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First Impressions: Balanced ‘O,’ opportunistic ‘D’ key FSU’s win over Canes

FSU improved to 4-6 on the season and 3-4 in ACC play with a last-second 31-28 victory over rival Miami on Saturday night in Tallahassee. The Seminoles snapped a two-game losing streak and kept their hopes to qualify for a bowl alive with games on the road coming up against Boston College and Florida to finish the regular season.

A strong start to the game by FSU, taking a 20-7 halftime lead, was enough to help the Seminoles make a second-half comeback against the Hurricanes despite FSU not having quite the same success as it enjoyed in the first half. Here are the Osceola’s pregame keys to victory and how the impacted FSU upset win:

Success in the Run Game

The key offensively was to assert itself in the running game. It is what the FSU offense had done best all season prior to games at Clemson and against NC State, where they managed just 103 combined rushing yards. The Seminoles found success early on the ground as they cruised to a 20-7 halftime lead mostly on the strength of the running game. FSU ran for 115 yards on 25 attempts. The success on the ground was due in part to the return of Jordan Travis to the starting lineup after he missed the NC State game. Travis had 50 yards on 11 first-half carries. Miami’s issues with open-field tackling also aided FSU’s running attack.

Make no mistake: Miami figured out a way to slow down FSU’s ground game in the second half with FSU gaining just 45 yards on the ground. They did, however, stay committed to the running game, rushing 23 times in the final two quarters of the game. For the game, the Seminoles ran the ball 48 times for 160 yards.

While that was a far cry from the over 190 yards FSU averages on the ground game it was enough to open up some opportunities in the passing game, something that had been missing in losses to both Clemson and NC State the previous two weeks.

Jordan Travis had the most efficient and productive day throwing the ball that he or any other FSU quarterback has had this season. Travis threw for 274 yards, which is the most yards an FSU quarterback has thrown for this season. He also completed 69 percent of his passes, which was the second-best completion percentage he has totaled all season and the best of the season in a game in which FSU passed the ball more than 15 times in a single game. Travis had seven completions of 15 yards or more in the game. One of those went for 30 yards on FSU’s first drive of the game to give the Seminoles the ball on the Miami 11-yard line and would ultimately lead to the team taking an early 7-0 lead. FSU had run the ball for gains of 8, 10 and 4 yards to set up the successful shuttle pass to Treshaun Ward.

The run-pass balance might not have been exactly what FSU’s staff envisioned but it was certainly an improvement over its offensive performances in its previous two games and was the key to the Seminoles’ upset win against what had been a surging Miami team.

Limit Miami’s Success in the Passing Game

Miami entered the game with one of the hottest offenses in the ACC mostly due to its success throwing the ball with freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. The nemesis of FSU last week was giving up long scoring plays in the passing game. Miami was averaging 4.5 pass plays per game of 20 yards, 16th-best in college football, and also ranked 30th in passing plays of over 10 yards. Van Dyke found little success throwing the ball in the first half, completing just 9 of 21 passes for 96 yards. The Hurricanes had just one pass play of over 20 yards in the first half, a 45-yard pass on a flea-flicker, that set up Miami’s only touchdown of the first half. Outside of that Miami only completed one other pass in the first half of more than 10 yards (12 yards).

FSU didn’t play nearly as good against the pass in the second half as it did the first but it did play well enough to win the game. Miami completed seven passes in the second half of more than 15 yards but only one of those resulted in a touchdown. After allowing Miami to complete nine passes for 129 yards in the third quarter, the secondary did tighten up a bit in the fourth quarter in allowing just seven completions and only one completion of over 15 yards. Van Dyke would complete just 53 percent of his 47 passes despite throwing for four touchdowns. It tied its season-lowest completion percentage allowed against an ACC opponent this season (North Carolina also completed just 53 percent of their passes in an FSU upset win on the road earlier this year).

FSU’s defense also rendered the Miami offense one-dimensional. The Hurricanes could simply not run the ball against the Seminoles, who held Miami to 43 yards rushing in the game. The Seminoles’ defense has shown improvement in all phases throughout the season and is proving that against equally matched opponents that you can’t be one-dimensional against the FSU defense. The defense forced three turnovers in the first quarter and sacked Van Dyke three times on the night. All three sacks were made by star defensive end Jermaine Johnson.

Defense/Special Teams Setup or Account for a Score

With the success Miami has had on offense and the struggles FSU has had on offense another one of the Osceola’s keys to an FSU win was for the Seminoles’ defense or special teams (non-kickers) to account for a touchdown on their own or setting up a short-field scoring opportunity for the offense. After a sack and strip by Johnson and recovery by Derrick McLendon, the FSU offense started it fourth possession of the game on the Miami 12-yard line. On the first play of the series, Jashaun Corbin scampered for a touchdown run off the right side on a toss sweep to give FSU a 14-0 lead with 1:05 to go in the first quarter. This would ultimately prove to be on of several key turning points in the game.