Preview: Florida Gators at Florida State Seminoles

Chris Thompson #23 of the Florida State Seminoles (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Here it is.  11 games in for both teams.  The 7-4 Florida Gators take on the 8-3 Florida State Seminoles in the Battle For The Governor's Cup.  Florida still has a ton of talent, but its quitting coach hasn't done a great job of replacing some really quality departed coaches with other quality coaches.  The Gators have a pretty decent team.  The 'Noles have considerably less talent but have cobbled together a pretty decent team as well.  The Gators have a major edge of having a bye week while FSU had to play a long-distance conference road game.

Time: 3:30 PM
Line: FSU -2
TV: ABC (Regional) or ESPN 

Injury Report: (Starters in Bold, key reserves in Italics)

OUT
RB: Jermaine Thomas (knee)- until bowl game, Tavares Pressley (ACL)
WR: Jarmon Fortson (kicked off team)A.J. Alexander (left team)
OL: David Spurlock (concussion)Blake Snider (lower leg-season) [FSU is on its 4th-string guard.]
DE: Jamar Jackson (left team)
DT: Moses McCray (ACL done for year)
LB: Nigel Carr (kicked off team)JaJuan Harley (left team)

Florida's Offense v. Florida State's Defense

Florida's offense is somewhat of a mystery.  Is it the fun-&-gun?  Is it the spread option?  In truth it is somewhere in between.  Florida has a lot of great offensive parts, but not a great offense.  But it is far from a bad offense.  The Gators struggled early this year after losing Tebow and after having major issues with the snap.  The snap issues are now fixed.  The identity issues less so.  Florida's offense has had the 42nd-best season in D1, but that rating includes all of the early-season struggles when Pouncey was snapping the ball over Brantley's head.

Any offense starts up front and UF has an offensive line that has underachieved this year.  It's not a bad offensive line by any means, it's just not great.  It's absolutely better than some of the lines that have pushed around Florida State's young and thin defensive line.  The group is as follows:

55 Mike Pouncey C 6' 4" 310 SR
57 Carl Johnson G 6' 5" 355 RSR
67 Jon Halapio T/G 6' 3" 312 RFR
74 Maurice Hurt T/G 6' 3" 320 RSR
76 Marcus Gilbert T 6' 5" 320 RSR
73 Xavier Nixon T 6' 5" 300 SO

Nixon missed some time with injury, but if he is back that means Halapio is not a starter and Hurt will slide to guard.  This is a huge unit and quite veteran.  It's main competition will come from Florida State's front seven.  

LE 98 Markus White 6-4 265 Sr.
95 Bjoern Werner 6-4 273 Fr.
DT 93 Everett Dawkins 6-2 285 So.
97 Demonte McAllister 6-2 280 Fr.
NG 99 Jacobbi McDaniel 6-0 298 So.
92 Anthony McCloud 6-2 302 So
RE 49 Brandon Jenkins 6-3 250 So.
58 Dan Hicks 6-4 260 Fr.
SLB 16 Mister Alexander 6-3 237 Sr.
7 Christian Jones 6-4 228 Fr.
MLB 29 Kendall Smith 6-0 242 Sr.
WLB 13 Nigel Bradham 6-2 240 Jr.

Of particular concern for the 'Noles is the young defensive interior, which is really struggling right now and has dead legs.  These guys are in desperate need of another year of experience and another off-season in the weight room.  If UF is smart, it will likely blow FSU off the ball and get to the second level of Florida State's defense.  

But UF hasn't always been smart.  And if Florida State's 49th-rated defense is to have success it has to hope for Florida to have a poor offensive plan.  FSU's defense is not good enough to shut down Florida's offense if the Gators have a solid plan.  Alabama (19th), LSU (9th), Mississippi State (7th), and South Carolina( 14th) are all top 20 or better defenses.  Florida State's defense is 49th.  They are nowhere close.  I've heard a lot of people this week say that if LSU or Mississippi State can shut down UF then so can Florida State.  That's just not the case.  Those defenses are on a completely different level.  That's not to say that UF's offense should light up FSU's defensive line on every play.  This offensive line does make mistakes and will sometimes turn defenders loose in the passing game.

UF might play three quarterbacks but it would be a mistake to call this unit "ThreeBow."  

12 John Brantley QB 6' 3" 220 RJR
8 Trey Burton QB 6' 2" 222 FR
11 Jordan Reed QB/TE 6' 3" 240 RFR

Brantley has a ton of arm talent while the other two are really h-backs playing QB.  FSU should overplay tendency here.  When Brantley is in, expect throw.  When the other two are in, play the run heavily.  Yes, FSU could get burned doing this, but this is not the type of defense that can reasonably take away both options.  If UF gashes FSU with the run while Brantley is in, or burns the 'Noles with the pass while the two runners are in, so be it.  Tip your cap and realize it is not your day.

UF has a ton of skill talent, like always:

2 Jeffery Demps RB 5' 8" 190 JR
23 Mike Gillislee RB 5' 11" 198 SO
21 Emmanuel Moody RB 5' 11" 215 RSR
3 Chris Rainey RB/WR 5' 9" 178 RJR
85 Frankie Hammond, Jr. WR 5' 11" 178 RSO
82 Omarius Hines WR 6' 0" 219 RSO
9 Carl Moore WR 6' 4" 217 RSR
6 Deonte Thompson WR 5' 11" 203 RJR

But this year they have not always played up to their potential.  Demps isn't healthy and might not have his Olympic speed.  Moody and Gillislee have been inconsistent.  Rainey is back from suspension (death threat to his girlfriend) and is a serious playmaker.  Hammond is the best receiver and should be a pain in FSU's side for the next three meetings.  Hines and Moore and Thompson all have a good bit of talent as well, though they don't always catch the ball.  

On Defense FSU will really need to have a tremendous game from its defensive front of  LE 98 Markus White 6-4 265 Sr., 95 Bjoern Werner 6-4 273 Fr., RE 49 Brandon Jenkins 6-3 250 So., 58 Dan Hicks 6-4 260 Fr., DT 93 Everett Dawkins 6-2 285 So., 97 Demonte McAllister 6-2 280 Fr., NG 99 Jacobbi McDaniel 6-0 298 So., and 92 Anthony McCloud 6-2 302 So.  The problem here is that these guys are all extremely young and worn down.  The defensive tackle rotation is essentially three sophomores, one of which didn't play last season.  Can FSU get that great game from these guys?  It's unlikely.  They just don't have the legs and the experience at this point.    

While the primary responsibility of linebackers SLB 16 Mister Alexander 6-3 237 Sr.7 Christian Jones 6-4 228 Fr.MLB 29 Kendall Smith 6-0 242 Sr., and WLB 13 Nigel Bradham 6-2 240 Jr. will still be run stopping, I also expect more blitzing against certain looks and formations than seen against Maryland.  If FSU's defensive line gets blown off the ball it will be a long day for these backers.  If they hold up well, these guys can make plays.  Christian Jones may need to be that blitzer.

Because UF is still a spread team, FSU will need a tremendous effort from all of its secondary.  That means BC 27 Xavier Rhodes 6-1 210 Fr.20 Lamarcus Joyner 5-8 183 Fr., FC 5 Greg Reid 5-8 185 So., and 1 Michael Harris 5-11 183 Jr at corner.  Plus the safeties have to be patient.  FS 10 Nick Moody 6-2 228 So. and SS 4 Terrance Parks 6-2 218 Jr. aren't good players by any stretch of the imagination and I think UF will attack there.  

Florida's Defense v. Florida State's Offense

 

And now we get to the strengths of each team.  Florida's defense has amassed the 21st-best defensive performance this year, while Florida State's offense has put together the 13th-best offensive season (thanks in large part to playing the #1 most difficult schedule of defenses).  

Florida runs a 4-3 defense but will often shift into 5-2 and 3-3-5 looks.  UF plays a good amount of man coverage, but usually keeps a safety over the top.  Any good defense starts up front and you'll immediately note the contrast between FSU's defensive line (way too young) and Florida's.

73 Sharrif Floyd DT 6' 3" 301 FR
6 Jaye Howard DT 6' 3" 302 RJR
92 Terron Sanders DT 6' 1" 309 RSR
99 Omar Hunter NT 6' 0" 307 RSO
90 Lawrence Marsh NT 6' 5" 290 RSR
44 Duke Lemmens DE 6' 3" 250 SR
34 Lerentee McCray DE 6' 2" 245 RSO
94 Justin Trattou DE 6' 4" 255 SR
7 Ronald Powell LB 6' 4" 248 FR

FSU plays SR, 4 SO, and 3 FR.  UF plays 4 SR, 1 JR, 2 SO (all redshirted), and occasionally plays 2 freshmen.  This is why Florida is the better team.  It has great talent and has developed it through multiple years of heavy lifting and light playing time.  It doesn't have to rely on young kids to play against men, as FSU does.  

On the other hand, FSU's offensive line didn't get the chance to take those lifting years.  The offensive line is pretty much maxed out.  And it's not healthy.

LT 67 Andrew Datko 6-6 307 Jr.
LG 62 Rodney Hudson 6-2 288 Sr.
C 60 Ryan McMahon 6-1 285 Sr.
RG 52 Bryan Stork 6-4 304 Fr.
RT 77 Zebrie Sanders 6-6 307 Jr.

Hudson is still all-world, but Stork is FSU's 5th right guard on the year, Datko has one decent arm (can't run block), and McMahon gets dominated against decent competition.  It's still a good line, but FSU is really looking forward to getting these mega-recruits in, sitting them for two years while developing them into grown men (lifting schedule is different for a kid who knows he won't play as opposed to a sophomore starter).  

I don't know how FSU's offensive line will handle Florida's defensive front.  UF is quite good inside, but the ends are not special.  Expect UF to take advantage of Stork and McMahon, but for FSU to have success running off tackle and to the edges.  Very few teams have had success blowing these guys off the ball or pounding the rock against them.  Mississippi State ran the ball a ton... and scored 10 points.  That's not a viable gameplan.  Alabama and South Carolina have a completely different level of personnel than FSU does.  Alabama pounded UF.  South Carolina had them confused.  FSU doesn't need to pound the rock.  It needs to be balanced and try to keep UF off balance.  

Because UF's ends have not been very productive, they've been forced to blitz more.  

52 Jonathan Bostic LB 6' 1" 238 SO
40 Brandon Hicks LB 6' 2" 228 SR
43 Jelani Jenkins LB 6' 1" 223 RFR
16 A.J. Jones LB 6' 1" 226 RSR

To do this they use Powell (mentioned with the defensive linemen), and the above group of backers.  These guys aren't great, but they aren't bad either.  It's a talented group of linebackers.  FSU may be able to break a long run against these guys if they are confused like they were against South Carolina.  I worry about the offensive line picking up the blitz as the right guard position has been a mess (5th player on the year).  If FSU can pick it up it may be able to hit some short stuff and break it for long gains.

The blitz is especially troublesome because Jermaine Thomas is out.  The new TBs are  23 Chris Thompson 5-8 185 So. and 33 Ty Jones 5-10 210 Jr.  They are not great at blitz pickup.  FB 24 Lonnie Pryor 6-0 213 So. remains a versatile weapon.

Breaking it for long gains will require Florida State's receivers to make plays against an excellent Florida secondary. 

8 Jeremy Brown CB 5' 10" 184 RSO
1 Janoris Jenkins CB 5' 11" 184 JR
36 Moses Jenkins CB 6' 2" 188 RJR
31 Cody Riggs CB 5' 9" 166 FR

Of this group Janoris Jenkins is the stud and is expected to declare for the NFL draft.  He should be at least a second-round pick.  Jenkins should be able to shut down whatever receiver FSU throws at him.  It is the other receivers that must make plays for the 'Noles.  

10 Will Hill FS 6' 1" 207 JR
35 Ahmad Black SS 5' 9" 190 SR

But if they make them over the middle they have to be aware of the two excellent UF safeties.  Both Hill and Black will be pro players and form the best group of safeties FSU has seen all season.  

It will be up to an underachieving group of wideouts to get off man coverage for FSU.  

X 83 Bert Reed 5-10 175 Jr.
82 Willie Haulstead 6-3 213 So
Z 8 Taiwan Easterling 5-11 200 Jr.
84 Rodney Smith 6-6 222 So.
TE 88 Beau Reliford 6-6 254 Jr.
85 Ja'Baris Little 6-3 237 Jr.

Getting Willie Haulstead back from a concussion will be big, but how effective will he be?  Reed and Easterling cannot get dominated like they have been this year.  They have to come out and run hard, precise routes.  And the drops cannot continue if FSU is to have a shot to keep this one close.

And then there is  QB 7 Christian Ponder 6-3 222 Sr.  Ponder is a very good college quarterback, but he is not healthy.  His elbow is constantly drained of fluid.  After playing tremendously against NC State and UNC, he had an up-and-down game against Maryland.  Ponder is excellent at recognizing the blitz, and FSU fans hope he will need to do so here as well (if UF doesn't have to bltiz and is able to get pressure with only 4, game over).  Will he and the receivers be on the same page?  How will the arm do?  I expect FSU to run him a good bit and FSU fans might see backup EJ Manuel for an option package, though he is far from ready to run the offense against a very good defense (16 points won't get it done here as it did against Clemson).  

I have now published Tomahawk for 38 games. In that time I have predicted FSU to lose 6 times (2010 Oklahoma, 2010 Miami, 2009 UF, 2009 Clemson, 2009 Wake - Manuel's first start, and 2008 UF). FSU has lost 4 of those 6 times. This will only be the 7th time in Tomahawk history that I am predicting an FSU loss, and I am still giving FSU a 45% chance to win.  

UF's physical maturity advantage along the lines combined with FSU's injury situation makes me think the Gators pull this one out, but FSU does have a decent shot here.  In game like this turnovers and special teams will likely play big.  UF has very good special teams, but so does FSU.  

Prediction:  UF 27, FSU 23

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