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Florida State football: Florida preview and prediction

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FSU hosts Florida for Will Muschamp's last hurrah. Can the Gators send their coach off on a high note?

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Florida's had a tough few years. Even though most fans know sports are cyclical, it's never fun to watch your team struggle while your rival succeeds. Combine that with a boring offense for a fan base that is used to an explosive one, and you've got a recipe for a short coaching tenure. Will Muschamp could never get comfortable with an offensive coordinator, so offensive recruiting and development struggled and now he's headed out the door.

The defense, however, is pretty good, as it has been for most of Muschamp's tenure. Some young players in the secondary have settled own into their roles nicely after being taken advantage of early in the season.

One thing UF fans have been able to count on in Muschamp's tenure is at least a solid, if not spectacular, defensive line. Junior Jonathan Bullard anchors the Florida line along with senior Darius Cummings. The standout on the line is certainly Dante Fowler, and FSU will need to be very mindful of the junior DE who will likely be lined up against true freshman Rod Johnson. Johnson has performed well so far but this will easily be his toughest test as Fowler is likely a top 100 player in this year's draft. How much help Johnson or Hart needs to block Fowler and how effectively FSU does so will go a long way in deciding this game.

The UF defensive line does an excellent job of keeping the linebackers clean and allowing them to attack gaps creating a strong run defensive front for UF. Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor are certainly the most active of the group, but all of UF's backers do a good job of filling the right gap, at least so far. Florida's backers are banged up, however, and this may be more of a weakness than it has been.

If you can block them up front, Florida's defense is vulnerable at times in the secondary, particularly at safety. While Vernon Hargreaves is definitely an NFL cornerback, young corners Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson have talent but lack experience. They have been better as the year has wore on, however. Safeties Jabari Gorman and Keanu Neal are athletic, but have been out of position more than Florida would like.

FSU has been quite successful in running the ball as of late with its backs, and against some solid fronts. Can they continue to do so against Florida? Florida will look to take away the run and make FSU one-dimensional. Expect FSU to try some screens, to put Rahsad Greene in the slot to get him matched up against safeties, and to work the middle of the field with Jameis Winston, who may be the best in the country at passing in that area. Passing on first down when Florida plays more zone will be important, especially to work the backers and safeties against a more limited pass rush.

If UF is successful in taking away the run, it'll be able to pin its ears back and pass rush without repercussion. FSU has to beware of Florida grabbing its receivers, like it did last year, and the officials will have an impact on this game with how it is called.

Time: 3:30 ET | Line: FSU -7.5 | O/U 53

V. Florida's Offense

Florida's offense isn't much different than the one FSU just faced in Boston College. The UF line is good in run blocking and not so great in pass blocking.

The offense has looked better with quarterback Treon Harris, as Jeff Driskel couldn't be fixed by yet another offensive coordinator. Harris is very mobile and is accurate, though he does not have a gun. FSU may be able to bat down some passes at the line, and it has done a good job of that on the season. A disciplined pass rush will be key, as Harris often looks to pull the ball down and run.

At receiver, Demarcus Robinson looks to be a game changer, but without much in the way of other threats the Florida passing game struggles. In fact the passing game is pretty much Robinson or bust as he has 43 of UF's 143 receptions with no other receiver having more than 20 on the season. Florida's tight ends are primarily blockers and are not the receiving threat that was presented by the tight ends of Louisville and Miami.

FSU knows what UF will attempt to do against them. Florida's going to try and attack FSU's linebackers in the rush game and kill the clock, much like BC did. Mostly due to injury, FSU has spent a large portion of the season dealing with a lack of depth at LB, which has been the main cause of the Seminoles sometimes porous run defense. Matthew Thomas will have to sit out the first half of the UF game due to his ejection in the second half of the Boston College game from a targeting penalty, Terrance Smith is struggling with injury and does not bring the same speed he had early in the year, and while Reggie Northrup can hit like a truck, he is slow to read plays and oftentimes finds himself out of position to make the tackle.

FSU will likely line up against UF in either big sets with Demarcus Walker, Chris Casher and/or Mario Edwards Jr playing LB or smaller sets with Jalen Ramsey closer to the line, depending on what UF brings out. Either way, the middle of the field must be accounted for in the run game because when it's not interior players get sucked in and runners are easily able to bounce the ball outside for big gains.

Winning, or holding their own on first down, will be key. Florida's offense is not equipped to win on third and long, and it often simply elects to run on the down.

Trick plays will likely be featured as well, because Muschamp and his staff have nothing to lose if they don't work and get blown out.

Special Teams

Florida has a few very good kickers with Kyle Christy once again being a top punter. Christy is averaging just over 44 yards/punt with a long of 66 and 19 of his 53 kicks going for over 50 yards. When coaches say they have a weapon in the punting game they are talking about players like Christy.

Much like Boston College, Florida splits it's kicking duties between a long and short kicker who have both performed well this year. Austin Hardin will likely handle further kicks from 40+ yards while Francisco Velez handles those inside 40 yards. They have combined for 3 misses in 18 combined attempts with one miss coming from 52 yards and another due to a blocked kick.

Prediction

A team finally held FSU under 30 points during a game in which Jameis Winston played, but can that continue? Florida definitely has the ability to slow this game down and ugly it up much in the same way BC did. They will certainly come out all fired up after having 2 weeks to prepare and playing for their coach for the last time. If FSU can take the wind out of their sails early, Florida could roll over. However, Florida will likely find success on the ground and kill the clock as much as possible limiting FSU's chances. At the same time I don't expect FSU to have as many drops as they did against Boston College.

Florida State 31, Florida 21

Bud: Florida State 33, Florida 20: If FSU gets out to an early lead, this could get ugly. UF will try to make this a low possession game, which means close due to limited at bats. If FSU doesn't give UF favorable field position via turnovers, it's hard to see the Gators scoring enough to pull off the win. There are scenarios in which FSU bows out Florida, and scenarios in which UF wins. I'll go somewhere in the middle.

Staff Predictions

DA-2: 34-20 FSU. It's going to be a tear jerker watching some of these seniors leave, especially Tre Jackson, Rashad Greene, and Nick O'Leary. Two TD's to Rashad Greene, a single for Nick O'Leary, and a final for Karlos Williams. FSU doesn't let Zook part 2 happen.

pbysh: 31-21 good guys. It will be critical to not let history repeat itself; the last time the Gators came to town they controlled the clock, forced turnovers, and ended up running 43 plays to our 21 in the first half. Although the Noles would rally, the damage had been done and the defense folded in the 4th quarter. It is very easy to see a similar sequence of events unfolding on Saturday, so the most important thing is to control the ball and not turn it over (duh!).

jmnpb996: 38-13 FSU. Jeff Bowden and EJ manuel ain't walkin through that door. This is my hard hitting analysis for this week.

Dustin Tackett: I expect the Gators to come out with tons of emotion on Saturday, hoping to win a big one for their soon-to-be-ex coach. But as Jimbo Fisher says, "emotion doesn't win football games, execution does." Without the flood weather that BC brought Winston will be able to operate, and the receivers will too. More than anything, I hope for a nice bon voyage for Rashad Greene, but I think this could be a big game for Nick O'Leary. Dalvin  Cook is good. Big Rod is strong. 38-16 FSU

Onebarrelrum: FSU struggles in the first half against a fired up UF team. Gators will be able the play keep away and convert a lot of third downs, limiting FSU's chances to score. FSU finally gets the lead in the 4th quarter, hangs on for the win. 24-23 Noles.

ricobert1: I think TOs hound Muschampball . FSU walks away in 2nd half, 38-13.

Fsued: Statistically FSU has played better defenses, but effectively, this one is tops. Winston will be frustrated on offense and the gator running game will push around FSUs nickel defense on its way to the upset. 28-24 Gators.

NoleThruandThru: Man, am I going to miss seeing Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary in Doak on Saturdays. Here's hoping they can electrify the crowd at least once more.
FSU 34
UF 31

PhenomeNole: The UGA-UF game has FSU fans spooked. Yeah, I'm not buying it. The UF offense failed to put 300 yards of offense on one of the worst defenses on the country in USCe. Nothing about that offense scares me and it shouldn't scare you. On offense, FSU will exploit UFs weakness at Safety and LB in coverage. Jameis will go off. 35-17 Noles.

TimScribble: I think BC has shown the game plan to beat FSU. Limit possessions, run the ball, waste the clock and hope that WRs drop the ball. Emotional game on both sides, kinda reminds me of the last Tebow FSU/UF game where people were giving FSU a chance. Think FSU holds on, 30-21.

FrankDNole’s UF prediction as a haiku:

I think we will win

I really hope we do win

Noles fifty gates ten

FSUvaFan: FSU 24 - UF 21.  Ugly and chippy game.  Florida, if they're smart, tries to limit possessions if FSU comes out for a half as though they don't understand its possible to lose.  Jimbo and Winston better figure out how to get going early because any team besides the Citadel, Wake Forest, and Syracuse showed us we aren't all that far away from a loss on any given Saturday.

Kyle Griffis: Before the Gators head off to spend their December in Shreveport (is that really an upgrade from bowl ineligibility?), their season and mere existence now boils down solely to ruining our playoff chances and ending our win streak in some sort of repeated overture to Ron Zook's final game at Florida in 2004.

That's not happening.

I expect for UF to try to replicate BC's game plan, with long, sustained drives that attempt to keep FSU's offense off the field. Taking away super-cupcakes Vandy & Eastern Kentucky, the most yardage Treon Harris has thrown for in a start this season is 98 yards, in a blowout loss to Missouri. Look for UF to continue to be one-dimensional, as your eyes will probably bleed from the amount of Treon Harris QB keepers we will have to watch on Saturday. On the other side of the ball, while I respect UF's defense, I expect our offense to be efficient against them. I think Rashad, NOL, Karlos, most of our OL, and likely Jameis will go out in style in their last game in Doak.

The Gators will indeed be all jacked up for Muschamp's final game, but emotion doesn't win games, execution does. There is a reason the Gators are 6-4. I think the 'Noles are likely to continue in their close game habits, but it would send the college football world into chaos if we were able to beat a SEC team badly after playing our conference games fairly close. It'll also help our cause if our friends in Atlanta and upstate South Carolina could, for once this decade, pull their weight against their in-state SEC rivals. I'm taking the 'Noles, 34-20. I hope FSU stays healthy, considering we have an important game to play next week. I'm sure it will also be nice for Darious Cummings to finally get to take meaningful snaps on Bobby Bowden Field.