Florida State managed to hold on for the 29-24 win against Miami in a game that could have been completely different on Saturday night. FSU is 5-0 for the fourth straight year and 3-0 in ACC play. As the Seminoles begin to look ahead to Louisville, we look back at what went right and what didn’t in Saturday’s rivalry win.
What Went Right:
As previously speculated, head coach Jimbo Fisher was holding back. On Saturday night in a crucial rivalry game in front of more than 83,000 fans, Fisher finally opened up the playbook. Option plays, quarterback draws, running backs lined up wide in empty sets, play-action roll-outs and everything was used against Miami. Fisher called a brilliant game and at times, it felt like he was running circles around head coach Al Golden and the Miami staff.
It’s risky to go four games and not use significant portions of your offense but that’s what Florida State did, giving Miami nothing on film to prepare for other than maybe quarterback Everett Golson’s Notre Dame tape. Miami’s front seven and run defense was vulnerable and Dalvin Cook had a game for the ages, showcasing a hamstring that had Seminole fans fearful all week. Cook finished with 222 yards rushing, averaging over a ridiculous 10 yards-per-carry. Cook tacked on another 47 yards receiving and added a total of three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 6:44 left. He did have another hamstring scare on a run where he might have scored, but pulled up lame. He was forced to exit, but thankfully for FSU, returned.
Golson had arguably his best game of the season, efficiently finding open receivers and even making a couple NFL throws that were reminiscent of former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. For the most part, this offense had its way with Miami, especially in the first half. FSU remains the only FBS offense to have zero turnovers this year. All in all, Golson looked much improved and fans have to feel much better about him leading the offense than before the game.
On defense, the ‘Nole front seven dominated Miami’s offensive line, getting pressure on Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya constantly and completely eliminating the Hurricane rushing attack, holding it to 20 yards on 19 carries, a paltry 1.1 yards-per-carry. Also, senior punter Cason Beatty was again spectacular in a crucial game, averaging 48 yards on three punts.
What Went Wrong:
Virtually everything went right for Florida State except for executing in the red zone and on third down. These are areas in which Miami has struggled all season and should have been significant advantages for FSU. Miami did struggle on third down in the first half, but overall, finished 8-for-16 converting third downs while FSU went just 3-for-10.
If not for the failures on third down and capitalizing in the red zone, Florida State would have won in much more convincing fashion. Many of those times, FSU had to settle for a field goal where former Lou Groza Award winner Roberto Aguayo went 3-for-4. Following Cook’s run where he pulled up lame, FSU ended up failing on 4th-and-1 — the first time all year the offense failed to convert a short-yardage situation. Going for it was absolutely the right call, but it was another missed scoring opportunity that could have put the game away. These miscues and the points left on the field allowed Miami to hang around and even briefly take the lead in the final quarter.
With safety Nate Andrews hobbled, linebacker Terrance Smith out and Trey Marshall’s early ejection, linebacker Reggie Northrup and safeties Tyler Hunter and freshman Derwin James were asked to play a lot and got exposed in coverage, especially Hunter.
Credit Kaaya, who routinely stood in the face of pressure and delivered ridiculous throws down the field. He’s talented and perhaps a future NFL quarterback. He picked on Hunter and the poor coverage by the linebackers, routinely finding open guys in the middle of the field. FSU shut down the Hurricanes’ rushing attack, making them one-dimensional and Kaaya still almost single-handedly won the game, throwing for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Still, FSU defensive backs dropped two picks, at least one of which could have been a pick-six. All of that aside, we learned this secondary is good, but not as deep as one believed.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Even with all the mistakes, injuries, ejected players and Kaaya playing very well, Miami could not stop Dalvin Cook and FSU walked away with its sixth straight win over Miami and ninth in 11 meetings. FSU hosts Louisville on Saturday in what might be considered a let-down game. Hopefully for FSU, the defense doesn’t come out as flat as it did against Wake Forest.