Last season, Miami and Florida State were forced to rely on their defenses to protect their first-year quarterbacks. After stellar freshman campaigns, Kyle Wright and Drew Weatherford are ready to do battle.
Florida State Offense vs. Miami Defense
Establishing the run is Florida State's first objective on Monday night (ESPN Full Circle, 8 ET). After averaging only 94 yards rushing last season, the Seminoles are determined to regain offensive balance. The biggest issue was up front, where the offensive line was ravaged by injuries and was forced to rely on far too many inexperienced starters. However, following a healthy and productive camp, the Florida State offensive line promises to be far more effective. RB Lorenzo Booker, one of the nation's premier open-field runners, is primed for a breakout season in 2006. The fifth-year senior has added bulk to his frame during the offseason, which should allow him to break more tackles and handle a heavier load. The 'Noles will continue to use a rotation at the running back position but sophomore Antone Smith is only expected to carry 30 to 40 percent of the load. Smith displays outstanding speed, but he is still developing as a blocker and is even smaller than Booker at 5-foot-9, 188 pounds.
When: Monday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Preview: 'Noles, Canes renew rivalry
An emphasis for offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden during the offseason has been the involvement of Booker in the passing game. With that in mind, don't be surprised to see Smith line up at tailback and Booker working out of the slot. That will put pressure on the Hurricanes from a matchup standpoint. If defensive coordinator Randy Shannon elects to cover Booker with a linebacker, QB Drew Weatherford will have a mismatch to target via the air. Conversely, should Shannon go to nickel personnel versus this package, the 'Noles will have a size advantage to exploit with Smith on the ground.
Weatherford will have pressure in his face most of the afternoon; the Canes have a relentless defensive front that includes DEs Baraka Atkins and Bryan Pata, and DT Kareem Brown. However, if Florida State can establish some threat of the run early, then it should give Weatherford an opportunity to work the play-action pass. Miami boasts the nation's best safety tandem in Brandon Meriweather and Kenny Phillips. Understandably, Shannon wants to take some chances with one or both of his outstanding safeties cheating up closer to the line of scrimmage. The big question is whether or not Miami has the cornerback play in order to be that aggressive. Glenn Sharpe has proven to be a shutdown cover corner at times in the past, but he's coming off a knee injury. The other starter is Randy Phillips, a promising sophomore with good size and speed. Because of the unknown at cornerback, expect the 'Noles to spread things out with three-receiver sets and allow their stable of talented receivers (Chris Davis, De'Cody Fagg and Greg Carr) to test Miami's cornerbacks early and often. If successful, it will force Shannon to be more conservative with Meriweather and Phillips.
Finally, after studying film of last year's game, it's evident that Bowden calls plays conservatively with Weatherford in his first start at quarterback. After Weatherford attempted 469 passes last year, Bowden has no reason to be conservative. Miami has arguably the most talent returning defensively of any unit in the country. If Bowden is not more creative and aggressive with his play calling in this game, Shannon's unit will stifle the Seminoles' offense once again.