Are quality offenses making Florida State look bad? Is Florida State playing the type of defense that makes opponents look good?
Is Miami’s defense playing well against less-talented offenses, or is Miami’s defense capable enough to stifle what opponents throw at them?
“Yes” is the answer to all of those questions, to varying degrees.
The 10th-ranked Hurricanes and 23rd-ranked Seminoles have trod starkly different paths to Saturday’s game at Hard Rock Stadium (8 p.m., ABC). In stats, strength of schedule and level of exposure, they are a study in contrasts.
Miami, which hasn’t beaten FSU since 2009, ranks well ahead of its archrival in nearly every statistical category. UM is one of the nation’s highest-performing teams offensively and defensively, while FSU’s defense and pass protection has struggled.
However, anyone paying attention knows one team has played a significantly tougher schedule. It’s not remotely close in that regard.
The Hurricanes have played an FCS team, two Group of Five clubs (one home, one road) and an ACC program that uses a tricky offense but is coming off a 3-9 season.
The Seminoles’ opponents so far:
- Then-No. 11 Mississippi at a “neutral site” (Orlando) to start the year.
- Charleston Southern, of the FCS.
- Then-No. 10 Louisville, a playoff-caliber outfit with a Heisman front-runner at quarterback.
- USF, which is 4-1 and looks much tougher than Appalachian State, the more talented of the two Group of Five squads Miami has played.
- North Carolina, the preseason ACC Coastal favorite with an outstanding quarterback.
Two of FSU’s opponents were ranked No. 11 or higher at the time they played. Miami hasn’t faced a ranked team yet.
By virtue of those difficult games, the Seminoles have had ample chance to address their flaws. At this point, they know some of what they do well, some of what they do not. They trailed 28-13 at halftime to Ole Miss, then came back to win 45-34. They faced Lamar Jackson and Mitch Trubisky, struggling to defend both.
Hurricanes coaches were pleased with how their young defense played the triple-option last week. Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas and running back Dedrick Mills are talented runners, but beyond that? App State’s Marcus Cox is the only top skill player they’ve faced, and he was hurt in the first quarter of that game. Miami will learn more about itself in the coming weeks.
FSU is contending with the spotlight of the Showtime network, which is around the team constantly filming a weekly documentary series. Moments usually kept private have been public. Viewers of “A Season With Florida State Football” saw running back Dalvin Cook treated for a nagging shoulder injury. They watched doctors tell coach Jimbo Fisher and star safety Derwin James that James had a torn meniscus (James is not expected to play this week). They saw defensive end Josh Sweat‘s knee injury in practice and then saw players deal with a crushing loss at Louisville.
Of course, that also means FSU is used to pressure, attention and hype.
Mark Richt, meanwhile, is enjoying a comparatively quiet first year in Coral Gables. His team has played twice on national television in the last two weeks, and will do so again the next four weeks at least (FSU, UNC, a Thursday night ESPN game at Virginia Tech, an NBC afternoon game at Notre Dame). But UM doesn’t allow the media to see more than a few minutes of practice, and on Monday, Richt declared freshmen off-limits to the media “for a while,” saying they did a little too much boasting for his taste.
The Hurricanes haven’t shown much, for better or worse. Here’s betting Richt prefers it that way.