The rivalry between the Florida State Seminoles and the Florida Gators is renewed this weekend, as FSU travels to Gainesville. The 'Noles come in at 7-4 (5-3 ACC). The Gators sit at 6-5 (3-5 SEC). Both teams entered the season with young(ish) rosters, and both have suffered key injuries at positions of relatively little depth.
This is senior day for UF, and the Gators should be fired up to score their first decent win of the year (wins over UAB, Tennessee, FAU, Vanderbilt, Furman and Kentucky). And being that it's a night game (7 p.m., ESPN2), it should be a raucous crowd.
This week’s meeting will mark the 56th meeting all-time in the series between the two schools. UF holds a 33-20-2 edge in the overall series, including a 20-8-1 record in Gainesville. The Gators have not lost to FSU at home since the 2003 season, when the No. 9 Seminoles beat No. 11 Florida, 38-34. UF and FSU have faced each other in the regular season finale each year since 1980. (In 2001, games of Sept. 11 were postponed until the week following the end of the regular season)
The Seminoles are favored by less than a field goal in this matchup, meaning it basically a tossup. Jimbo Fisher is undefeated against his rivals (1-0 v. UF, 2-0 v. Miami), and has won the games by an average of 19 points per contest.
These teams are very similar. Both have very good defenses. Both have struggled on offense, mostly due to injury. And both feature excellent, explosive special teams.
FSU Defense v. UF's offense
Florida State's defense is rated 10th in the nation. UF's offense is rated 69th. The question is: how much of that was UF missing Brantley for 3 of its losses and having him hobbled in another two? The answer: a lot. But I don't know how to quantify it.
UF runs a pro-style offense. Their backs are not well-suited for this, and they don't have many dependable receivers. Brantley has played pretty well when healthy, given the circumstances. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are capable of big plays if they get a crease. Andre Dubose is a freak of an athlete with a good group of long touchdowns.
FSU will be the 3rd or 4th best defense faced by the Gators this year (Bama, LSU and arguably SoCar). They didn't fare particularly well in any of those contests. FSU needs to avoid giving up the big play. UF does not string together long drives well at all. They are overly dependent on big plays. FSU needs to play conservatively, force Brantley to hold the ball, and when he throws it underneath, big hits need to be delivered. UF will fumble a football if given the chance, and in a game like this, big plays and turnovers will likely be the deciding factor. Want more reason to limit the big plays? UF is an awful team in the red zone. If UF wants TDs, they must be earned in the red zone. Big plays and turnovers. I have no doubt UF will come out with some new stuff, as they worked for this game last week (see also: completely unprepared to play Furman).
But FSU has an excellent defense. If they do their job, UF won't be scoring much.
Hold UF to less than 5 yards/play. This is ambitious, but the defense has been good all year and is relatively healthy.
Force 2 turnovers
No more than 4 big plays (25+ yard pass plays and 15+ yard run plays).
FSU offense v. UF Defense
Much like the analysis above, UF's defense is much better than FSU's offense. UF is a man-pressure team. That means they will bring pressure on third down and play man coverage behind it, trying to force the quick throw. Look for FSU to use its receivers to attack UF's relatively young secondary. Much like FSU's defensive line, UF's defensive line should give FSU's offensive line all sorts of trouble. If UF's defensive line plays out of control, FSU may be able to gash them with some longer running plays.
The big question for FSU is just how much EJ Manuel can run. Will they shoot him up with something extra special and run him? It'd make sense for this game. UF's front seven is much better than its secondary, and if FSU can force the Gators to respect the run game, it will have some 1-on-1 opportunities against a suspect secondary.
And no matter the status of his legs, Manuel must have a much better game mentally than he did against UVA. This goes for the entire offense, but especially Manuel.
At least 5.25 yards/play
No more than 1 turnover
No more than 4 operational (pre-snap/alignment/delay) penalties.
Noles 23, Gators 20. Not particularly confident in the prediction, either, because I think the game will be decided by big plays and turnovers. The variance associated when two teams like this get together is enormous.