Each week, Gator Country will stop to recap all of the news and notes from the week leading up to the game. Today we recap everything that has happened leading up to Florida’s game Saturday against Florida State.
We provide you with an overview of all the Gators news stories we’ve published in the past week with links to each, as well as three key questions, a look inside the enemy camp and more.
|Florida vs. Florida State – Nov. 26, 2011|
|Florida squeezed out a win against Furman last week that was a little too close for comfort, and though the Gators were pleased to become bowl eligible, coach Will Muschamp said the performance against Furman was unacceptable.|
The first-year coach isn’t pleased with the way his first season in Gainesville has gone, and he’ll be looking to salvage what he can with a win this week against Florida State and in the bowl game about a month from now.
Perhaps the most concerning thing for the Gators this season has been Florida’s inability to play consistently on both lines of scrimmage. Even Furman was able to hold its own physically against the Gators, something that should never really happen against an FCS team.
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said that has to change this week, and the run game must work against Florida State if Florida hopes to come out on top and swing the series momentum back in its favor.
The offensive line has undergone pretty sweeping changes over the past few weeks due to injuries. Right tackle Chaz Green has not played since the Auburn game with a right ankle injury.
When left guard Dan Wenger went down with a right foot injury after being moved to center, it forced Jon Harrison back into the starting center role. Harrison struggled with a couple bad snaps against the Paladins, including one that sailed over quarterback John Brantley’s head into the back of the end zone.
Kyle Koehne came in and played left guard with Wenger out, but he was forced to move to left tackle last week when starter Xavier Nixon left the game with an undisclosed injury.
As of Tuesday, all of the injured players were back participating in practice, but which ones play Saturday is still very much up in the air. Regardless who plays, the Gators need the unit to perform much better than it did last week. The Seminoles boast an athletic, aggressive defensive line that figures to get after Brantley in the passing game if the Gators can’t establish the run.
Senior running back Jeff Demps has a personal agenda against Florida State. The Seminoles passed up on the track star in high school, failing to extend him an offer to play football because they saw him as a track-only guy. Nearly 2,500 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns later, Demps has the highest average per carry in the nation.
He’ll be one of several seniors looking to go out on a high note at home against a heated rival. Another is senior James Wilson, who has fought through injuries thoughout his five-year career. Wilson earned some playing time last week and said senior day will be extremely emotional for him regardless of whether he plays.
That’ll be the case for most of Florida’s players, particularly Brantley. The senior quarterback is as healthy as he has been since suffering an ankle injury against Alabama in early October. He’ll have a chance to leave fans with a positive memory in his final home outing after a tumultuous career.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Gators don’t have nearly as many seniors. In fact, that may be part of the reason for Florida’s struggles.
Muschamp said the Gators absolutely must improve against the Seminoles after an extremely shaky outing against the Paladins last week. The Gators gave up 234 rushing yards, the second-highest total of the season.
Florida failed to control the edge well against Furman, who utilized some option to catch Florida off guard early in the game. The Gators have struggled with mobile quarterbacks this season, and they’ll face a good on in FSU’s E.J. Manuel.
Sharrif Floyd and Ronald Powell will have to be disciplined setting the edge, and Dominique Easley can’t afford to jump his gaps inside to allow Manuel lanes to run through up the middle.
The good news for the Gators is that Jelani Jenkins had an excellent game against the run against the Paladins, and he filled gaps in the running game better than he had all season. Strong-side linebacker Lerentee McCray has missed the last three weeks with a shoulder injury, and if he can return it would provide a huge boost to the linebacker corps.
The secondary is a bit of a concern for the Gators after losing starting cornerback Marcus Roberson for the season against South Carolina. He’s not the only one who is hurt, as safety Matt Elam has a strained groin, though he is expected to play.
Against a Florida State receiving corps with some good speed, the Gators’ will have to play much better against the deep ball to avoid being torched.
Freshman safety Pop Saunders has been a pleasant surprise in the secondary the past two weeks, recording two interceptions. Florida will need more of those type of plays against a Florida State team capable of moving the ball on offense.
|Three Key Questions|
|1. Will a banged-up Florida offensive line be able to contain Florida State’s defensive front? The biggest question for the Gators each week this season has been whether they could control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.|
It’s hard to imagine a much bigger mismatch on paper than Florida State’s defensive front seven against Florida’s offensive line. The Gators have struggled all year against quality opponents on the line of scrimmage.
FSU is not only extremely talented on the defensive line, it’s also very deep. Florida will have to be able to contain them in order to establish the running game enough to keep FSU from teeing off on Brantley in the passing game.
|2. Can the Gators continue to create turnovers again? Florida has shown some very promising signs on defense the past few weeks, despite giving up a lot of yardage and points.|
Florida has been able to force turnovers in the past two games. The secondary has been able to come up with a couple interceptions, resulting in two defensive touchdowns last week.
The Gators will probably need those turnovers again this week with the Seminoles’ defense certainly capable of holding a sometimes inept Florida offense in check. If Florida can win the turnover battle on senior day at home, it could provide some huge momentum in a big rivalry game.
|3. Can Florida protect Brantley and get the passing game going? While the Gators have certainly put a huge emphasis on establishing the running game this week, the passing game may be just as important.|
Brantley has played extremely well this year when given time, and he’s as healthy as he has been in weeks heading into this week’s game. If Florida can keep him on his feet and give him some time, he should have some success against an FSU secondary that likes to take some chances.
If Brantley is able to hit some passes down the field like he was able to last week, it could really force FSU to stop crowding the box. That could open some holes for a running game that has put up less yards in each of the past two weeks.
|Eying the Enemy|
|Despite both teams falling a little short of expectations this season, fans are still amped for the annual Florida vs. Florida State rivalry. As the last game of the season, it’s a chance for both programs to build some momentum heading into bowl season and the offseason.|
Florida State’s offense is looking to improve in short-yardage situations, where the Seminoles have struggled some this season.
On defense, the Seminoles have been excellent for most of the season. However, Florida State’s defense struggles late in game, which has contributed to some collapses and disappointing losses throughout the season.
Even though Florida hasn’t had its best season, FSU is aware that the Gators are always a tough game. Playing in what figures to be a raucous environment in the Swamp should add some intrigue to the rivalry game that is always hotly contested, regardless of how the season has gone for either team.
|Kickoff Time – 7:00 p.m. EST|
|TV – ESPN2|
|Radio – GRN | Sirius 219 | XM 199|