There is no college football team which would love to ruin Florida’s national championship aspirations more than Florida State. Since the arrival of Bobby Bowden in 1976, the series has been competitive – Bowden is 17-16-1 against seven Gators coaches – enough to put the Florida-Florida State series up there with among the nation’s best rivalries: Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama, Texas-Oklahoma, USC-Notre Dame and Army-Navy.
The Seminoles would love nothing better than to rain on Florida’s parade, considering the Gators have done it twice when FSU was ranked No. 1 – once in January, 1997 with their 52-20 victory in the Sugar Bowl and the following November with a 32-29 victory in Gainesville.
A victory by the Gators (10-1) followed by another over the Bowl Championship Series’ top-ranked team, Alabama, in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 6 likely would send Florida to its second BCS title game in the last three seasons under Urban Meyer.
The Seminoles (8-3) would like nothing better than to beat Florida and also get some help Saturday from Maryland, the team it routed last Saturday 37-3 in College Park, Md. If the Terps knock off Boston College, Florida State will represent the Atlantic Division in the Dec. 6 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game in Tampa. A victory there would send the ‘Noles to the FedEx Orange Bowl with the possibility of finishing 11-3.
Now let’s break down the game:
There are some who believe that Bowden, who turned 79 earlier this month, has been a figurehead for several years, especially this season with former LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher already designated the coach-in-waiting by the FSU administration. I do believe that Fisher and offensive line coach Rick Trickett have added some pieces to the Seminoles offense, but still have a long way to go. They have been a definite upgrade from the days of Jeff Bowden and Mark McHale.
Defensively, Mickey Andrews continues to run one of the more aggressive defensive fronts in the country. He always seems to develop an outstanding defensive lineman who utilizes quickness and speed to get the quarterback. This year that player is Everette Brown. Andrews is missing a few pieces, though. Generally speaking the ‘Noles must recruit well to compete on a national scale.
Florida head coach Urban Meyer is a perfect 3-0 against Bowden and the Seminoles. The Gators have outscored the ‘Noles 100-33 in those three games. The Gators also have the edge in assistant coaching. Edge: Florida.
FSU OFFENSE VS. FLORIDA DEFENSE
Florida State starts the youngest offensive line in the country. Currently, three freshmen (Andrew Datko, David Spurlock and Zebrie Sanders), one true sophomore (Rodney Hudson) and one redshirt sophomore (Ryan McMahon) start for the Seminoles.
The left side of the Seminoles’ line has remained intact since early in the season with tackle Datko (6-6, 276), Hudson (6-2, 282) and McMahon (6-3, 282). Spurlock (6-5, 286) started six games this season, the last five at right guard. Sanders (6-5, 280) has started since the Colorado game at right tackle. Should an injury occur, depth will be an issue. The reserves consist of three freshmen, a sophomore and a senior.
The Seminoles average 190 rushing yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. FSU has scored 24 touchdowns on the ground, while allowing 20 sacks on the year.
Sophomore Christian Ponder (6-2, 200) has started every game at quarterback for FSU this year. He is a very talented quarterback, who is continuing some much needed development. He has completed 154 of 273 (56 percent) for 1,747 yards, but has thrown only 12 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. Florida’s biggest concern should be Ponder’s ability to scramble and run the football. He has 106 rushing attempts for 390 yards and four touchdowns. Ponder had a144-yard rushing performance last week against Maryland, becoming the first FSU quarterback to eclipse the 100-yard mark in a single game since Charlie Ward in 1992.
Fellow sophomore D’Vontrey Richardson has played in nine of the Seminoles games this season as the first off the bench for FSU at quarterback. Richardson (6-1, 214) provides the ‘Noles with a change of pace as he is more polished running the football. He has completed 22 of 42 passes for 296 yards. He has thrown three touchdowns and two interceptions. Richardson has 32 rushing attempts for 240 yards (7.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
Senior Antone Smith (5-9, 190) leads the Seminoles with 696 yards on 149 carries. He is second in the ACC in points because of 14 touchdowns rushing a one through the air. Freshman Jermaine Thomas (6-1, 190) is Florida State’s second leading rusher. Thomas averages 7.6 yards per carry.
The Seminoles have four receivers who average more than 30 yards per game in receiving yards. Junior Preston Parker (6-0, 197) has played in seven games this season and leads the ‘Noles with 38 catches for 359 yards, but has just two touchdowns. Former North Marion (Citra) star Greg Carr (6-6, 214) is their second leading receiver with 29 receptions for 440 yards and three touchdowns. Carr was the difference maker against Virginia Tech when he caught three passes for 100 yards. Two of those receptions set up Florida State scores late in the game as the ‘Noles rallied for the win.
Freshman Taiwan Easterling (5-11, 190) has 29 receptions for 317 yards and one score. Redshirt freshman Bert Reed (5-11, 165) has hauled in 16 receptions for 253 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Caz Piurowski (6-7, 275) is the starter at tight end. He has no receptions on the season.
Florida State averages 34.3 yards per game. They have been in the red zone 90 times and scored touchdowns on 54 of those opportunities.
The Florida starting defensive line suffered a big hit with injuries to Lawrence Marsh and Matt Patchan. Marsh will be replaced by sophomore Torrey Davis (6-3, 298) with redshirt sophomore Brandon Antwine (6-0, 295) scheduled to get 30 snaps in the game. In passing situations, sophomore Justin Trattou (6-3, 265) will move inside from defensive end and line up on the nose. Patchan is out of this game. Sophomore Terron Sanders (6-2, 300) will start at the three-technique. He’ll be backed up by redshirt freshman Jaye Howard (6-3, 270).
Junior Jermaine Cunningham (6-3, 250) and Trattou will be charged with getting pressure on Ponder and Richardson. Sophomore Carlos Dunlap (6-6, 290) and true freshman William Green (6-4, 215) should see extensive playing time. Green has gotten a lot of looks of late. Duke Lemmens (6-4, 260) was out of The Citadel game.
Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes has had an All-American campaign. He now has four linebackers playing alongside him on the outside. A.J. Jones and Dustin Doe came into the season as the starters at the SAM and WILL. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has gotten solid play from Ryan Stamper and Brandon Hicks. The competition created has only improved the Florida defense.
Florida State would love to establish the run. That is going to be easier said than done. The Gators rank 13st nationally against the run, allowing only 102.8 yards per game. The Florida defense has faced three of the top four rushers in the Southeastern Conference and allowed Knowshon Moreno 65 yards, Michael Smith 108 yards, and Charles Scott only 35 yards. Smith picked up 43 yards in the fourth quarter.
The secondary Florida State will face is not the same group the Seminoles faced last season, and FSU was only able to pass for 188 yards on that day. The Gators have received superb play from true freshman Janoris Jenkins and sophomore Joe Haden at cornerback. Safeties Major Wright and Ahmad Black have played awfully well this season. True freshman Will Hill has impressed the coaching staff with his play on special teams and as a reserve. Edge: Florida.
FLORIDA OFFENSE VS. FSU DEFENSE
The Florida offense has scored 369 points in seven victories since a 31-30 loss to Ole Miss. The Gators are just a touchdown and two-point conversion from equaling what Florida State’s offense has scored (377) all season.
The Seminoles’ defense counters by allowing an average of 18.5 points per game. But they have not faced a team with this much speed at the skill positions this season.
The Florida offensive line also is the best group which Florida State face this year. The Gators expect to get guard Carl Johnson back. Senior Jim Tartt started at left guard alongside left tackle Phil Trautwein and center Maurkice Pouncey. Sophomore right guard Mike Pouncey and senior right tackle Jason Watkins has played awfully well this year, too. They rolled over The Citadel and didn’t play much into the second quarter.
The Pouncey twins will dedicate their performance to their step-dad Rob Webster, who was seriously injured this week on the job. They missed practice early in the week to join him at a Lakeland hospital. I would be very surprised if they weren’t extremely motivated to beat Florida State.
Quarterback Tim Tebow torched the FSU secondary for 262 yards and three touchdowns through the air and 89 more on the ground a year ago. He was asked if he focuses on this game more because of the BCS potential or the rivalry. He didn’t hesitate stating that the rivalry between Florida and Florida State has his focus. A motivated Tebow is usually an outstanding Tebow.
Last season, Percy Harvin got 16 carries at running back and blazed the Seminoles defense for 157 yards and a touchdown. Harvin was also the Gators’ second leading receiver with five receptions for 67 yards. Emmanuel Moody, Chris Rainey and Kestahn Moore are also running very hard. All of them figure to get several touches in the game. Jeff Demps should be back after getting just one carry against The Citadel.
The Gators leading receiver last season was tight end Cornelius Ingram, who had five catches for 75 yards. Louis Murphy proved too much for the ‘Noles, hauling in four passes, two of them for touchdowns. Keep an eye on Aaron Hernandez. Murphy, Riley Cooper, Harvin and Deonte Thompson also should have open opportunities this weekend.
The Florida State defense has yielded 3 (Maryland), 27 (Boston College), 27 (Clemson) and 31 (Georgia Tech) points this month. I have a difficult time believing that the Florida offense will not be able to keep the scoreboard operator busy. The Gators are third in the nation in scoring offense. Where does Boston College rank? 55th. Clemson? 67th. Georgia Tech? 71st..
The most intriguing matchup along the lines of scrimmage will be when FSU nose guard Kendrick Stewart (6-1, 265) faces former Lakeland High School teammates Maurkice and Mike Pouncey. Stewart is a year older than the Pounceys, but I just don’t believe that he has improved as they have since they left the Dreadnaughts’ program. That should be fun to watch. Defensive end Everette Brown (6-4, 251) is second in the country in sacks with 12.5. Neefy Moffitt (6-1, 255) will man the opposite defensive end position.
Middle linebacker Derek Nicholson (6-2, 233) returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Terrapins last weekend. The Florida State outside linebackers are Dekoda Watson (6-2, 221) and Toddrick Verdell (6-3, 225).
Cornerbacks Patrick Robinson (5-11, 192) and Tony Carter (5-9, 177) have experience, but haven’t fared well against the Gators receivers. Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle (6-2, 218) is expected to start his last game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Free safeties James Robinson (6-2, 192) and Darius McClure (5-11, 205) have each started at the position. McClure suffered a knee injury against Boston College and is not full speed. Edge: Florida.
Brandon James has fallen to ninth nationally in punt returns with an average of 15.7 per attempt. He is 40th nationally in kickoff returns (24.6).
Florida punter Chas Henry is averaging 39.6 yards per punt. It seems when the Gators needed a punt launched to tip the field position, Henry has done so. He has also placed the ball inside the 10-yard line when the opportunity has presented itself.
Senior Graham Gano took over the punting duties for Florida State during the Virginia Tech game. He hit three punts for an average of over 50 yards per kick. Gano is 21-of-23 on the season in field-goal attempts.
Jonathan Phillips has hit 8-for-8 field-goal attempts. His longest field goal of the season is from 40 yards out. True freshman Caleb Sturgis is expected to handle kickoff duties.
Redshirt freshman Bert Reed is the Seminoles punt-return specialist with six punt returns for 40 yards. The kickoff return players are Michael Ray Garvin and Preston Parker. Garvin leads the nation in kickoff returns with an average of 32.23 yards per kick. He has taken one back for a score. Edge: Florida.
Florida State must be able to run the football to win. I don’t believe that Ponder will be able to throw the ball on the Florida secondary. Remember, the Florida defense has allowed only one touchdown in the first quarter and 25 total points in the second quarter. That’s incredible defense. Florida State will have to manufacture ways to score early. If the Seminoles fail to do so, the FSU staff will have a tremendous challenge in keeping their players heads in this game. Don’t think for a moment they aren’t aware of how the Gators pounded Georgia, LSU and South Carolina. Final score: Florida 42, Florida State 17.