Florida travels to Tallahassee to take on Florida State in a game that has lost its luster with the national folks. Even so, it remains a huge game for both programs and it is a rivalry that is one of the two or three most important games every year for both the Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles.
If I was ranking Florida’s all-time rivalries I would put Georgia number one, followed by FSU, Auburn and Tennessee. In the last 20 years though, the Gators have gone to Doak Campbell Stadium with a chance to win on a few occasions but they haven’t had much success.
With a win Florida would have a three game win streak against Bobby Bowden for the first time since 1984-986. Both teams still have something to play for and both schools do not like each other so forget the records and figure this one plays tough like any rivalry game.
STATISTIC: Since 1974 UF is 6-9-1 in Tallahassee.
Be wary of Tallahassee: I realize the Gators extinguished some demons two years ago with a win over the Seminoles in Ron Zook’s last game, but don’t think Tallahassee will all of sudden become an easy trip. FSU is just 4-3 at home this season and a very average football team, but the Seminoles will be ready to play this weekend. The Gators had a chance to make it three wins a row against FSU in 1998 in Tallahassee but they came up short in a bizarre game. Remember the dropped interception by Marquand Manuel? Or the touchdown turned safety by Gerard Warren? There was also the fight before the game which cost Florida its best defensive back. I realize that was a good FSU team that backed its way into a title shot, but Florida should have won that game and because of self-inflicted wounds they could not get it done. The Gators are the better team this week but keep in mind so was the orange and blue in 1994, 1996 and 1998 and at least as good in 1990 and 2002.
STATISTIC: The series is tied 5-5 in the last 10 games between FSU and UF.
What do FSU and UF have to play for?: It’s pretty obvious for the Gators as they look to remain in the national title picture. But consider some other perks for UF should they win. First, with a win they remain in the hunt for the BCS (at-large pool). A victory would mean three in a row versus FSU and a stranglehold on in-state recruiting. The Gators would also be 11-1 for just the third time in school history. It would also make Urban Meyer 6-0 versus Tennessee, Georgia and FSU. For the Seminoles a win would give them the state championship for 2006. An FSU win would give them a winning home record (5-3) and send Noles fans into the offseason with the satisfaction of knowing FSU ruined Florida’s national title hopes.
STATISTIC: Florida has 48 plays (run/pass) over 20 yards for the season while FSU has only 30.
FSU Scouting Report: FSU will start Drew Weatherford but I also expect to see Xavier Lee at quarterback on Saturday. Both guys will lock onto receivers and Weatherford is not very mobile. The Noles have had only one game in the last five in which they got 20 first downs and that was at Maryland when Xavier Lee played the entire game. The inconsistent FSU run game took a major hit when Antone Smith went down with a dislocated elbow. I would think Jeff Bowden uses Lorenzo Booker in the short pass game with screens and dumps to find extra yardage in place of the run game. Greg Carr is a threat in the red zone but the receiver to keep an eye on is Chris Davis, who has the speed to burn opposing secondaries. FSU has tried to run this year but to no avail. The breakdown on run-pass percentages for FSU this season is: first down 52-48 percent; second down 52-48 percent, and third down, 70-30 percent.
STATISTIC: The Seminole defense has given up four 100 yard rushing games on the season. They are 1-3 in those games with the only win over Rice, which rushed for just 113 yards.
Defensively the Seminoles are still very good against the run. This is in large part because Mickey Andrew commits so many guys to the box and calls timely run blitzes. FSU can still run especially at linebacker led by Buster Davis and Lawerence Timmons. FSU is second in the country in averaging over 8.5 tackles for loss per game. To put that into perspective that is nearly three more per game than Florida. Tony Carter is the best cover corner for the defense while freshman Myron Rolle is playing very well against the run. Only one team has gotten 30 points on this defense and that was Wake Forest which had two defensive touchdowns. FSU is not great up front but they do have some young players at defensive ends who will be very good in the future. This defense plays hard and is well coached despite numerous season ending injuries to key players.
STATISTIC: Chris Leak is completing 64 percent of his passes and is fiftheenth in the country in passing efficiency.
The Gator offense is looking for an impressive performance to maybe swing some voters over to their camp in the human polls. If the Gator offense can put up five touchdowns it might be impressive against a top 15 defense on the road. Chris Leak and the short passing game will be key against the front seven of FSU. I don’t think UF will be able to run for a lot of yards early in the game. Dan Mullen will need to set the run up with formations and the passing game. There will be match-up problems for FSU in the passing game because they do not have great depth at defensive back which means Percy Harvin could be locked up on a linebacker or fifth defensive back. DeShawn Wynn and the “downhill” run game works best against FSU’s speed. It is very difficult to bounce outside and go wide on the Seminoles. The passing game may look to the middle of the field with Dallas Baker, Bubba Caldwell and Cornelius Ingram.
STATISTIC: The Gators have the fifth best scoring defense in the country.
Florida’s defensive staff has had a tough week breaking down film because FSU has changed offenses multiple times this week. One thing is for sure, Jeff Bowden is going to try and go out with a splash, so expect trick plays and deep balls early from the Nole offensive coordinator. Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss have been in a mini-slump and need to find their form to pressure Weatherford and Lee. FSU will run the dig route across the middle and the fade route on the outside multiple times in the passing game. Last year UF shaded a safety to Greg Carr’s side the entire day and look for Reggie Nelson to continue that trend on Saturday. FSU is not very good on third down because they struggle to pick up yards on first down. All season long the Seminole offense has played behind the chains and it will be important for Florida to win first down.
How can FSU win?: Florida State needs to win the turnover battle, dominate special teams and shut down the gator running game. If FSU can get three turnovers, block a kick and maybe return one for a touchdown they could make this game interesting. One thing that FSU can control is its run defense. If they make UF one dimensional and control field position this could be the making of an upset.
How can Florida win?: The Gators need to take care of the football and continue to stay balanced on offense. Defensively do not give up big plays or easy scores. This sound very elementary, but that is how UF has gotten to 10-1. The Gators have been opportunistic on offense and stifling on defense. The Gator offensive line needs to play well and not have an off day. A fast start with points early will keep the Nole fans from getting into the game.
Ackerman Plan to win:
1. Out rush your opponent. 2. Win field position 3. Have better quarterback play.
STATISTIC: The Gators rank 38th in the country in rushing offense while FSU ranks 100th in the nation.
Prediction time: I never thought I would ever predict an easy win for Florida in Tallahassee. But the Gators are clearly better than FSU in 2006. You don’t win games on paper and UF must take care of business and get a good road win. FSU will battle on defense but if their offense does not score they will fade. I don’t see FSU driving the ball on the Gators, so if UF stays solid on defense and avoids giving up the big plays they will shut down this offense. I like the Gators to win 24-7.
STATISTIC: Florida averages 4.79 yards per carry which is higher than Ohio State, Michigan, USC and Notre Dame. The Gators have faced seven of the top 50 defenses in the country. UF still has two more games to play and that would make nine out of 13 games.
Reggie Nelson for the Thorpe Award: Here is my argument for Reggie Nelson to win the Thorpe award versus Leon Hall from Michigan and Aaron Ross of Texas. All three are very good players and the individual stats are very comparable. With that said let’s look at the team’s defensive numbers against the pass. Florida is eleventh in the country in passing efficiency defense and 55th in the country in pass defense. Michigan is 20th and 77th in those categories, while Texas is 75th and 111th in both areas as well. The Gator secondary has faced great receiving corps at Tennessee, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina. For my money Nelson impacts the game three ways. First he is great in coverage; secondly he is tough versus the run; and thirdly, and maybe the most important area, is the “fear factor.” Reggie Nelson impacts the game plan for opposing teams because guys drop balls and coaches draw up plays away from #1. That is a testament to impact on a game. Give him the Thorpe Award!
Players of the Game: Chris Leak, Bubba Caldwell, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey.
Check out Sun Sports on Friday night for College Kickoff at 6:30 p.m. and on Saturday morning at 11a.m. for a special pre-game show. We will also have a 90 minute post game following the action in Tallahassee. Join me and the entire Sun Sports crew all weekend long as we break down and cover the sunshine showdown. Check out The Brady Ackerman Show Monday through Fridays from 7-10 a.m. on ESPN Radio, AM1230 Gainesville and AM900 Ocala.