Clemson tried blitzing and then dropping eight players into coverage.
Nevada went with a ball-control approach, anything to try to keep Jameis Winston and Florida State’s offense off the field.
Through seven games nothing has worked in slowing the third-ranked Seminoles (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference). Not even a little.
“It’s hard to find anyone that’s had a lot of success against them,” said Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, who has the task tonight of trying to solve an FSU offense averaging 52.6 points per game (third in the Football Bowl Subdivision), has the nation’s second-most efficient passer in Winston (207.0 rating) and ranks fourth in total offense (553.7 yards per game).
“They’re averaging I don’t know how many yards per play and really spreading the ball around, not turning the ball over. You just keep battling, try to make it about our guys executing and doing their job and let the chips fall where they may.”
The Seminoles average 11.33 yards per play, second only to Baylor. Yet, Winston and his teammates remain hungry despite recording blowout victories in six of their seven games this season.
When Winston looks back at last Saturday’s game against N.C. State — when the Seminoles built an early 42-0 lead and went on to win by 32 points — he was more frustrated by their letdown in the second and third quarters than he was excited about their hot start.
“We ended kind of flat, and that was my fault,” said Winston, a 6-foot-4, 228-pound redshirt freshman who has thrust himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation. “I’ve got to keep the intensity going.
“We know we can get so much better,” Winston added. “The N.C. State game was not my best game individually. That was not our offense’s best game — even though we scored 35 points in the first quarter. That was our defense. They got us the ball fast.”
Last season, it would have been preposterous to think Miami’s defense would have any shot of slowing Winston and FSU’s offense. UM (7-0, 3-0) was torched by its three ranked opponents last season. The Hurricanes gave up an average of 42 points and 510 yards a game in those three lopsided losses.
But this year’s defense, deeper, bigger and more mature, has earned a reputation for being a lot more bend than bust. The Hurricanes rank 10th in team passing-efficiency defense (104.77), 11th in scoring defense (17.7 points per game), 18th in total defense (342.3 ypg) and 39th against the run (141.7).
A nonexistent pass rush (13 sacks in 2012) has been replaced by a collection of 13 players who have combined for 22 sacks (11th-most in the nation).
But the challenge tonight at Doak Campbell Stadium is on another level.
“I’ve faced a lot of good players, but he’s (Winston) one of the best,” said Hurricanes linebacker and leading tackler Denzel Perryman.
Tonight, Winston and the Seminoles will get their last opportunity to prove themselves against a highly ranked team during the regular season.
After taking on Miami, they will face Wake Forest (4-4), Syracuse (3-4), Idaho (1-7) and Florida (4-3).
So, Winston clearly is excited about taking on the Hurricanes.
“I’m looking forward to it, just like the Clemson game,” Winston said. “Obviously this game is more intense, and it’s an in-state rivalry. ... It’s going to be a real good feeling having 85,000 people on your side this time.”