Florida State has had some recent struggles stopping the run, though last week provided a measure of relief.
The Seminoles slowed down Virginia back Kevin Parks, holding him to just 43 yards. FSU held the Cavaliers to 37 total yards rushing -- a season low for the Noles' D.
On Monday, local reporters asked Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. whether that performance showed the defense had turned a corner.
"That's Virginia and this is Miami," he said.
If there is one thing Miami is certain to do Saturday when the two teams play, it is run the ball with Duke Johnson. Not only has Johnson posted five straight 100-yard games, Miami is playing more physically and aggressively on the offensive line despite missing several key players because of injury.
The result is the most productive Miami run game in years. The Hurricanes are averaging 199.6 yards per game on the ground, their highest average since the 2001 national championship team.
It all starts with Johnson, so the primary objective is to stop him at all costs.
"You have to make them one dimensional," Edwards said. They’re good with position blocking. They want to get in front of you and turn you where Duke can cut off them and make a play.
"Duke is one of those backs you really don’t see. He can make a cut or stop and get back to full speed within two strides, and once he makes a cut and gets through a gap you can pretty much kiss the baby -- he’s going to be gone."
Despite the Virginia result, there has been some cause for concern with the Florida State run defense. The Seminoles are thin up front and have had injuries in a linebacker unit that has taken a step back from a year ago.
"Some of the players, including myself, stepped up and said, 'This isn’t Florida State football, it’s not the way we play.'" Edwards said. "We challenged each other to play the way we need to and come back and win."
As colleague Jared Shanker points out, Florida State has made successful halftime adjustments throughout the course of the season, especially on run defense. After allowing big rushing totals in the first half against Clemson, Notre Dame and Louisville, the Noles tightened up in the second half, as all three had fewer second half rushing yards.
Still, it is strange to see Florida State in the middle of the pack among rush defenses in the ACC, ranking No. 7 (and No. 35 in the country). Florida State is giving up an average of 135.7 yards per game on the ground. That is not terrible, but not nearly as good as in years past. The last time FSU gave up that many yards per game was 2009.
Still, Fisher and his players believe they see improvement.
"You’re talking about a lot of guys that haven’t really had to carry that big burden on their back," Fisher said. "Reggie Northrup makes tackles, but he never had to play any significant time last year when he was on defense. Terrance [Smith] did, but he’s been off and on hurt. Eddie [Goldman] did, but he wasn’t counted on to be like Timmy [Jernigan] was, which he’s playing like. Now Mario has really grown into that role and gotten healthy and got his weight down. Losing Nile [Lawrence-Stample] I thought was really a huge loss for us inside because he was playing extremely well. Desmond Hollin's doing a good job. I think their experience and confidence is growing.”
Good timing, considering the challenge they face to try and stop Johnson.
ACC reporter Jared Shanker contributed to this report.