Florida State and Florida enter their annual Sunshine State showdown with different goals in mind. Despite the differences in record and what’s next for both programs, this rivalry matchup will have plenty of intrigue on Saturday afternoon in Doak Campbell Stadium.
Florida State enters this matchup with a 27-game winning streak. The last loss by the Seminoles? Try a 37-26 defeat at the hands of Florida in 2012. But since that game, much has changed for both programs. The Gators are looking for a new coach after Will Muschamp was not retained for 2015, while Florida State is trying to win back-to-back national championships.
The Gators have already clinched bowl eligibility, and with this being Muschamp’s finale game at Florida, expect this team to play hard for their soon-to-be former coach. Florida State has struggled in the first half of games (at times) this year but continues to find ways to win. The Seminoles used a last-second field goal to beat Boston College last week and defeated Miami by four points one week prior.
Florida owns a 34-23-2 series edge over Florida State. However, the recent history in this series favors the Seminoles. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has won three out of the last four against the Gators. Florida State won last year’s meeting by a convincing 37-7 margin.
Florida at Florida State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State -7.5
Florida’s Key to Victory: Win the Battle Up Front
If Florida wants to spoil Florida State’s unbeaten season, it has to win the battle up front on offense. The Seminoles are not as strong as they were last year in the trenches, as the rush defense allows 148.8 yards per game. In last week’s win over Boston College, Florida State gave up 240 yards and allowed the Eagles to rush for 4.7 yards per carry. The Seminoles will be challenged once again up front, as the strength of Florida’s offense is its rushing attack. The Gators average 201 yards per game in SEC play on the ground and plan to test the Florida State defensive front with two running backs: Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor. Jones leads the team with 788 yards, but Taylor isn’t far behind with 528 yards. Freshman quarterback Treon Harris is a former Florida State commit that switched to Florida on signing day. Harris hasn’t been asked to do much in the passing game (37 of 68 for 727 yards), but his ability to run (250 yards on 56 attempts) will be a valuable asset for the Gators’ offense. If Florida has success on first and second downs to limit putting Harris in long-yardage situations, then the Gators can control the clock and limit Florida State’s possessions on offense. That’s the best formula for a Florida upset.
Florida State’s Key to Victory: Attack the Florida Secondary
Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is one of the best in college football. And it’s expected the sophomore will see some snaps against Florida State senior Rashad Greene (83 catches for 1,148 yards and five scores) on Saturday afternoon. However, even with Hargreaves III on their side, the Gators’ pass defense struggled at times in SEC play. Florida was torched by Alabama for 449 yards, Kentucky for 369 yards and Georgia for 319. Total yardage isn’t the best indicator of success or failure by a pass defense, and it’s notable the Gators are fifth in the SEC in pass efficiency defense. The secondary also has help in the form of pressure generated by its front seven, as Florida ranks sixth in the SEC with 25 sacks this year. Even though the Gators are strong up front, if Florida State’s revamped offensive line can provide adequate protection for quarterback Jameis Winston, the sophomore should have opportunities to make big plays against this secondary. Winston threw for 327 yards and three scores against Florida last year and seems to be developing a nice rapport with younger receivers like Jesus Wilson and Travis Rudolph during the second half of the season. And the offense has an emerging star in running back Dalvin Cook to test a Gators’ defense that ranks second in the SEC against the run. Florida State’s keys to victory are pretty clear: Stop the run on defense and let Winston attack downfield against an improving, but potentially vulnerable secondary.
It isn’t always pretty, but Florida State continues to win games. While style points are important to some, the Seminoles just need to survive and advance. Coach Jimbo Fisher has a relatively young team in spots, including on defense where Florida State is not as dominant as it was last year. Even though Florida is struggling, this is a dangerous spot for the Seminoles. The Gators have the front seven to give Winston and the offensive line trouble, while the rushing attack will test the Florida State defensive front. Expect Florida to play tough for Muschamp and find a way to hang around until the fourth quarter. However, the Seminoles are the better team and the best player on the field is still Winston. Florida State gets it done in the fourth quarter once again and extends its winning streak to 28 games in a row.