The Daily Nole

FSU-Miami: Five Things to Watch

Jeff Romance/FSU athletucs

Weather permitting, Florida State will look to avoid its first 0-3 ACC start since 2009 on Saturday against one of its most-heated rivals, the Miami Hurricanes. Miami comes into the contest ranked 10th nationally with a perfect 4-0 record.

The Seminoles however, look to be the stiffest competition that first-year head coach Mark Richt has faced early on in his tenure. Florida State will look to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time in five years following a heartbreaking 37-35 loss at home to North Carolina. FSU has won six straight over Miami and nine of the last 11.

With the rivalry contest nearing, here are five things to watch for:

1. How FSU Starts
Big early deficits have become routine for Florida State early on in 2016 and for the Seminoles to turn the season around, that’s something that will need to change. Through five games this season, Florida State has trailed by at least 21 points in the first half three times. Fortunately for FSU, it was able to rally to win one of those games and nearly did it again on Saturday against North Carolina, but having to dig out of early holes is not a recipe for success, especially with a freshman quarterback in Deondre Francois.

On the road in prime time, Florida State must deal with a hostile environment when it takes the field and must play well early to have any chance of upsetting Miami. Through four games this season, Miami is outscoring opponents 42-0 in the first quarter.

2. Brad Kaaya vs. FSU Secondary
At this point, it’s no secret that Florida State’s secondary has had its breakdowns. Last Saturday, North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky shredded the FSU defense for 405 yards and three touchdowns while completing better than 80 percent of his passes. This week, the Seminoles might be facing an even better signal-caller in Miami junior Brad Kaaya.

In two prior meetings against the Seminoles, Kaaya has passed for 316 and 405 yards respectively. Though the Hurricanes were unable to win either of those two games, the Seminoles have seen first-hand what Kaaya can do if given time. Getting pressure on Kaaya will be key, but if the FSU secondary continues to lose track of pass-catchers, the Seminoles will be in for another long night.

3. Dalvin Cook
As good as Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya has been in two rivalry meetings between the Seminoles and Hurricanes, FSU running back Dalvin Cook has been even better. A native of Miami, Cook has totaled 379 yards of offense and five total touchdowns in the two meetings between the teams, including the game-winner in the fourth quarter in each of the last two years. Miami ranks 27th nationally in run defense, but through four games, hasn’t seen a back nearly as explosive as Cook.

4. The Battle in the Trenches
It goes without saying, but the battle up front on both sides of the ball will go a long in determining the outcome of Saturday’s contest. Both FSU and Miami are among the nation’s leaders in sacks with 16 each. The Seminoles’ defensive front is led by senior DeMarcus Walker and freshman Brian Burns, who have combined for 10.5 sacks so far this season. They’ll be facing a Miami offensive front comprised of juniors and seniors that has yielded just two sacks so far this season.

On the other side, the FSU offensive front has played much better since moving freshman guard Landon Dickerson and redshirt sophomore tackle Brock Ruble into the starting lineup on the right side of the line. The Hurricanes have five different players who have at least two sacks this season, led by freshman Joe Jackson, who has three. Trent Harris, a junior defensive end, may be the best player Miami has up front.

5. Ricky Aguayo
Looking back on the Florida State-Miami rivalry over the years, no two words may be more well-known than “wide right”. With Miami currently a 3-point favorite, Saturday’s showdown is expected to be close. After making 11 of his first 12 field goals to start the year, freshman Ricky Aguayo may have had his confidence shook last week against North Carolina, going 0-for-3. Aguayo will need to shake off that dismal effort come Saturday, because when the Seminoles take on the Hurricanes, field goals always seem to be a factor.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson


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