Florida at Florida State preview and prediction

Rob Carr

Can Florida State make it three straight over Florida?

3:30 | ABC | Line: -7/43.5

What They Did Last Week: Florida

Florida beat their second tune up opponent by a resounding 23 points! Without a healthy Jeff Driskell UF started Jacoby Brissett. None of that matters though as once again Florida rode Mike Gillislee and its defense to an easy win.


Alan Mundy breaks down the Florida Offense


What They Did Last Week: Florida State

Florida State literally kicked Maryland out of the ACC! The Noles were able to force early turnovers and capitalized on them, quickly putting the game away. FSU's running game had arguably its best day all year as the line opened huge holes for both Devonta Freeman (career day) and James Wilder, Jr.

v. Florida's Defense

Pray. Seriously. Florida runs a very good defense with very good players. Eight or nine of Florida's defensive starters should be drafted (when eligible), and it's just as talented as FSU's unit. This defense has yet to give up over 20 points in a game. Football Outsiders has UF as the #2 defense in the country just behind Alabama.

Up front the Noles will have their hands full with a very talented line headlined by defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. FSU did a great job against a very good Maryland defensive line (best they have seen all season) and a repeat performance would greatly help FSU here.

Florida sells out against the run on first down and will give FSU the short pass on early downs, and it will be up to Manuel and his receivers to convert those. If they do, FSU will be able to operate in manageable second and third down and distance. If not, well... . Balls need to be accurate, coverage needs to be read, and catches must be made against tight coverage. Do not expect FSU to have a lot of success running the football against Florida's defense. Not only is it an excellent defense (talent wise), and they commit numbers against the run. On many plays, there are too many guys to block.

Florida State should run EJ Manuel more in this game. It's the final game against a rival of his career, and he needs to run the ball when called upon to do so. lt not only forces UF to defend all 11 players but also forces them into more zone, assuming FSU is successful with its runs. The Gators mostly play man and are not as good in zone. Unfortunately that is like saying Emma Stone is not as attractive as Scarlett Johansson. I am not sure she is and I am not sure it matters. However, the Noles will need every advantage they can get no matter how slim.

Unlike Virginia Tech, Florida will not routinely blitz from a cover-0 look. Florida will probably blitz Florida State, but perhaps not as much as some have. Expect some overload blitzes along with more traditional blitzes, but Florida will like play a cover-2 or cover-1 behind it. It is going to be up to Manuel to soften up Florida's defense. He needs to take what Florida gives him and not take sacks, which he has struggled with this year. Most importantly Florida State needs to limit turnovers as much as possible Florida's offense does not consistently score without good to great field position.

Against Maryland, Florida State ran much more single back sets than they had against Virginia Tech. Look for FSU to do the same against UF. As opposed to the split back shotgun sets the single back sets give Freeman, Wilder, and Lonnie Pryor better angles against the outside linebackers in the outside zone runs FSU runs so well. The Noles also ran more downhill out of this set.

Tempo could also be big here. Don't be surprised if Florida State goes up tempo some to keep Florida off balance.

Ultimately Florida State is going to have to wear down Florida. If the offense is able to consistently get one or two first downs on a drive they are doing well. Both teams have done a good job of keeping field position in their favor (Florida with turnovers and Florida State with a few first downs on most drives) so starting field position and red zone execution will likely determine who wins this game.

Goals:

- more than 5 yards a play before garbage time (300 yards on 60 plays, 350 yards on 70 plays)
- No more than 1 turnover
- 50% or greater TDs in the red zone

v. Florida's Offense

Remember how Florida State played against a poor offense in Maryland? Yeeeaaahhh, that is about to to happen again. OK, so Florida's offense is not nearly as bad as Maryland's, but it is not good. Not that Florida State has faced many good offenses this year, either.

Most of the problem comes from trying to take players built for a spread team (Urban Meyer's players), plus some poor evaluations in recruiting, and ramming them into a more pro style set.

Offensive Coordinator Brent Pease is a Chris Petersen disciple and it shows. Florida will motion a good bit before the snap to give Driskell a better read on the defense and then depend on the power running game to open things up. Under Petersen Boise State was notorious for running trick plays but with the lack of consistency Florida has shown on offense the opportunity for those plays has been low.

UF's offense is keyed by running back Mike Gillislee. Florida is not beyond using six offensive linemen to key their running game. They've been unable to do so in recent weeks, due to health, but the key linemen are expected back for this contest. Thankfully FSU is pretty deep on the interior line, and should continue to rotate four players at defensive tackle.

Florida is going to attempt to get FSU to play out of a 4-3 defense, as opposed to its customary 4-2-5 that has been so effective. Nick Moody has not been great at linebacker, and FSU would prefer to play its 4-2-5 set.

Florida State should have an advantage with defensive ends Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner against the run. They both set and control the edge well, and must do so against Florida Saturday.

A major wildcard in this game is Florida's quarterback Jeff Driskel. He is a great athlete and, when healthy, makes Florida's running game a lot better. Driskel runs zone read quite well, plus some veer and some designed QB runs. His running makes other's running a lot better.

But how healthy is Driskel? An ankle injury caused him to miss the Jacksonville State game and could limit his effectiveness. Florida said he had a great week of practice and it is assumed that he will be a go.

FSU needs to play majority zone defense against Florida for a few reasons.

First, man coverage against a good running QB like Driskel can be a major problem, as players turn their backs to the QB and he is permitted to scramble.

Second, while Driskel does have a huge arm, he is not very good at reading defenses. He doesn't seem to anticipate throws very well, and while he has not thrown many interceptions, he has struggled a lot against good defenses.

Pease does not seem to trust Driskell to throw the ball. Plus, Florida's receivers are not very good. At all. They don't run good routes, don't seem to get themselves open much, and when they do, they don't always catch it. The chemistry between Driskel and his receivers is simply not there.

One player who is really good, however, is tight end Jordan Reed. A junior, he's a potential early-NFL type, and he could give FSU trouble. The 'Noles need to account for him on every play. Florida will look to get him lined up on Vince Williams or Nick Moody in coverage. That's another reason why FSU needs to play more zone, as it won't have a linebacker matched up on the tight end for a prolonged period.

Most of Florida's passes are short, quick hits so Florida State needs to do a good job of open field tackling. Thankfully FSU has done a very good job of this and it needs to continue.

So how does Florida get guys open? "Shot plays."

Florida will run misdirection, pick routes, etc. Basically, it runs an entire play just to try and get one player wide open, usually down field. That can be a wheel route to FB/TE Burton (see Tennessee), or some big throwback, misdirection to a wideout, etc. FSU needs to be very aware of this and play disciplined defense. If the player is open, it's a touchdown. If he's not, Driskel either throws it (good for the defense) or tucks it and runs.

Much like USF and Virginia Tech, UF's offense is not proficient enough with the passing game to drive the field a whole bunch on this FSU defense.

FSU's plan should be similar to what it ran against Virginia Tech and USF with Logan Thomas and B.J. Daniels. Driskel has a big arm (like them), is an excellent runner (like them), and is not a very good drop-back passer (like them).

The major goal for FSU is to stop the run early and force Driskel to beat them with his arm in long down and distance. If they do that the Noles will have ample opportunity for turnovers.

Goals:

- less than 3.75 yards/play before garbage time (225 on 60 plays, 263 on 70)
- Force 2 turnovers
- 50% or less TDs in the red zone

Special Teams

Last week Bud Elliot wrote an article about the struggles of freshmen punter Cason Beatty. Beatty does a good job of dropping balls inside the 20 but is inconsistent when he needs to punt for distance. FSU fans will have to hope Beatty has a good day and does not unleash a 25 yard punt as he has been known to do. On the other hand Florida has one of, if not the, best punter the nation in Kyle Christy and the athletes to cover. Big plays could come for either team in the return game but it is not likely to happen.

This game will feature two Lou Groza award finalists in Dustin Hopkins and Caleb Sturgis. Both teams will likely kick the ball out of the end zone as big returns could be disasterous. If either team gets into field goal range they is a very good chance they will come away with three points. Hopkins has kicked well this year but struggled from the right hash. Cross your fingers on these kicks FSU fans.

Miscellaneous

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Prediction: FSU 23 - Florida 13

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