The Florida Gators’ season is reaching its end with the annual rivalry game against the Florida State Seminoles coming this week. The game carries far more practical meaning beyond bragging rights for the visitors from Tallahassee, as they must win to have a chance to continue their 35-year bowl streak.
Looking at the matchup between the two teams, there are a lot of ugly statistics. These teams are under .500 for a reason. In any event, here are some of the biggest points of interest that jump off the stat sheet.
The Gators have stunk at the aspects of special teams that don’t involve a foot kicking the ball. The offense being plagued by three-and-outs and a defense that seldom gets quick stops combine to make field position a team weakness for UF this year.
The good news is that FSU is also weak in the field position game. Though Florida opponents sport an average starting position of the 29-and-a-half yard line, FSU opponents actually fare better with an ASP of the 31-yard-line.
It’s possible that the Gators will have a crummy field position day again, but it’s just as likely that the other guys will have one too.
Danger: Explosive Plays
FSU’s offense has been inefficient this year with true freshman James Blackman running the show most of the way. However, it has been decent at generating big plays despite the down-to-down struggles.
That’s bad news because allowing big gains is one of the worst aspects of the Gator defense this year. It’s too easy for opposing tackles to make a wall at the end of the line or for receivers to get into space and juke an errant tackle attempt from a safety.
The UF defense will probably get some three-and-outs thanks to run stuffs — something the FSU line is very bad at preventing this year — and Blackman’s sub-58% completion rate. However, the Seminoles will probably make up for some of those with drives that have one big chunk gain after another.
Don’t let the big plays score
The big thing for the defense when it has breakdowns is to do whatever it takes to prevent the guy getting the explosive gain from getting into the end zone. If they can stop that, things will be looking up.
Florida State only gets 4.26 points per trip inside the opponents’ 40-yard line. They’ve only earned touchdowns on 18 of their 32 red zone trips, which is 89th in the nation. By comparison, UF is 52nd nationally with 18 touchdowns on 28 trips. Ricky Aguayo isn’t quite as accurate at Eddy Piñeiro either. The Seminole kicker is 14-for-17 on the season compared to 16-for-17 for Eddy.
Again: if they can pull off a proper bend-but-don’t-break outing, Florida’s defense might be able to do enough to get out with a win.
Getting after the quarterback
As happens with young quarterbacks, Blackman does not have the greatest pocket presence. He’s taken 27 sacks on his non-scramble drop backs, and that comes out to a 10.6% sack rate. That’s in the neighborhood of another inexperienced QB who lacks pocket awareness, as Feleipe Franks’s figure in the same is 11.2%.
FSU’s line has allowed sacks on 13.2% of non-scramble drop backs on passing downs — meaning second and eight or more or third or fourth down and five or more yards to go. That’s good for 120th in the nation. Florida’s defense, meanwhile, is 11th in the country at collecting sacks on 11.6% of passing downs.
Herein lies the conundrum for Chris Rumph as he calls the defense. Does he send the heat on passing downs, knowing the weakness there, and risk big plays from blown coverages? Or does he trust the likes of CeCe Jefferson and Jabari Zuniga to get to Blackman and drop more in coverage? That’ll be something to watch as the game goes along.
Finding some turnovers
The Gators are even in turnover margin on the year with 16 each of takeaways and giveaways. FSU, on the other hand, is snakebit when it comes to turnovers this year. It’s near the bottom of the country with a -8 turnover margin, having only ten takeaways to offset 18 giveaways.
Florida finally remembered how to recover and force fumbles in the last two weeks, and they’ve picked off at least one pass in seven of their ten games. On the other side of the coin, the Seminoles have lost a fumble in seven of their ten games. They’ve thrown a pick in only six of them, but four of the six games featured multiple interceptions. FSU’s defense has just six picks on the year, two of them coming last week against FCS Delaware State and a third in a game in which Syracuse threw 55 passes.
Nothing equalizes the inevitable defensive lapses like forcing a change of possession. If the Gator defense decides to be a ball-hawking unit on Saturday, they might get one or two game-changing turnovers to atone for their miscues.