FSU and Miami have played the same game about five straight times now, and SMQ must admit having a soft spot for the familiar sort of head-busting trench warfare these teams unleashed Monday, when the field seems to shrink by 10 yards on both sidelines and every first down feels like an ultimate triumph of the mind and will. These remain unrelenting defenses of pretty much unparalleled speed, aggressive to the extent that the respective offenses effectively curl up into the fetal position just to avoid a fatal blow via turnover.
Part of what makes such an exhibition so impressive is the obvious weaponry available to both offenses, and its virtual obsolecence; this is also, however, what makes it a bit misleading.
Both defenses, for instance, have knocked in the head of the opposing offense repeatedly in this series for most of the decade, and then softened considerably over the course of the season; the units remain very good, but not like they stepped off the first chariot out of Hell. Florida State, for example, can hold Miami to 1.8 yards per rushing attempt and sack the 'Canes nine times, as it did in 2005, and then allow well over 400 yards total offense to Wake Forest, be strongly tested by Maryland and then sucessfully attacked in various ways to NC State, Clemson and Florida, as it also did last year. Penn State, hardly an offensive juggernaut, also topped 400 easily in the past Orange Bowl, just two days after Miami finished yielding 470 and 40 points to LSU in the Peach Bowl.
The point is, no level of defensive excellence can be offered as an excuse for a combined rushing total of five yards. SMQ would bet on every opponent on these teams' upcoming schedules - including Florida A&M, Florida International, Duke and Troy - topping 0.1 yards per carry, the number for both Miami and Florida State on the ground Monday. That is largely the result of a pair of dominant defenses, but also of the conservatism that dominances inspires from the other side. There were no draw or screens to slow the rush, no creativity, only desperate heaves to the sideline.
- Providing he plays in at least nine games, Buster Davis may as well go ahead and accept the Butkus Award, as pundits everywhere searching for stars have already filled his name into all-America teams. Ditto Brandon Meriweather and, given his near-breakout performance on a wideout only about six inches taller, possibly Glenn Sharpe, too. Sharpe was in perfect position on tough throws on all but one pass thrown his direction (an underthrow by a pulverized Weatherford) and made the plays when the ball got there.
As for Davis, he is clearly possessed by a primal rage harbored deep in the core of his being. And he is fast. SMQ doesn't remember a more fearsome, deranged blitzer up the middle; running backs allegedly assigned to protect Wright shied from getting a body on Davis the same way they'd avoid a Mack truck barrelling in, and the result of a collision with a full speed No. 7 may not have turned out all that different.
Buster Davis communicates his profound inner pain to Kyle Wright on a very fundamental level
This is no excuse for Miami's efforts to tunnel the ball into tying field goal position in its last three possessions, which resulted in one fumble by Edgerrin James' cousin (who immediately attempted to atone by singlehandedly resurrecting Depression Era not-down-till-your-forward-progress-is-stopped rules, with impressive results) and another by a center who didn't realize his quarterback was in the shotgun rather than on his ass, a drop of the 'Canes' only sure first down completion in hours and a clinching pick of an off-target laser from the hand of a physically and psychologically devastated passer. These are self-inflicted wounds and mental mistakes; the final planting of Wright on the interception came on a fairly routine twist by linebacker Geno Hayes, of which no member of the UM line had even begun to conceptualize a hypothetical method to prevent. Otherwise, Lance Leggett was open for a first down, for whatever good it would have done at that point.
Even Miami's lone touchdown was something of a gift, initally from the incompetence of a prematurely moving lineman who negated a play that ended in Wright - with no extra protection in a five-wide set and not enough end zone space to lob one past man coverage - being tracked down by unmolested blitzers and dropped about 12 yards back like a wounded steenbock on the Serengetti, and next by an FSU lineman who turned a 2nd and 18 into a first and goal inside the ten by spearing a back already expertly mashed into the ground by Davis behind the line of scrimmage. Sans that assistance, Miami fails - again - to break double digits.