MIAMI — For all the frills of college football's pass-happy spread offenses, the outcome of one of the sport's biggest rivalries still depends on the old-fashioned philosophy of running the ball and stopping the run.
Florida State rallied from an early 10-point deficit Saturday night because it controlled the ground game, outgaining Miami 218-29 to run away with a 33-20 victory.
"That's always the key," said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, whose team rose one spot, to No. 11, in the latest Associated Press poll, released Sunday, and remained 10th in the coaches poll. "You go back in the history of this series, that's been the biggest thing, who can run it and who can't run it."
Since 1996, the Seminoles (7-1, 4-1 ACC) are 8-4 against UM when they outrush the Hurricanes (4-4, 3-2). The rival with the most rushing yards has won 12 of the past 18 meetings.
Four of Saturday's five touchdowns came on the ground, and the exception was a garbage-time pass with the outcome decided.
"They put out in the media that they were going to come out and establish the run on us," FSU linebacker Telvin Smith said. "We knew what we had to do."
Miami gashed FSU's defensive line early. The Hurricanes churned out 33 rushing yards in their first two drives to take a 10-0 lead. Each of their seven carries gained yards, and six covered at least 3 yards, including Mike James' 9-yard touchdown run.
But the Seminoles' run defense, ranked second in the country, recovered. UM totaled minus-4 rushing yards the rest of the game, and only three of its 14 carries gained at least 3 yards.
"Ain't never let us down," FSU defensive back Xavier Rhodes said of his team's front seven.
UM freshman Duke Johnson entered the game seventh in the ACC in rushing, averaging 61.1 yards per game, but he finished with 27 yards, leaving with an undisclosed injury late in the third quarter. The Hurricanes' 29 rushing yards marked their lowest output since 2009.
As UM's run game stalled, FSU's soared, even after leading rusher Chris Thompson went down with a left knee injury early in the second quarter. Fisher expected to have an update on Thompson's status today after an MRI exam.
Before Thompson went down, FSU rushed for 50 yards (5.0 per carry) and trailed 10-3. After the injury, the Seminoles boosted their average to 5.4 yards per attempt, racking up 168 yards and 30 of the game's next 33 points.
Miami native Devonta Freeman ran for 65 of his 70 yards in the second half. All three of FSU's touchdowns came on the ground — two by Freeman and one by former Plant High star James Wilder Jr. — to help the Seminoles become bowl eligible for the 31st consecutive season.
"We just kept pounding the ball," said Wilder, who rushed eight times for 49 yards, "and the run was successful."
Times staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected]