Florida at Florida State: Steps In Stopping A Streak

Sammie Smith helped get FSU close with UF in 1986 before the 'Noles finally ended the streak in 1987.

[This is a piece by Fsued and FrankDNole]

So, you think this is it, right? Come on, be honest, you have your hopes up. After six straight losses, Tebow is gone, the Gators have struggled, FSU is on the rise.

This is the year that we turn the tide.

Well, maybe.

But if history is a guide, maybe not.

Looking back at the overall series between these two teams provides some interesting context regarding one streak ending and another beginning.

And, I would submit, it points us toward a possible outcome of Saturday's game.

In the last 40 years, there have been five major streaks in the series. It started in the 1970s as Florida ran roughshod over the ‘Noles during the tail end of the Peterson era and then over Jones and Mudra-coached teams.

In 1977, FSU defeated Florida in Gainesville, the start of a four-game streak.

Florida countered with 6 in a row starting in 1981 and FSU then won four straight after that. And then, of course, is the current Gator winning streak.

Looking deeper into these earlier streaks reveals a couple interesting points.


First, the streaks weren't particularly lucky for the winning teams - they were dominating their rivals with few close games.

Here are the average scores for the four streaks:

1968-1976: UF 30-12
1977-1980: FSU 30-15
1981-1986: UF 30-12
1987-190: FSU 37-19

But what was even more interesting to me was the LAST GAME of each of those streaks.

In each of those last games, the team on the short end of the streak made a real fight of the game, before eventually losing.

Let's dig into each of these games and the streaks that preceded them:

1976
The streak: UF enters game having won 9 in a row
The background: Florida State's first year under Bobby Bowden
The season: UF was ranked 12th in the country. FSU was 2-3 in Bowden's first campaign. After losing two straight, Bowden went with a bunch of freshman in a key game at Oklahoma, which turned the season around. FSU had won two straight against Kansas State and Boston College.
The game: It's hard to believe, but for many years, the FSU-Florida game was not played at the end of the season. This was the last game that was contested in the middle of the season - the game was played on Oct. 16 before a crowd of 42,803.

And what a game it was.

The FSU media guide account calls it "the finest game in history between the two schools."

It was a seesaw affair throughout with FSU rallying from a 10-0 deficit early to take a 17-13 lead on a Jimmy Black to Kurt Unglaub scoring strike. Black was sensational before leaving the game with a concussion - he was 14 of 17 for 211 yards and a touchdown. Black also ran for 46 yards and another score.

The Gators retook the lead on a touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the half, but Black's 2-yard TD run made it 23-20 FSU midway in the third quarter. Florida then scored consecutive touchdowns and took what looked to be a safe lead of 33-23 with under 8 minutes to play and an injured Black sitting on the sideline.

Enter freshman Jimmy Jordan.

Jordan marched FSU to a Dave Cappelen field goal with 5:19 left. Then, after the Gators were stopped, started another long march as time wound down. Jordan was 6-13 for 109 yards in late action, and drove FSU inside the Gator 10, but the Noles could not get in for the equalizer.

FSU ended up running 83 plays for 507 yards (6.1 yds per play) to Florida's 57 plays for 417 yards (7.3 YPP).

In short, for the first time in almost a decade, the Seminoles truly competed against Florida. Next year, FSU would go into Gainesville and blow out the Gators, 37-9.

1980
The streak: FSU enters game having won 3 in a row, its longest streak in the history of the series
The background: It is the senior season for Bowden's first recruiting class. They have never lost to Florida
The season: UF enters the game ranked 19th in the country. FSU is No. 3 with a lone loss at Miami (10-9) early in the season and huge back-to-back wins over Nebraska and Pitt.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you haven't already done so, please STOP NOW and read this piece on the 1980 FSU defense, the finest squad to ever suit up as Seminoles.
The game: Heavily favored FSU did not show up for the game which started at noon. The Noles QB Rick Stockstill threw two first-half interceptions that led to Gator scores and UF took a 13-3 lead into intermission.

I attended this game as a teenager and remember such a feeling of determination among FSU fans at halftime. Everbody knew we were better and there was palpable confidence that the game would be turned.

The start of the second half was a classic Bowden moment of offensive innovation. But it wasn't trick plays or funky formations. Bowden started the half by running a toss sweep to Ricky Williams. Then he ran it again. Then again. And again. I don't remember the count exactly, but my memory is that Williams ran the toss sweep 6 or 7 straight play to start the half, moving the chains in the process. Finally, Bowden called for play-action and Stockstill found Hardis Johnson for a touchdown to close the lead to 17-13.

Meanwhile, the vaunted FSU defense completely shut down Wayne Peace and the Gators in the second half. Bobby Butler stifled heralded UF receiver Chris Collinsworth (who never tasted victory in his career against FSU).

Stockstill found Hardis Johnson again on a 20-yard scoring strike early in the fourth quarter to give FSU a 17-13 lead. Johnson's best catch of the game, however, was on a flag pattern in the middle of the field - he stretched for a fingertip catch that drew the raves of the ABC announcing team of Al Michaels and Ara Parseghian (used to have that game on tape - I would KILL to watch it again).

After Johnson's second TD grab, the Gators never really threatened again. Lakeland High School's Peace ended up 9 of 25 for 160 yards and three interceptions.
UF's total offensive output was 65 plays for 257 yards (3.9 YPP).

BUT, the game was close for the first time in four years. Sure enough, the following year, Florida blew out FSU 35-3 in Gainesville.

1986 (courtesy of FrankD)
The streak: FSU had dropped 6 in a row to Florida. This was no fluke - many forget that the period from 1981-1986 featured 22 losses. It was certainly better than anything FSU fans were used to, but very reminiscent of the 2000s in terms of wins and losses.
The background: This game was played during a very windy and non-stop driving rain-storm, on a ugly day in Tallahassee, between two unranked, unmotivated football teams.
The season: FSU came into the game with a 6-3-1 record, 0-3 against ranked teams, with our "Road Warriors" losses coming at Nebraska, at Michigan, and at Miami, and a tie at home against a mediocre North Carolina. Florida came into the game with a 5-5 record and they treated this as their bowl game since they were on probation by the NCAA after having been caught in their usual cheating ways the previous season, under their disgraced and fired coach Charlie Pell, and were banned from appearing on TV and received a reduced scholarship sanctions for 3 years.
The game: As expected, due to the wind and rain, this was a very sloppy game where both teams relied on their running game. Combined, both teams managed only 449 yards of total offense, and of those only 113 yards passing yards combined.

FSU was leading late in the fourth quarter when Kerwin Bell threw the game-winning 18-yard pass to Ricky Nattiel with just under 4 minutes left to upset and tear the heart out of the Noles on this miserable late November day.

The next year, FSU ended the streak with a 28-14 win in Gainesville that featured 100-yard rushing performances by both Sammie Smith and Dexter Carter.

********

So, what's the point of all of this?

Well, sometimes, COMPETING and WINNING aren't aligned. That is, in the FSU-UF series, it has taken the team on the short end of a streak one game to learn how to compete, then another to learn how to win.

FSU has not been competitive with UF for a number of years. My expectation is that the Noles WILL be competitive in this year's game. But just because that happens, doesn't mean Florida State will win. My hope for FSU fans is that they will find SOME satisfaction in a competitive game, even if the scoreboard doesn't read in the Noles favor at the end of the game. That's because, ultimately, the best sign that a streak in this series is ending is that the winning team has to battle for a victory.

Of course, all FSU fans will be rooting like heck for win, but there will be value in simply having realistic hope of winning the game ... of truly COMPETING ... as opposed to what has been endured the last few years.
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