As we get closer and closer to the start of the 2021 Florida State Seminoles football season, Tomahawk Nation is breaking down each opponent the Noles will face over the course of the year.
Opponent: Florida Gators
Date: Saturday, November 27
Last Matchup: 40-17, UF (2019)
After 61 consecutive years of meeting on the gridiron, the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles had to put their rivalry on the shelf in 2020 as the SEC opted to eliminate out-of-conference games during the pandemic season.
That scheduling choice ends up costing the Noles a home game in the series as they’ll meet in Gainesville for the second time in a row — something that hasn’t happened since UF hosted the first six meetings between the two.
In 2020, the Gators looked primed for their first College Football Playoff appearance with an 8-1 record heading into the second weekend in December, but their season quickly unraveled from there. Florida suffered a home loss to a lackluster LSU Tigers team before losing the SEC Championship Game to the Alabama Crimson Tide and getting dismantled by the Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl.
The SEC media isn’t buying the resurgence of Dan Mullen’s program though as they picked Florida to finish 2nd in the SEC East behind the Georgia Bulldogs.
Dan Mullen is an offensive minded coach and he showed it off with the 2020 attack. But the main pieces of that group are now gone.
Quarterback Kyle Trask, elite pass catcher Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Kadarius Toney have new homes in the NFL. The Gators landed only wide receiver Jacob Copeland on the conference’s preseason all-offense team and he was third team. So to repeat 2020, they’ll need some new faces to step up.
The starting quarterback is a familiar face as Emory Jones gets his first full run at the helm in Gainesville.
Now a redshirt junior, Jones has gotten playing time in all three seasons with the Gators but most of that time has been spent as a runner more than a thrower. In those three years, he’s got 92 rushes to only 86 passing attempts. Using his elite speed in gadget sets has paid off, but he’ll now have to start showing improvement with his arm if he’s going to guide his Gators through the SEC slate.
It won’t be as easy without Pitts and Toney to throw to, but it’s not like UF ever has a real problem with talent at the skill positions. Plus, they will likely shift to a more run-oriented approach that allows him to use his speed to keep defenses off-balance.
The biggest key to that whole formula will be the offensive line though. That group was a bit shaky in 2020. They’ll need to be better this year to help out that ground game.
The Gators' most experienced group is going to be the front-seven as they bring back a ton of starters from last year’s team. Though, much like the offensive line, they will have to show some improvement against the run.
In 2020, the Gators defense allowed 170 yards per game on the ground, a mark good for 71st in the country. They’ll have to make those strides while working in a pair of new defensive tackles to the program. Transfers Daquan Newkirk and Antonio Valentino figure to take those starting roles upfront and will be tasked with the heavy lifting in slowing down the run.
The secondary starts and ends with cornerback Kaiir Elam who is among the best defensive backs in the country. A strong year could have him selected very high in next year’s NFL Draft.
Opposite Elam is Jaylon Hill who opened 2020 as the starter but slid to a backup role as the year went along and the safeties remain totally unproven. We’ll see if Elam can elevate the rest of the group or teams just pick on his running mates in the secondary.
Florida State vs. Florida Final Thoughts
There’s no doubt winning this game would be a huge feather in the cap for Mike Norvell as he tries to get his program back on its feet. I’m not sure the Noles are ready to compete at that level yet, especially in Gainesville, but this is the last game on the schedule so these could be totally different teams than what we expect to see on the field right now. I’d expect Florida to be the better group this year but a lot can change in 4 months.