TALLAHASSEE — Florida State defensive players have a difficult time explaining it, but it's true: The defense, for whatever reason, seems to play better the closer an opposing offense comes to the FSU goal line.
During the past two weeks, FSU's red-zone defense has been instrumental in victories against Clemson and Maryland.
"To tell you the truth, it's kind of crazy," sophomore DT Everett Dawkins said Tuesday. " … We do real good in the red zone, and stats prove it, but I'm not really sure why exactly."
Clemson made four trips inside the 20-yard line and didn't score a touchdown on any of them. Maryland moved inside the 20 five times Saturday and scored a touchdown just once.
The Seminoles rank 27th in Division I-A in red-zone defense, and opponents have scored touchdowns 38 percent of their trips inside their 20-yard line.
Coach Jimbo Fisher said his team is finding ways to succeed when it most counts.
Quick hits: WR Willie Haulstead, who missed the Maryland game after suffering a concussion vs. Clemson, is expected to play vs. Florida. Fisher said Haulstead has been practicing well this week. … A Seminoles victory would give them their first nine-win regular season since 2003. FSU needs one more win to make Fisher the most victorious first-year coach in school history. FSU was 8-4 for Larry Jones' first season in 1971.
UM: Best QB will start
CORAL GABLES — Miami coach Randy Shannon has tried to snuff out all talk of a quarterback dilemma for weeks, insisting Jacory Harris would return as starter when healthy.
Harris is now healthy. And there's no guarantee, yet, of his return to the lineup.
Shannon said he will wait to see what Harris and Stephen Morris do in practice before making a decision on who starts Saturday's game vs. USF.
"If he's sharp and crisp, we'll go with him. If he's not, we'll have to go with Stephen," Shannon said. "He knows it, and he's going to work hard this week in practice."
Morris has started the past three games for Miami while Harris recovered from a concussion, going 2-1 and leading the Hurricanes to at least 464 yards of offense in each outing. But Morris also threw three interceptions in the last nine minutes of a loss to Virginia Tech.
Harris has been doing some light throws for two weeks.
USF: Speed test
TAMPA — USF defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said he will get a good gauge on his defense's speed when it faces a Hurricanes offense that is athletic and "can keep you honest."
"We'll find out exactly how fast we are when we go down there," he said.
Snyder has faced the Hurricanes as an assistant and as a head coach. He was on Ohio State's staff when it beat Miami in the 2002 national title game, and he also faced the Hurricanes while coaching Marshall, losing 31-3 in 2007.
Snyder said Miami has a "complete offense," referring to its depth at running back, length at wide receiver and strength on the offensive line.
The question for Miami is at quarterback, where it has not been determined whether Jacory Harris or Stephen Morris will start. Snyder said the Bulls' game plan does not change much for either.
Daniels held out: Sophomore QB B.J. Daniels and senior C Sampson Genus were two of a handful of key players held out of practice.
Coach Skip Holtz called Daniels' injury a left thigh bruise, but he is expected to play against the Hurricanes. Genus has a cyst on his right leg and is expected to play also. DEs Craig Marshall (foot) and Patrick Hampton (ankle) also did not practice. Marshall said last week that he expects to play and was moving around well, while Hampton sat out in a walking cast. Freshman S JaQuez Jenkins, sidelined with an ankle injury last week, returned to practice.
Kerry Klecic, Times correspondent
UF: Mobile QBs, backs have stumped defense
GAINESVILLE — Containing teams with mobile quarterbacks and a solid running game has been a seasonlong struggle for the Gators, and Saturday's game against Florida State will present yet another challenge.
The Seminoles average 183.4 rushing yards per game, and along with the passing ability of QB Christian Ponder (1,817 yards and 17 touchdowns), the Gators know they have their work cut out.
"They're another one of those teams that they can beat you with the run and they can beat you with the pass," LB Jelani Jenkins said. "So if you're not able to stop the run, it causes them to be multidimensional, and then it's hard to stop them. So I think it's going to play a big role in practice, to focus on the run and being able to stop them to keep them one-dimensional."
But they weren't able to do that against LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina. The Gators put FSU's offense in that multiweapon category.
"It's real tough because you've always got to account for the quarterback; you don't just worry about the running back carrying the ball," LB Jon Bostic said. "They've got (talented) players all over the field just like LSU does. They've got players all over the field that play a lot of positions. Everybody's got to know exactly what they are doing on every play. We can't just run all over the field."
ANOTHER RIVAL?: Senior RB Emmanuel Moody grew up in Texas and admits he wasn't familiar with the level of passion for the game SEC fans have.
But he does know the Gators are serious about extending their winning streak vs. FSU. "We know the magnitude of this rivalry and how important it is to us, and we just want to win it for the (seventh) year in a row and keep that tradition going on," he said."
Antonya English, Times staff writer
UCF: Aiming for home
ORLANDO — Senior WR Brian Watters said the Knights (8-3, 6-1 Conference USA) are determined to spoil Memphis' Senior Day so UCF can play one more home game.
If the Knights beat the Tigers (1-10, 0-7), they will host the Conference USA championship game at Bright House Networks Stadium. It would give UCF's 19 seniors another shot at winning their last home game. UCF lost to Southern Miss 31-21 on Nov. 13.
"If we take care of business this week, then we'll have another senior day coming up," Watters said. " … Even the underclassmen. They feel they owe the seniors that much, to send us out with a bang."