Florida State is on the verge of a 10-win season and a spot in the ACC championship game.
All that stands in its way is an injury-plagued Maryland team that has a freshman linebacker starting at quarterback.
The 10th-ranked Seminoles go for a season high-tying fifth consecutive win Saturday when the Terrapins try to end their four-game slide on senior day.
With its best record through 10 games since 2000, when it played for the national championship, Florida State (9-1, 6-1) is tied with No. 11 Clemson atop the Atlantic Division but owns the tiebreaker by virtue of a 49-37 win over the Tigers on Sept. 22.
The Seminoles, who close the season Nov. 24 versus No. 7 Florida, still control their own destiny after rallying for a 28-22 victory at Virginia Tech on Nov. 8. Senior quarterback EJ Manuel connected with Rashad Greene for a go-ahead 39-yard scoring pass with 40 seconds left.
Greene caught six passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns, while Manuel led his first winning fourth-quarter drive since last season’s Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame. It was also the first time the Seminoles’ signal-caller threw a TD on the final drive to win a game.
“We all knew what we needed to do,” said Manuel, who was sacked a season-high five times but threw for 326 yards and three scores. “We feel like we’re built for things like that, and it showed tonight.”
Maryland coach Randy Edsall has seen enough of the Seminoles to understand the tall task in front of his players. Florida State is the only team in the FBS ranked in the top 11 in total offense (11th with 503.2 yards per game) and defense (first with 242.9 ypg).
“The biggest thing is that we can’t make mistakes,” Edsall said. “We need to play a perfect game. If we want to have a chance to win, we’ve got to play a perfect game and get turnovers against them. That’s what we have to do.”
That might be asking a lot as Shawn Petty is preparing to make his third straight start at quarterback. Petty is guiding the Terrapins’ offense due to season-ending injuries to C.J. Brown (ACL), Perry Hills (ACL), Devin Burns (foot) and Caleb Rowe (ACL).
Petty fumbled twice in last Saturday’s 45-10 loss at Clemson.
“You just can’t do that against a top-ten team in the country,” said Edsall, whose team ended last season with eight straight losses.
Maryland (4-6, 2-4), which finished with a season-low 180 total yards last Saturday, could find it even more difficult to move the ball against Florida State if leading rusher Wes Brown and freshman wide receiver Stefon Diggs each miss a second consecutive game.
If those two can’t go, the Seminoles, who have the nation’s fourth-best scoring defense (13.0 ppg), can expect to see plenty of freshman Brandon Ross, who ran for a season-best 100 yards last Saturday.
It would appear that Florida State’s running game can only improve after it totaled minus-15 yards against the Hokies.
The Seminoles, though, rank 26th in the nation with 209.6 rushing yards per game. James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman and Lonnie Pryor are expected to get the bulk of the carries down the stretch with leading rusher Chris Thompson out for the season with a torn left ACL suffered in a 33-20 win at Miami on Oct. 20.
A bright spot for the Terrapins is their run defense, ranked 19th in the nation (112.6 ypg). Maryland is 16th in total defense (315.1 ypg).
“On film, they’re as impressive (defensively) as anyone we’ve seen,” said Fisher, whose team has won five straight against Maryland to improve to 20-2 in this series.