No. 16 Florida State (8-3, 5-3 ACC) and the Florida Gators (6-5, 3-5 SEC) are set to face off in a Friday primetime matchup in Tallahassee, with each team looking to add a solid momentum mover in the regular season finale.
FSU comes into the game with an outside chance at making the Orange Bowl (should Clemson make the College Football Playoff) and a blowout win over one rival already under its belt. Meanwhile, Florida has had a roller coaster of a year that kicked off with an upset win at home vs. Utah but only two wins vs. SEC East competition. The team’s most recent loss, a head-scratcher to the Vanderbilt Commodores, highlighted a good majority of the issues that have plagued the Gators all season long.
On this week’s episode of the Line of Scrimmage (where each week we give you insight into Florida State’s opponents from those in the know), we spoke with Richard Johnson of Split Zone Duo, Sports Illustrated and SEC Network. What has Billy Napier been focused on as he looks to establish himself in Gainesville? What does Anthony Richardson bring to the table for the Gators’ offense and what are his weak points? How will Friday play out?
You can read some of his answers below, or you can listen or find the episode on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your shows.
Let’s jump right into the Florida Gators season. Sitting at 6-5, it’s been an up-and-down season for Florida and most fans would likely consider it more down than up. At head coach is (for-less-than-30-days former Florida State assistant coach) Billy Napier. Where do you think he’s made the most impact in his first year at Florida and where do you think he’s struggled?
Florida hasn’t sniffed where it’s really supposed to be in quite a while — you could say it’s been a decade, 2012, when they were legitimately in some way or form a national title contender. So a lot of the off-field stuff is where Billy had to focus first — stuff that had to be fixed. And that resulted in staffing up. I mean, he hired over 50 people. And that stuff takes time.
Those are process moves, process changes, and process functionalities that needed to be altered. And you know, hopefully, you start to see the results in a few years here, but they just lost to Vanderbilt. These are not instant fixes.
This is an offense that averages over 400 yards. Johnson and Etienne are a strong 1-2 punch at running back but in my opinion, this offense is really all about Anthony Richardson. But like their record, Richardson has been inconsistent. Where does the offense shine when the “potential first-round talent” version of AR15 shows up?
He’s just an up-and-down player — he obviously has the skill set, you can’t draw a quarterback up in a lab that looks better than he does, but the up-and-down on-field production has been there.
I think some of it has to do with mechanics — I’m not saying he has to make a wholesale mechanics change but there are things that I think causes some balls to sail and others to dirt. And then you talk about his play on the run — footwork and body position has to be sound when throwing on the move or off platform. Some of the inconsistency, he’s got to improve on and likely will over the course of the offseason. I don’t know if he’s going to the draft, but if he goes to the advisory board and they give him a first or second-round grade, what’s he supposed to do?
Florida’s receivers, in my opinion, are not up to code — they have to get better, and that is going to help Richardson (if he does stay) in the long run. You’re running a lot of routes that, from a quarterback’s perspective, are timing routes and you have to be on time with a lot of these crossing routes they run. You’re running some of those intermediate routes on like man coverage, for instance, you have to get separation. And I think UF receivers struggle to get that separation. Some of it is on Richardson, but they need better pass catchers in the future.
Again, my opinion here, but I think the offense is most effective when Richardson is not afraid to use his legs. I think the Vanderbilt game is a win for Florida if he wasn’t as hesitant to take off at times. I know it’s cliche with dual-threat quarterbacks but is this intentional by the coaching staff or is this a Richardson choice?
To be honest with you — I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s being told to stick in the pocket or they want to develop that or I don’t know if he’s hurt, I have no inside information there. They said he wasn’t hurt during the Georgia game, apparently, but I’m like, he took an absolute shot on the first drive of the game, so who knows? There’s a lot at play here, but yeah when he’s not able to run it, he is not as complete of a player as when he can use that very, very outstanding skill set that he has there.
Flipping over to the defensive side of the ball, it’s fair to say this has been the weakness of the team. The defense is allowing over 400 yards each game. It’s a unit that is down some key pieces and just last week struggled at times to get off the field in the loss to Vanderbilt. Let’s just be blunt here, what’s the problem with the usually vaunted Florida defense?
They cannot get off the field on third down. If you look at their advanced metrics, they’re actually not bad on first or second, they’re just not good on third and there’s no if and or buts about it if you can’t get off the field.
Some of that goes to the pass rush — they weren’t getting a whole bunch of Brenton Cox (when he was on the team still.) Gervon Dexter is a good player on the inside, Desmond Watson is good against the run for what he is but he has to develop some better footwork, maybe lose some weight to move more quick laterally.
If you had a top two or three defense in the SEC, how many players from this team would start on it? Ventrell Miller, Gervon Dexter, maybe one or two more players. You’re dealing with a group that needs to get better and that’s a recruiting thing, so that’s something we’re going to see how they getter better over the course of the next two years.
And finally, what’s your confidence level for Friday’s matchup. I’m a pessimistic FSU fan and these rivalry games always make me uneasy. How do you see the game shaking out?
I think you’re gonna see they lost to Vanderbilt and say, “oh, they’re terrible can’t lose to Vanderbilt,” but so much of that was procedural — I mean, they muffed a punt in the end zone. And I don’t want to take credit away from Vandy, they won the game. But if you played that one again, I don’t think Florida’s losing — I’m not sure they make the same amount of mistakes.
I do think Florida’s gonna cover — I do think it’s gonna be a pretty close game, but Florida State is better and will win because of what they have up front, particularly on offense, and the firepower on offense.
I’m excited though for these two teams to play a game that is competitive in not like a farcical way. We’ve seen the game be competitive because both teams stink — I think the story is a little bit different this time around.