2 in the ACC in rushing, just a tick ahead of Florida State. Power offenses like the one Miami presents have provided the biggest challenges to this Florida State defense so far this season. Boston College, for example, ran for a season-high 200 yards rushing on the Seminoles behind ACC leading rusher Andre Williams.

Johnson ranks right behind Williams in the ACC rushing stats. Miami is not afraid to line up and run it down the opposition’s throats, and that is one aspect Miami brings into this game that Clemson, for example, does not.

Everything starts with Johnson, of course. As a backup last year to Mike James, Johnson never carried the ball more than 16 times in one game. This year as the featured back, he has 19 or more carries in four games. In the two games he did not hit double-digit carries, he left early with injury.

Coach Al Golden promised that Miami would get much more out of Johnson, and he has been true to his word. Johnson has 122 carries in seven games, compared to 139 carries all of last season.

“How about his conditioning?” Golden said after the victory over the Demon Deacons. “What tremendous conditioning. He gets knocked out of the game last week [against North Carolina] and this week he is lowering the pads all day, second and third effort. What can you say about the effort that he gave?”

The effort has been there. And when Johnson does get his hands on the ball, he is hard to bring down.

Johnson is averaging 6.78 yards per carry in his career. If that holds, the per-carry average would rank as the seventh-best in ACC history. He also ranks No. 3 nationally in all-purpose yardage, with 182.9 yards per game. That is 11 yards more per game than a season ago.

There is little doubt Johnson has improved from a phenomenal freshman season. He gets another chance to prove how much he has grown come Saturday.


Goodell Has Sit-Down With Jameis Winston
ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates discusses Roger Goodell's meeting with presumptive No. 1 draft pick Jameis Winston.