The Matchup: #4 Florida (10-1) at #10 Florida State (10-1)
When: Saturday, November 24th
Where: Tallahassee, Florida
Game Time: 3:30 PM ET
The Skinny: More than just recruiting, pride and the ability to yell at your coworker for the next year, there is a possible national championship berth riding on the outcome of this football game. It feels like the 90’s again. Obviously other stars have to align – Notre Dame losing – but Florida could potentially reach the national championship with a win over the Seminoles. The preseason roles are exactly reversed. We thought it would be Florida State vying for a national championship berth with a win, but it’s Florida sitting at #4 and eyeing a trip to Miami to play for it all. Don’t you just love the BCS?
What you need to know about Florida: The Gators are scratching their heads and asking themselves how exactly they are still in the national championship picture. The main reason? Defense. The Gators could potentially be the best defense in the country, led by Sharrif Floyd, Jon Bostic and Matt Elam.
Aside from having a rather brutal offense – ranked 106th in the entire country, the Gators have the best resume in all of college football with wins over Texas A&M, LSU and South Carolina. A win over FSU all but guarantees a slot in a BCS bowl at-large selection from the SEC.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel returns from an ankle injury he suffered against Louisiana-Lafayette that sidelined him last week against Jacksonville State. He commands the Gators’ 118th ranked passing attack, averaging just 143.4 yards per game. Rest assured that it has more to do with a struggling offensive line and receivers who simply cannot create separation than with Driskel’s progression or ability at quarterback. FSU’s defense will be keying on running back Mike Gillislee, as Driskel will likely be around 80 percent with his injury.
Florida’s defense, on the contrary, makes its case for the top defense in the country. Elam, Bostic, Floyd and company are eager to punish FSU’s offense. That’s such a tall task, though. The Gators have been feasting on opponents’ turnovers, as Florida has forced 24 total on defense. It’s provided a spark and better field position for the offense at times, an offense that hasn’t been able to really capitalize on the stalwart defense.
Look – Florida’s plan to win doesn’t change against Florida State. Showcasing the running game, flexing their defensive muscle, keying on field position and creating turnovers has been the Gators plan to win all along. Sure, Florida won’t generate much offense against FSU, but the Noles will have to protect the football if they want to win this game. So, while Florida’s offense has been a big disappointment, the defense has exceeded expectations for having the success of the team on their shoulders.
What you need to know about Florida State: Aside from Alabama, FSU really looked like the team to beat in the country through the first several weeks. Led by two of the best ends in college football in Bjoern Werner (9.5 sacks) and Tank Carradine (10.5 sacks), FSU makes a case for having the top defense in the country, even after losing starter Brandon Jenkins. The Noles currently lead the country in total defense, allowing just 236.3 yards per game.
The Seminoles are ranked 14th in the country in total offense, too. Quarterback EJ Manuel has played well this season and has thrown for 2,785 yards and 21 touchdowns. The running game took a major blow when tailback Chris Thompson went down with a season-ending knee injury. He gained 687 yards in nine games. Now, backups Devonta Freeman and power back James Wilder tote the rock the most in his absence and are very serviceable backs but not game breakers.
Who has the edge: Many are overlooking Florida in this football game, and for good reason. The lack of offensive production is quite alarming, considering the fact that the Gators haven’t looked good against cupcakes ULL and Jacksonville State the last two weeks.
You have to give the upper hand to the Noles entering this game. However, it’s a rivalry game, and either team can really put on a clinic when the right opportunity arises.
The biggest question entering this game is whether Florida can generate any type of offense against the Noles’ defense. It’s stout, fast and downright nasty at times. It’s an SEC-caliber defense. Don’t let their conference affiliation fool you.
With about an 85 percent Jeff Driskel, he will be limited in the running game. I think it’s quite possible we see two Florida quarterbacks – Driskel and back up Jacoby Brissett – both play. Florida’s defense will have to play their best game of the season – play stout against the run, have great one-on-one coverage on the receivers and force multiple turnovers. That’s Florida’s plan to win.
This game has the makings of a defensive struggle, with both offenses having trouble mounting multiple lengthy drives throughout the game. Field position and special teams will be a big advantage for either team. FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins (15th in country) and Florida’s Caleb Sturgis (19th in the country) will be absolutely key putting points on the board. The game could rest on either of their right legs.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE