Florida and Florida State don’t require much motivation when it comes to the annual meeting for bragging rights in the Sunshine State. However, there’s a little more motivation for both teams in 2012.
Florida ranks No. 4 in the latest BCS standings and with a little help, could make it to the national championship game. The Gators won’t play in Atlanta for the conference title but could climb to No. 2 in the BCS standings with a Georgia loss to Georgia Tech and a Bulldogs victory over Alabama in the SEC Championship.
Florida State needs a lot of help to get into the conversation for the national title. The Seminoles haven’t made much progress in the BCS standings and rank 10th overall going into Week 13. A weak non-conference schedule, as well as a bad year in the ACC is hurting Florida State in the computer rankings. The Seminoles likely need nine teams to lose ahead of them in the BCS, so it’s unlikely they will be able to get into one of the top two spots. However, considering what transpired last week, Florida State still has a chance.
Florida State has won the last two matchups in this series by a combined score of 52-14. Florida won six consecutive from 2004-09 but has been dominated in the last two games.
When the Florida Gators have the ball:
In last season’s matchup, Florida’s offense managed only 184 yards and just 11 first downs. Considering Florida State’s defense is just as strong as it was last year, the Gators have to be concerned. Florida’s offense has been very average for most of the season and scored just 23 points in its last two SEC games.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel suffered an ankle injury against Louisiana-Lafayette and did not play against Jacksonville State. However, the sophomore is expected to be in the lineup for Saturday’s game. Driskel gives Florida the best chance to win, as his mobility is a valuable asset for an offense that is struggled to generate much of a passing attack.
Driskel is completing 64.8 percent of his throws and has tossed only three picks on 193 attempts. However, the Gators have a lack of proven playmakers in the receiving corps. Tight end Jordan Reed is the team’s go-to target, but the top two receivers – Quinton Dunbar and Frankie Hammond – don’t scare many defenses.
If the Gators are going to win on Saturday, they need a big effort on the ground from running back Mike Gillislee. The senior leads the Gators with 964 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and is coming off a 122-yard effort against Jacksonville State. However, there won’t be much room to run against Florida State, as the Seminoles rank first nationally in rush defense. Getting Gillislee going, as well as letting Driskel make plays with his legs is crucial to Florida’s shot at a victory.
Much of the success for Florida State’s defense starts up front. The Seminoles have one of the nation’s most talented lines in college football, which will be a problem for Florida’s offensive line (allowing 2.9 sacks per game). Expect the Seminoles to crowd the box and force Driskel to win this one with his arm.
When the Florida State Seminoles have the ball:
While Florida’s offensive numbers were awful in last season’s game, Florida State’s were even worse. The Seminoles managed only 95 yards on 59 plays and had just seven first downs. Even though the Gators have a solid defense, don’t expect Florida State to repeat those totals this year.
The Seminoles have scored at least 30 points in all but two games this year and rank 14th nationally in total offense. The biggest reasons for Florida State’s improvement on offense this year has been the health of quarterback EJ Manuel and an offensive line that has made significant strides since 2011. Manuel dealt with a shoulder injury for much of last season but has managed to stay healthy this year, throwing for 2,785 yards and 21 scores. Florida State’s offensive line has struggled at times, but this unit has shown big improvement from last season and should hold its own against Florida's active front seven.
There’s no shortage of weapons around Manuel, starting in the backfield with Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. Losing Chris Thompson to a torn ACL in October was a tough blow for the running game, but Freeman and Wilder have easily picked up the slack over the last few games. The Seminoles have five players with at least 20 catches this year, including Rashad Greene who leads the team with five touchdown tosses.
Although Florida State’s offense has thrived this year, Florida’s defense will be the best it has played all year. The Gators rank fourth nationally in total defense and are allowing just 11.7 points per game. There’s plenty of strength in the front seven, but Florida has allowed just four passing scores this season.
Yards and points will be difficult to come by on Saturday afternoon. Florida and Florida State both rank in the top five of total defense and each are generating at least two sacks per game.
While the defenses are even, there’s a clear edge on the offensive side. Florida State is simply the better team on offense and that’s the difference in the game. And with this being the final game for quarterback EJ Manuel in Tallahassee, expect the senior to deliver Florida State’s third straight win over its biggest rival.
Prediction: Florida State 24, Florida 17
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