Florida-Florida State is usually one of the most-anticipated matchups in the Sunshine State each year. But the luster and interest has clearly eroded away from this season’s meeting.
Florida State needs two wins to play for the national championship, while Florida is in the midst of the school’s worst season since a 0-10-1 record in 1979.
The Seminoles have one of the deepest rosters in the nation, led by Heisman Trophy frontrunner in quarterback Jameis Winston, as well as a defense that continues to get better with each snap. Florida State has scored 40 points in every game this year, and the defense has allowed just 125 points in 11 contests.
Injuries have played a role in Florida’s struggles this year, as the Gators have lost a handful of players – including quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, running back Matt Jones and linebacker Antonio Morrison – to season-ending injuries. Although injuries are to blame, Will Muschamp and the coaching staff deserves criticism for the poor performance of this team. Florida recruits as well as any team in the nation, and even with some critical injuries, losing to a FCS team should never happen in Gainesville.
The Seminoles are a heavy favorite, and the outcome of this year’s meeting isn’t really in question. However, an in-state rivalry always brings out the best in the underdog, and the Gators would like nothing more than to spoil Florida State’s national championship hopes.
Florida State has won two out of the last three meetings against Florida. However, the Gators won 37-26 over the Seminoles in Tallahassee last season.
Florida has won seven out of the last nine meetings against Florida State.
Florida State at Florida
Kickoff: Noon ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State –27
Florida’s Key to Victory: Establish the run and control the clock
Florida’s quarterback situation is up in the air for Saturday’s game. Tyler Murphy stepped into the starting lineup after Jeff Driskel was lost for the season against Tennessee. Murphy threw for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns in his nine appearances this year, while third-stringer Skyler Mornhinweg has made two starts in a row while Murphy sat out with an injured shoulder. Mornhinweg has thrown for 229 yards on 24 completions this year but averaged only 8.7 yards per completion in last week’s loss to Georgia Southern. Time of possession can be an overrated statistic in college football. However, Florida leads the SEC by averaging 34:16 in time of possession each week. Controlling the clock and limiting the possessions of Florida State’s offense would seem to be the only hope the Gators have of winning. Running back Kelvin Taylor has been a bright spot for this offense, rushing for 483 yards on 105 attempts. The Seminoles struggled at times to stop the run earlier this year, but this unit has not allowed a team to rush for more than 150 yards in each of the last four games. And Florida State has not allowed a rushing touchdown since a 49-17 victory over NC State on Oct. 26. It’s not an easy assignment against an aggressive defense, but the Gators have to plan for a run-heavy approach on Saturday.
Florida State’s Key to Victory: Win the turnover battle
It’s a simple key to the game, but it matters more when playing on the road against a wounded underdog. Florida doesn’t have the horses to hang with Florida State in this matchup, and the Seminoles can't give the Gators any opportunity to hang around. The Gators’ offense has not scored more than 20 points in each of their last six games and is averaging just 4.7 yards per play. The only way for Florida to win this game is if Florida State commits a few turnovers, which allows the Gators to convert those into easy points. If the Seminoles have a clean performance with few mistakes, the outcome won’t be in question by the fourth quarter.
Key Player: Skyler Mornhinweg, QB, Florida
There’s a huge gap in terms of production from the two starting quarterbacks on Saturday. For Florida State, Jameis Winston is the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy and has thrown for 3,163 yards and 32 touchdowns in 11 starts. Mornhinweg started the season as Florida’s No. 3 quarterback and has thrown for 229 yards in two starts. The freshman has a difficult assignment this Saturday against Florida State’s defense, which leads the nation in interceptions. Even though the Gators need production from Mornhinweg, the freshman can’t force any throws or make any mistakes. Florida’s margin for error is small, and a bad performance from Mornhinweg will only make the Gators’ upset hopes even smaller.
With nothing to lose, Florida should empty the playbook, use any trick plays it has in the bag and use everything it has to pull off the upset. However, that’s easier said than done. The edge in talent is clearly on the Florida State sideline, and the Seminoles appear to be on a mission to get to Pasadena. While rivalry games often bring out the best in an underdog, Florida doesn’t have the firepower to stick around for all four quarters. The Gators’ best hope at an upset is to shorten the game with a strong rushing attack, which would limit the possessions for Florida State’s offense. Florida hangs around for a half, but the Seminoles pull away in the third quarter.
Prediction: Florida State 45, Florida 10