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Florida State football preview and Nolecast: Florida

Noles vs. Gators in primetime. Elite offense vs. elite defense. Prep with the Nolecast.

NCAA Football: Florida at Florida State Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State won’t be winning a conference or division title this season, and it won’t be playing for anything close to a national title come bowl season, but it can still sweep its in-state rivals for the fourth consecutive year with a win over Florida this weekend at Doak Campbell Stadium.

While UF has managed to win the SEC East for the second year in a row, the Gators are a dichotomous team once again — Florida’s defense is very good, and its offense is very bad.

Defensively, UF is excellent by conventional and advanced metrics. UF is fifth nationally in yards per play allowed, and it has held opponents to just 3.3 yards per carry on the ground and 6.2 yards per throw. Bill Connelly’s opponent-adjusted S&P+ has Florida’s defense fifth overall and top 10 against both the run and pass.

Offensively, Florida ranks 11 spots below Syracuse’s offense in S&P+, and ranks 89th in scoring, 84th in yards per play, and 89th in yards per rush.

The weakness of UF’s O means FSU shouldn’t have to light up the scoreboard to win, which is good against a stout D that has severely limited the Noles through the air in recent meetings. While Dalvin Cook has torn off 327 yards and 3 TDs on 6.5 yards per rush against the Gators over the last two years, FSU has only managed 5.5 yards per pass in that span. UF uses its defensive studs to man up and play physical, which FSU has failed to do much against since losing the freakish Kelvin Benjamin to the NFL (9 rec, 212 yards, 3 TDs in 2013). The 6’5, 225-pound Auden Tate has size to help combat that style, but other leading receivers like Travis Rudolph and Kermit Whitfield do not.

While Cook has put up big numbers vs. the Gators, much of his damage was done late in last season’s matchup. Deondre Francois is 13th in YPA nationally and the FSU offense ranks fifth in S&P+ and excels on passing downs, which are the only relative weakness of UF’s defense according to Connelly’s numbers. The Noles excel with efficiency on passing downs, not explosiveness, and Florida certainly will test that on Saturday if FSU gets off schedule offensively. Only Tennessee (9.7 ypa) and Arkansas (9.3) have gotten off on the UF secondary this season, otherwise P5 opponents average 5.0 ypa, making it a tall task.

FSU’s defense will see an offense that gained 36% of its total yardage on one game-changing play last week in Baton Rouge. Outside of Austin Appleby’s 98-yard TD to Tyrie Cleveland, he was 6 for 16 for 46 yards (2.9 ypa). Jordan Scarlett has 6 TDs on 5 yards per rush, but UF isn’t explosive at all on the ground; if FSU can force the Gators into passing downs, they’ll like their chances – S&P+ has UF’s third-down production at 91st overall, and on passing downs (second-and-7+, third-and-5+), the Gators are 97th in the country with a success rate of 85th and no explosiveness to speak of.

FSU has been middle of the pack on passing downs nationally, but the Noles should be able to get UF behind the chains on early downs and force their poor aerial attack into action.

Per usual, Bud and Ingram provide in-depth analysis and insight into FSU football unavailable anywhere else, and the Nolecast – brought to you by Louisiana Hot Sauce and Madison Social – will get you prepped while acting as a perfect listen during your Thanksgiving travels.