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Florida State Seminoles vs. Miami Hurricanes: 5 Observations

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5 Observations from Florida State-Miami Game

John David Mercer-USA Today Sports

For the first time in years, the Florida State vs Miami game had relevance on a national scale. It’s always a big deal in Florida, as the winner gets a leg up on recruiting, but with the struggles of each program over the last decade, it hasn’t meant much for the national championship picture.

This year, with each team coming into Saturday night’s game undefeated, it had added sizzle. Although Miami was a heavy underdog (has a 7-0 team ever been a 21 point underdog?), they played tough in the first half and cut the lead to seven heading into the intermission.

However, Florida State’s depth showed in the second half as they wore out the Hurricanes and eventually ran away with the game, 41-14.

The win keeps Florida State in the picture to play for the BCS Championship, but in reality, they need either Oregon or Alabama to lose in order to get into the top two. Any team that runs the table in the SEC deserves to be in the title game, so if the Crimson Tide do that, it’s a guarantee they’ll be one of the teams. And Oregon’s remaining schedule is considerably tougher than the Seminoles, so it would seem that they will remain No. 2 if they can win out.

Interestingly, the Noles will now cheer for the Canes to win out, so Saturday night’s win looks more impressive. If that happens, the Noles will face Miami in the ACC Championship game once again.

Here’s a few observations I had from last night’s FSU vs Miami battle.

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5.) Stephen Morris Remains Unreliable

Melina Vastola-USA Today Sports

For the first half, Morris outperformed Jameis Winston. He made two beautiful touchdown throws that kept the Canes within striking distance at the half. However, in the second half, Morris was equally as bad.

Not only did he throw two big interceptions, but he also took a couple sacks that were costly as well. Morris has a bit of an excuse since he’s playing on a sore right ankle, but he still holds the ball too long and doesn’t throw the ball away.

On the first interception, it looked like wide receiver Stacy Coley had a step or two on Seminoles defensive back P.J. Williams, but the ball was woefully underthrown. Williams had his eyes on the ball the whole way and made the easy interception. Then, on the second pick, Morris tried to force the ball down the middle to Clive Walford, but threw it right into the hands of Nate Andrews who was playing the trail technique perfectly.

There’s no question that Morris has the arm talent and accuracy to be a big time quarterback at the next level, but for the Canes, his lack of consistency has continually cost them in big moments.

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4.) Florida State's Defensive Depth is Vital

Melina Vastola-USA Today Sports

Speaking of Nate Andrews, he was on the field because Terrence Brooks suffered a concussion midway through the third quarter. Andrews, a true freshman, is just one of several Florida State backups that give the Noles incredible depth on the defensive side of the ball.

It’s a tremendous luxury for defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, as he’s able to rotate fresh players in. His scheme is based on disguising blitzes and playing fast, and having that depth allows him to play that way for the full 60 minutes.

Even though Duke Johnson had a solid night rushing, the Florida State run defense was up to the task of slowing down Miami all night. The Canes averaged just 2.9 yards per carry for the night, and that was a result of the wall that was created by the front seven for Pruitt and the Noles. Timmy Jernigan, Mario Edwards Jr. and Nile Lawrence-Stample all played well for the Noles in the run game, forcing the Canes to take to the air with Morris.

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3.) Miami is in Trouble Without Duke Johnson

Melina Vastola-USA Today Sports

There’s no doubt, Johnson is one of the most explosive players in the country. He ended up rushing for 97 yards against a stout FSU defense, and most of those yards came after contact. There weren’t gaping holes for him to run through; he made most of his yardage on sheer talent and second effort.

Unfortunately for Miami, late in the third, Johnson was stuffed on a fourth down rushing attempt and was bent over backwards in the process. He wouldn’t return to the game, and reports out of Miami this morning indicate that he might be done for the year with an ankle injury.

If true, that leaves the Canes rushing attack to Dallas Crawford, who simply isn’t the playmaker that Johnson is. He’s been solid as a backup this year, but most of his yards and touchdowns have come in mop up duty. Now, with the Canes battling for the Coastal Division, Crawford will be the primary ball carrier for Miami.

If the Canes can’t establish the run, more pressure will be heaped onto Morris, and he hasn’t shown the capacity to handle that on his own.

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2.) FSU Has Best Stable of Running Backs in the Country

Melina Vastola-USA Today Sports

While much of the attention has been given to Florida State QB Jameis Winston, it’s worth noting that he has three tremendous running backs behind him. Last night, junior Devonta Freeman was the star, leading the Noles in rushing and receiving while scoring three touchdowns. He ran with a physicality that eventually wore down the Canes' front seven and led to some big runs in the second half.

But besides Freeman, the Noles have James Wilder Jr., who has been battling injuries for much of the season, and converted safety Karlos Williams. Wilder Jr. is another physical running back who has a nose for the goal line, and Williams, despite only playing the position for two months, might be the most talented running back in the stable.

These three great backs give Jimbo Fisher the chance to rotate his backs and really pound a defense with fresh legs. Defenses have struggled against the Noles in the second half, and the backfield depth is a key reason why.

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1.) Jameis Winston Doesn't Have to be Perfect

Melina Vastola-USA Today Sports

Winston had what could be considered an underwhelming performance last night, at least by his standards. Despite still throwing for 325 yards, he was a little out of rhythm and made two uncharacteristic throws that led to interceptions.

The first one looked like it was the result of Miami confusing the freshman as they rotated a safety back to the deep third on the snap. It appeared as if Winston didn’t see Deon Bush, as he lobbed a ball for Rashad Greene that ended up floating to Bush for the interception. The second interception looked like a miscommunication between Winston and tight end Nick O’Leary. Winston threw a ball into a zone that O’Leary was passing through, thinking the tight end was going to settle up in space. Instead, he ran through the zone and the ball flew behind him for an easy interception.

Regardless of whose fault it was, it was the first time that Winston looked human this year. However, he didn’t panic and the team didn’t either. They stuck to the ground game, established the running backs, and then hit intermediate throws to move the chains for much of the second half.

In an odd way, Winston’s struggle was a good thing for the Florida State offense. They learned that he isn’t infallible, and perhaps more importantly, that they can beat a quality opponent even when Winston isn’t perfect.