JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
IMPROVING FLORIDA STATE FACES TOUGH TEST AGAINST ERRATIC MIAMI
This used to be one of the most anticipated college football games of the season. It may not have been #1 versus #2 every year. But, it felt like it. One or both of the teams was typically a national championship threat. Both were ranked very high in the Preseason rankings for years and years.
Lately...not so much.
Florida State lost touch with the rest of college football as its legendary coach Bobby Bowden did. He kept insisting, long after it was obvious that it wouldn't work, on throwing downfield like he was Al Davis in the 1960's. You could get away with that for awhile in this sport, particularly when you kept recruiting many of the best athletes the nation had to offer.
- Eventually defenses realized most of the passes were jump balls, and they learned simple strategies for defending jump balls.
- Creative blitz attacks made it hard for FSU quarterbacks to stay in the pocket long enough for receivers to go deep. So, advances on the defensive side of the ball took away much of FSU's big play potential.
- Recruiting took a hit when Florida amped up the Urban Meyer era.
It got to the point that Florida State would only grab the obvious wins on their ACC and non-conference schedules, limping to bowl appearances after spending another season disappointing fans and pundits. It didn't help that the defense was also losing touch with the field as well. Florida State struggled on BOTH sides of the ball for far too long...largely because nobody had the courage to force Bobby Bowden out of the picture. That finally happened this past offseason (and, Bowden was furious because he wanted to go 6-6 again with an offense from another era). Jimbo Fisher is now the man in charge.
Heading into this weekend, FSU was unbeaten outside of a blowout loss at highly regarded Oklahoma. Most importantly, as their most recent boxscore shows, they were doing things the right way. Let's look at the key numbers from last Saturday's surprisingly easy win on the road at Virginia.
FLORIDA STATE 34, VIRGINIA 14
Total Yardage: Florida State 428, Virginia 304
Rushing Yardage: Florida State 256, Virginia 25
Passing Stats: Florida State 17-29-0-172, Virginia 21-39-2-279
Turnovers: Florida State 1, Virginia 2
Third Down %: Florida State 63%, Virginia 23%
NOTEBOOK: You longtime readers will be struck by how different this is from past seasons within this program:
- Florida State can run! The Seminoles own rushing yardage by a stunning 256-25 margin...almost unheard of in recent seasons unless they were playing Wofford or somebody. This is how football games are won at the big time level. You don't throw jump balls 30 yards down field and hope somebody can"make a play." You push people off the point of attack and run over, through, and around them.
- Look at the third down conversions! The Seminoles marched right down the field on a defense that shut down Southern Cal. Now, USC isn't up to past standards But they DO have an offense. Virginia shut down USC on the road, but was steamrolled at the point of attack by FSU at home.
- No turnover issues! Florida State got into a horrible habit of throwing picks on long jump balls, then doubling up on the strategy figuring they were bound to hit something eventually. This was devastating in the turnover department. And, you can win football games when you lose the turnover category. What a clean game from FSU last week.
- Less than 200 yards passing, but no interceptions. Was it the end of the world Coach Bowden?! No, THIS is what happens when you focus on the fundamentals. Christian Ponder wasn't asked to be Superman, and he managed his team confidently to an important ACC victory.
Now, it could turn out that Virginia isn't any good this year. And, last week's performance was just a new regime showing they can dominate the worst team in its league. Still, it's a step (or five) in the right direction. And, it gives FSU a shot to upset Miami this week.
For it's part, Miami lost touch with college football because of a conservative head coach who really didn't have a plan if his athletes couldn't outperform the opposition. When it came to X's and O's, they weren't there. Bobby Bowden ran a high risk offense from a prior era. Larry Coker found various ways to flounder vs. top competition. Some of the issues with FSU were the same (failure to adjust, recruiting hits as the guys in Gainesville made their move, a focus on big plays rather than moving the chains). Others involved coaching from a position of fear rather than aggression. Coach Bowden was aggressive when he shouldn't have been. Coach Coker lost the confidence of his players because you didn't get the sense that he had a real plan.
Coker's been gone for awhile now. To our eyes, Miami under Randy Shannon has a bit too much of the old Florida State in them. Check out this boxscore from last week's win at Clemson...
MIAMI 30, CLEMSON 21
Total Yardage: Miami 376, Clemson 311
Rushing Yardage: Miami 171, Clemson 162
Passing Stats: Miami 13-33-2-205, Clemson 14-33-3-149
Turnovers: Miami 2, Clemson 6
Third Down %: Miami 33%, Clemson 41%
NOTEBOOK: That's basically an FSU boxscore from the Bowden era...except with a few more rushing yards (not enough to lead to a rushing blowout). Miami was HORRENDOUS in the air for the most part, but did make enough big plays to earn a victory.
BECAUSE THE OTHER TEAM TURNED THE BALL OVER SIX TIMES!
Miami threw 20 incomplete passes, two of which went to the wrong team. Miami converted only 33% of its third downs, which is why they had to sweat the whole second half even though they had established a nice first half scoreboard advantage. Miami's defense sure rose to the occasion. No question about that. Both QB's had ugly passing days.
Given what quarterback Jacory Harris did against Ohio State, this clearly reinforces a major issue. Miami has a high risk passing attempt that's likely to blow up on them against quality competition. They can stay competitive with special teams (a high impact at Ohio State, though the Hurricanes still didn't end up covering the spread), and defense. The offense isn't one you can trust to deliver on command. These guys will take your breath away time and time again. Sometimes that will be the result of a punch to your stomach!
In terms of style, we think Florida State is better in synch with what's working right now in the modern game. We're certainly open to the possibility though that what works against Virginia or Wake Forest might run into a brick wall against Miami. It's harder to run on Miami. If you can't move the chains on the ground, Ponder has to shoulder the burden in the air. Then, you just get back to the same problems you were having under Bowden. A"cross your fingers" offense that's probably not going to rule the day.
We've spent a lot of time handicapping this one because it's a high profile game getting significant prime time coverage on ABC. It's a team in the top 25 (FSU is #23 and #24 in the most recent polls) visiting a team in the top 15 (Miami is #13 and #14). And, it's a renewal of one of the game's greatest rivalries. Given recent poll trends, it may once again soon be one of the showcase games of every college season.
JIM HURLEY has been talking with his SCOUTS and SOURCES on site to see if either team has a few tricks up its sleeve. He's been crunching the numbers with his STAT HANDICAPPERS and COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS to make the best adjustments possible for schedule strength. He's been working with his TREND HISTORIANS who have a knack for reading the tea leaves in blood rivalry games. And, he's been monitoring the action in Vegas and offshore thanks to his WISE GUY CONNECTIONS.
IF THERE'S A BIG JUICY WINNER TO BE HAD IN THIS GAME, JIM HURLEY WILL FIND IT FOR YOU!
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We're excited about the Florida State/Miami game. We're excited about Alabama/South Carolina and LSU/Florida. We're excited about Michigan State/Michigan and USC/Stanford too. In fact...we're so excited about one game in particular that it's one of our biggest releases so far this season!
Don't make a move in today's college action until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!
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