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Seminoles give Coach Fisher a birthday present he won't forget

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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MIAMI -- Legendary Bobby Bowden put his signature on his book Called To Coach in nearby Boca Raton on Friday night, and on Saturday night, his successor, Jimbo Fisher, put his signature on the Florida State-Miami rivalry in his first try.

Fisher's No. 23 Seminoles (5-1, 3-0) upset No. 13 Miami 45-17 and did it in convincing fashion as they were superior in every phase of the game.

"Considering the caliber of the opponent," Fisher said, "it was clearly our most complete game on offense, defense and in the kicking game."

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Bowden watched on television from his Tallahassee home after another book signing on Saturday and said, "I'll be pulling for them, but I won't miss being there."

It was the first time since 1976 that Bowden wasn't on the sidelines, and since his career record against the Hurricanes was 14-21, he was probably happy to be at home.

The Seminoles presented Fisher with a perfect 45th birthday present as they rolled up the largest margin of victory in the series since Miami's 49-27 win in 2001.

"It was as good of a birthday present as I could have asked for, phenomenal," Fisher said, "but dadgumit, the bucket of water was cold."

Linebacker Kendall Smith carved a piece of the turf to carry home to FSU's 'Sod Cemetery,' signifying a victory in a big road game where the Seminoles were the underdog.

It was symbolic that the Seminoles walked away with a piece of the turf where they completely buried the Hurricanes.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "We got our butts whipped."

The 298 yards rushing for Florida State was the most against the Hurricanes since Virginia Tech had 272 yards on Sept. 26, 2009, in a 31-7 loss.

"We hit them up the middle better than I thought," Fisher said, "because they ran over the top to get the stretch plays outside. Our offensive line was the difference against a very fast and athletic defensive line."

The success rushing allowed the passing game to be efficient as Christian Ponder completed 12 of 21 for 173 yards and two touchdowns. More important, he converted 6 of 12 third downs.

"We needed balance," Ponder said. "Their defense is athletic, but we were able to stay two-dimensional."

In the kicking game, Greg Reid's 145 yards in returns provided good starting position for the Seminoles, something Miami (3-2, 1-1) couldn't get.

In 13 possessions, Miami started only four times outside its 20. In 13 possessions, Florida started seven times at its 30 or better and in Miami's territory four times.

"It makes it much easier when you can get a short field," Fisher said, "especially against a defense with their play-making ability."

In reality, the game went downhill for Miami when it lost the coin toss. Two years ago, the Seminoles led 24-3 at halftime but had to hang on to win 41-39. It didn't happen this time.

The Seminoles scored on three of its six first-half possessions for a 24-7 lead as Jermaine Thomas scored three touchdowns, the most since Antoine Smith did it two years ago against Miami. Fisher didn't forget 2008.

"I knew a team with Miami's pride and fight would make a run in the second half," Fisher said. "I told our guys that it is 0-0. Let's take the ball and get another score."

The Seminoles listened as they drove 69 yards for a 31-7 lead as Lonnie Pryor went 16 yards for the touchdown.

What Ponder gave the Seminoles, Miami's Jacory Harris couldn't match as he completed only 19 for 47 for 225 yards with an interception.

In the first half, he was asked to play from behind the sticks too often as the Hurricanes had over 6 yards on only five of 21 first-down plays. He was pressured by FSU's defense and sacked once.

Harris, clearly limping due to a tweaked groin in the first half, simply couldn't deliver the plays necessary to keep up with Ponder and the Seminoles.

Shannon was uncertain of Harris' status for the Hurricanes' next game at Duke.

"Nicks always come and go in games," Shannon said. "He is a little nicked up right now. We will see what develops after [Sunday]. We'll see where he is for next week."

The Hurricanes matched the Seminoles in penalties with eight, but Miami had two costly ones in the first half that helped FSU score 10 points.

Florida State is clearly a different team than the one that was routed by Oklahoma 47-17.

"It is about attitude and preparation," Ponder said. "We are playing better because we are preparing better. We weren't as bad the Oklahoma loss."

Defensive tackle Everett Dawkins thinks "the sky is the limit if we maintain our focus and approach," and Ponder declined suggestions that the Seminoles are ahead of schedule.

"We are meeting our expectations," Ponder said. "We know other people might have expected more, but we are doing what we need to do. This was a big win tonight, but any win over Miami is a big win."

Between 1983 and 2001, this rivalry yielded the national champion seven times in 19 years. The national champion didn't play in the game this time.

Florida State beat Virginia Tech 27-22 in the inaugural ACC title game in 2005, but the Seminoles haven’t been back. Fisher wasn't in the mood to discuss possibly going back.

"I only know we play Boston College next," Fisher said, "and that is what I told our players."

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