MIAMI, Fla. - Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder called it "a statement game" and his team certainly made one.
The No. 23 Seminoles hammered No. 13 Miami, 45-17, on Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd of 75,115 at Sun Life Stadium for their fourth straight win and third straight on the Hurricanes' home field.
More importantly, Florida State (5-1, 3-0 ACC) beat its first ranked opponent and emerged as not only the front runner in the ACC - FSU and Miami (3-2, 1-1) entered the game as the only two ranked teams in the conference - but perhaps the best team in Florida. Earlier in the night, No. 14 Florida suffered its second loss, falling at home to No. 12 LSU, 33-29, which will likely make the 'Noles the highest-ranked in-state team when the polls come out on Sunday.
"I think it's a big statement," Ponder said. "I think we are showing the kind of team we really are and that second game of the year wasn't really us (FSU was crushed 47-17 at No. 8 Oklahoma on Sept. 11). I cant' remember the last time we put together two back to back road ACC wins together … We just played extremely well - offense, defense and special teams. It was unbelievable."
It was also the perfect birthday gift for FSU's first-year coach Jimbo Fisher, who turned 45 on Saturday. Fisher was doused with a bucket of ice water from his players in the closing seconds.
"They delivered. They gave me a great one," said Fisher of his players making sure his birthday wish came true. "We got a great group of kids and I love coaching them. It was phenomenal."
It was also shocking, at least in terms of the final score. The previous seven meetings between the rivals were decided by a total of 28 points.
FSU, which has now equaled its best start since 2005 when it last won the ACC, reversed the trend of close games by dominating right from the start. Three touchdowns by Jermaine Thomas (a 17-yard screen pass and two short runs) put the 'Noles up 21-0. They extended that lead to 31-7 and the deficit never got below 14 points.
When Chris Thompson raced away from the Miami defense for a 90-yard touchdown run - the third longest in school history - midway through the fourth quarter it put FSU up 45-17. At that point, the amount of Seminole fans outnumbered their Miami counterparts, most of which had already begun heading home.
Miami did put together a minor comeback in the third quarter when a 26-yard touchdown run by Damien Berry and a 37-yard field goal from Matt Bosher cut FSU's advantage to 31-17.
But, FSU countered with an 11-play, 65-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended with Ponder finding Rodney Smith in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown catch that put the 'Noles up 38-17 and put the game out of reach. It was the first career touchdown catch for Smith, who grew up and went to high school in the Miami area.
"That was huge," Ponder said of his second touchdown pass of the game. "We just ran a slant and up and they ran zero coverage and were bringing a blitz. Rodney was one on one and with his height advantage (the sophomore stands 6-foot-6) that's huge. I just threw it up and he made a great play."
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, who was slowed by a noticeable limp for much of the game, never got into a rhythm and struggled to connect on the deep throws UM's offense normally generates. Harris completed less than half his throws, going 19-of-47 (40 percent) for 225 yards. He had only one completion over 20 yards, a 31-yarder to Travis Benjamin.
FSU's offense did much of its damage on the ground, racking up 298 rushing yards, making the fourth straight game they've broken the 200-yard mark. That's also the first time FSU has had such a streak since 1995.
Thompson finished with a career-high 158 rushing yards while Thomas had 84 and fullback Lonnie Pryor added 45 more.
FSU's Dustin Hopkins had a 38-yard field goal in the second quarter. Bosher missed a 33-yard attempt.
This was the fifth straight time the road team has emerged as the winner in this series.
This was also the first sell out for Miami under fourth-year coach Randy Shannon and their first since facing FSU in 2004.
Several former Florida State players were on the sidelines, including Tony Carter, Lawrence Timmons, Bryant McFadden and Zach Crockett.
FSU linebacker Kendall Smith, who finished with a team-high nine tackles, was the sod captain for this game.
FSU had just one sack (Markus White and Brandon Jenkins split it), but the team has now equaled last year's entire sack total with their 26th takedown of the quarterback.
The Seminoles now have 24 wins over Miami, which is their most victories over any opponent.
FSU's gameday captains were Ryan McMahon, Markus White and Dustin Hopkins.