The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: One of the most intriguing games of the college football weekend pits the 13th-ranked Miami Hurricanes against the 23rd-ranked Florida State Seminoles in an ACC showdown.
Florida State has put together three consecutive victories to move to 4-1 on the young season, and the most recent triumph came last weekend over Virginia by a 34-14 final. All four triumphs have come by 20 or more points, and the lone loss came against Oklahoma by 30 points on the road.
"If you're going to win conference titles, you're going to have to win in somebody else's house," said Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher after the victory over the Cavaliers. "Virginia has played really good football all year. Really good football."
As for Miami, it owns a 3-1 record and is fresh off a 30-21 victory over Clemson to open ACC play. The Hurricanes suffered their lone loss to national powerhouse Ohio State on the road, but that 12-point contest was certainly much closer than FSU's debacle against Oklahoma. The schedule appears to be rather favorable for the 'Canes the rest of the way, so an ACC championship for coach Randy Shannon's team appears to be in reach.
"It was just one of those games where I thought our guys really stayed focused and played hard and didn't stress," Shannon said after the Clemson game."
Miami defeated Florida State last season in a 38-34 thriller, and the 'Canes hold a 31-23 lead in the all-time series.
The Seminoles are generating 35.0 ppg this season to go along with 433.2 total ypg. They have achieved tremendous offensive balance to date, posting 208.6 ypg on the ground and 224.6 ypg through the air. Christian Ponder is the man running the show from the quarterback position, and he has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 844 yards and eight touchdowns with only three interceptions. Jermaine Thomas leads the ground attack with 308 yards and four touchdowns while gaining 6.3 yards per carry.
Against Virginia last week, Ponder completed 17-of-29 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown.
"He really made some good plays," Fisher said of Ponder. "He was very efficient today. I thought he missed some things but he scrambled two or three times which he always does."
As for Thomas, he made the most of his 16 carries, rushing for 122 yards and two scores. The Seminoles finished with 428 total yards and recorded four offensive touchdowns, the type of effort that will lead to victory more times than not.
Opponents are scoring just 15.4 yards per game against Florida State, which is yielding a mere 293.4 total ypg. The 'Noles have been tremendous against the run, holding foes to 74.8 ypg at a clip of only 2.0 yards per carry. The pass defense hasn't been nearly as strong, but the fact is that FSU has enjoyed such large leads late in games that opponents have had to abandon the run and throw down field in an attempt to catch up.
Virginia had no success establishing its ground attack against the stout defensive front of Florida State. The Cavaliers finished with 25 yards on 26 rushing attempts, and while they did post 279 passing yards in the tilt, they were intercepted twice by the opportunistic Seminole defenders. FSU limited Virginia to 3-of-13 success on third-down conversion attempts, key to the solid defensive performance.
In the nine-point victory over Clemson last time out, Miami racked up 376 yards on 76 offensive plays. Jacory Harris, the team's quarterback, was clearly inconsistent in the tilt. Sure, he can take pride in the fact that he tossed four touchdown passes and finished with 205 yards, but the signal caller completed only 13-of-33 passes and was intercepted twice.
Leonard Hankerson, who has emerged as a standout receiver, made seven catches for 147 yards and three scores, while Damien Berry rushed for 101 yards in the triumph.
Miami allowed three rushing touchdowns to Clemson last week, but the 'Canes got the job done against the pass, limiting the Tigers to 14-of-33 efficiency through the air. Three interceptions and three fumble recoveries clearly played a major role in the Miami win.
"Defensively, they really showed a lot of poise in the second half," said coach Shannon, as Miami blanked Clemson in the fourth quarter.
So far this season, Miami is scoring 32.5 ppg while limiting opponents to only 15.0 ppg. The 'Canes are allowing a mere 266.8 total ypg, including just 136.0 ypg through the air. Opposing quarterbacks are completing fewer than 50 percent of their passes.
Harris has passed for 895 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while Hankerson has made 23 catches for 388 yards and six scores. As for Berry, he has rushed for 327 yards.