Florida State v. Florida: Preview and prediction

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

High flying Florida State ends its regular season against a reeling Florida team, but is this match-up as lopsided as it seems?

27 -- that's the line for Florida State at Florida, set to kickoff Saturday at Noon on ESPN. That is the largest a road team has been favored by in the series since at least 1985, and perhaps before. The most a road team in the series has ever won by is 30 (2009: Florida 45, FSU 15). The Vegas line is just a field goal off.

27 is also the number of players that have missed time for Florida this year. While the year was unlikely to equal the 2012 11-win campaign, the massive injuries have pushed this Florida team over the edge. At this point, it is tough to know what to make of Florida.

Don't miss: Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army stops by to answer questions in the comments section at NOON EST.

Add all that up, and this doesn't feel like the usual rivalry this year, with Florida State steamrolling everyone on its way to play for another conference and perhaps national title, and Florida already being out of bowl contention.

v. Florida's defense

Florida State offensive rating: 1st | Florida defensive rating: 12th

*Keep in mind that these ratings are for the entire season. Florida's defense has steadily regressed thanks to injury, and then due to undisciplined play likely as a result of trying to overcompensate for the offense.

According to Brian Fremeau's component scoring, Florida outscored its first five FBS opponents by 68.2 points before garbage time, and its defensive play was responsible for 47 of those 68 points, which is ridiculously good.

But in losing its last five games to FBS opponents by 68 points before garbage time (not including FCS Georgia Southern, obviously), UF's defense was just as responsible for the losses as its offense, as they both accounted for -26.7 points of the margin.

That difference is remarkable.

Florida's defense took a big hit when it lost Dominique Easley. Easley is a first-round draft pick with immense talent and could often times shut down an opposing team's run game single-handedly. He demanded double teams and opened up holes for the UF linebackers to attack the ball carrier. When Easley went out former, Seminole Darius Cummings entered the lineup. While Cummings is not a bad DT, he is nowhere near the caliber of Easley which allows offenses to give more thought to the other players on the line. Easley was Florida's only true difference maker on the interior of the defensive line, and the loss of Easley was probably bigger than the loss of QB Jeff Driskel.

Offensive linemen and fullbacks are able to get hats on linebackers due to the lack of a need to double team interior defensive linemen. While this primarily means longer runs for running backs, it also means Florida has to commit more players to the box to stop the run, opening up the passing game.

Florida is OK with doing that, however, because it has an awesome trio of cornerbacks, including Vernon Hargreaves.

Expect FSU to run right at Florida. FSU has very good backs and the offensive line has been quite good as well.

The key to beating Florida soundly will be to stay in good down and distance. Florida's defense isn't what it was earlier in the year, but it is definitely still excellent on passing downs. UF has good pass rushers who pin their ears back and get after it, and those corners mentioned above.

UF does like to blitz a lot and let its corners play man, and Florida State has torn up that sort of defense this year. But this is a battle of two elites in this specific area. Should be fun.

If UF gives FSU throws on first down, expect Jameis Winston to take them, as he has done all year. Particularly, look for FSU to work Kenny Shaw in the slot and Nick O'Leary at tight end against a depleted Florida linebacker corps.

Being patient and smart will be important for Florida State. If UF plays more conservatively than it has this year, Winston and the offense must be OK with taking the short stuff and methodically moving the ball down the field.

Goals

  • More than 6.8 yards a play before garbage time (204 yards on 30 plays, 272 yards on 40 plays, 340 yards on 50 plays)
  • No more than 1 turnover
  • 60% or greater TDs in the red zone

v. Florida's offense

Florida State's defense: 4th | Florida's offense: 96th

Offenses don't get much worse. Not only is the offense inefficient it's also boring and the latter might be doing just as much damage to this coaching staff's job security as the former. This UF is offense (96th in F+) is likely the worst FSU will have faced all year outside of Wake Forest, Idaho and Bethune-Cookman.

I don't think Florida's offense was going to be anything special even if it had stayed healthy this year, but the fact is that injuries have played a major, major part of this train wreck.

Florida has now lost several starting offensive linemen to injuries this year, which makes the lack of depth only that much more apparent. Too often, talented running backs Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown have to avoid their first tackler behind the line of scrimmage, killing all momentum and slowing the play down so other defenders can help out.

Florida's passing game is considerably worse than its run game. It has a decent pair of receivers in Solomon Patton and Quinton Dunbar, but it does not have a quarterback.

Skyler Morninhweg is going to be the worst Florida quarterback you'll ever see the Gators use against Florida State. Ever. He is indescribably bad. But I'll try.

In fairness, he is the third-string QB, playing after Tyler Murphy was injured after taking over for Jeff Driskel...who was injured. It is tough to even watch him play. 75-percent of his passes, including incompletions, have gone for five or fewer yards. He does not read defenses well, has a terrible arm, a slow release, etc.

Florida was less efficient on passing downs (2nd-&-8+, 3rd-&-5+) than Georgia Southern, and Georgia Southern did not complete a pass. Think about that.

In watching Florida against South Carolina and Georgia Southern, Morninhweg is actually quite lucky he did not throw more interceptions.

Given that, I expect Florida's offense to be an extension of its defense. There are only 60 minutes in a football game. Morninhweg can move pretty well, and Tyler Murphy, if he gets in the game, will be in to run -- he cannot throw with his arm injury. Florida will try to run the clock with its offense, starting at the opening snap.

Expect UF to use lots of direct snaps to the running backs (wildcat), zone reads, veers, etc. They'll try anything to pop a big running play, or even get a first down, and take another two minutes off the play clock. Trick plays should be expected, and FSU has been preparing for a lot of shifts to try to get the Seminoles out of position on running plays.

Expect Florida State to counter with a lot of cover-3 to load the box and prevent deep passes to speedy receivers.

If FSU's first-team defense gives up more than a single scoring drive originating from UF's territory, it should be embarrassed.

Goals

  • Less than 3.5 yards/play allowed before garbage time (105 yards on 30 plays, 140 yards on 40 plays, 175 on 50 plays, etc.)
  • Force 2 turnovers
  • 50% or fewer touchdowns allowed in the red zone.

Special Teams

Special teams is the only place UF is better than FSU in F+ rankings but Florida still has problems here. UF has spent all year trying to find a good field goal kicker mostly settling on Francisco Velez. Austin Hardin has the bigger leg of all the kickers and handles the kickoffs but lacks accuracy (4 - 11 on FGs). Velez is more accurate (6 - 8), but his long of 44 is the only kick he's made over 31 yards (he's only attempted 4 FGs of over 30 yards).

Florida has talent in the return game and could grab some points here as FSU's coverage teams haven't been great (they haven't been awful either) but it's not likely to be enough.


Prediction

Expect Florida to be prepared and focused for this contest. But expect the same from Florida State. UF would need to hit a few long scoring plays on offense, turn FSU over four or more times, and score two non-offensive touchdowns to have a shot to beat Florida State in this one.

Florida State 41, Florida 6 | Chance of winning: 97%

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