Last week I had a good idea of the score (I said Miami 31-14, but 35-21 is pretty close). I knew Hurricanes fans would show up in Atlanta. I also nailed Brad Kaaya’s completion percentage (68) and was close to his yardage total (241; I said 275).
On the other hand, I shorted Georgia Tech about 100 rushing yards and 10 carries. I also said Mark Walton would extend his 100-yard streak. He didn’t.
I am sure I’ll be smarter this week. Here are my weekly five projections for Miami-Florida State. Don’t be afraid to tell me how wrong I was (or, falsely praise me for being all-knowing).
Let’s get to it:
Can the Hurricanes stop Dalvin Cook?
Stop? Doubtful. Slow? Depends on what that means.
Cook is a rare talent who broke Miami’s backs the last two years. Once again, he will be highly motivated to play against his hometown team. He is likely the best player the Hurricanes will defend all season.
He averaged 12.2 yards per touch against UM in 2014, and 10.8 last year. Those are two of his top four performances in that stat category. We know what the Hurricanes have to do: wrap him up and keep him from breaking big gains. Not easy. Miami’s young linebackers handled last week’s mental challenge (Georgia Tech’s offense). Going one-on-one with Cook in the open field is one of the toughest physical tests in the game.
“Everyone knows he’s the key to their offense and it’s still hard to stop him,” UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “It’s a testament to what a talented player he is. He’s got a great start and stop. He hits top gear very quickly. His acceleration is outstanding. And they do a good job of using him in multiple ways.”
I don’t think the Hurricanes can keep him off the scoreboard, but slowing him to the tune of 8.0 yards per touch — with a couple touchdowns — is a reasonable ask.
Can the Seminoles stop Brad Kaaya?
In each of FSU’s last three games, opponents averaged a first down every time they threw the ball. The Seminoles hadn’t allowed 10-plus yards per attempt in a game since 2009, when that happened six times.
Sure, they’ve played high-level quarterbacks like Mississippi’s Chad Kelly, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky. But here comes another. Kaaya threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns last year, and if Miami can improve on last year’s abysmal rushing performance (20 yards on 19 carries), he should have plenty of room to operate. Mark Richt has no doubt saved a few tricks for this game.
I think Kaaya throws for 350 yards and three touchdowns, and leads Miami on the critical late-game drive he didn’t put together the last two meetings. This is a legacy game for him, and he knows it.
He said this on Mark Richt’s weekly coaches show:
“FSU vs. Miami, every year, no matter what happens, you can throw both teams’ records out of the window. Whether they’re hyped up, whether they’re down right now, it doesn’t really matter. I know they’ve lost two games, but I’m sure they’re treating this game just like every other game and so are we. We still have that edge about us. Even though we’re undefeated, but we have guys on our team who still feel the pain we felt last year. There’s a lot of guys who have that chip on their shoulder, that edge about them. A lot of guys, we didn’t forget about last year. We didn’t forget about the year before that. We didn’t forget about the Clemson game. We didn’t forget about what happened with Artie [Burns] last year. We didn’t forget about when I got knocked out of the game. There’s still stuff that resonates with us. I still think we have that edge. Even some of the new guys have that edge. So, it should be exciting. I’m just looking forward to getting after it.”
Which defensive player has the biggest impact?
Florida State is angry. Jimbo Fisher is fielding questions about changing schemes and personnel, as fans call for the firing of his defensive coordinator. He’s saying the team isn’t divided, even after Cook commented last week that there’s only so much he can do.
In response, I would guess a proud senior like defensive end Demarcus Walker will have one of his best performances, especially since he’ll be going against a group of Miami offensive tackles which hasn’t been impressive so far.
But I think this is the game everyone realizes just how good a player Chad Thomas has become. He has been effective all season, creating pressure and opportunities for his teammates against weaker opponents. I think gets two sacks, and his pass-rushing presence is a factor on several game-changing defensive plays.
What underrated facet of the game will loom large?
Easy pick for Miami-FSU: special teams.
The Hurricanes have one of the best punters in the ACC, senior Justin Vogel. Their junior kicker, Michael Badgley, seems to have shaken his early struggles. The Seminoles, meanwhile, have freshmen kicking and punting. The kicker, in particular, hasn’t lived up to his name (Aguayo). He missed a pair of 45 yarders last week, and North Carolina blocked another try.
I don’t think this game will come down to the final kick, but if that’s the case, I’ll take Badgley. I think he goes 2-for-2, while Aguayo goes 1-for-2.
Does Miami win this?
The Seminoles are 5-5 in their last 10 games, and are in danger of starting 0-3 in the ACC for the first time since 2009. That’s the last time Miami beat them.
The Hurricanes have played inferior teams, but they’ve beaten them soundly. FSU has played some quality opponents, but looked shaky. Miami looks like the more complete team, and the confidence it gained from the first month of the season should help greatly.
The Hurricanes need no extra motivation to break a six-year losing streak, but if they did, they could look to this quote from Fisher’s weekly press conference:
“Miami is a very good team. I don’t know if they’re top-10, but they’re undefeated.”
If they remain so, they’ll be crowing about that line afterward, and nobody will question whether they’re top-10 material.
The pick: Miami 31, Florida State 28.