It’s been a while since the Florida Gators entered the final game of the season in such a better position than their in-state rival FSU.
The Gators are 8-3 with a real chance to make it to a New Year’s Six bowl game, while the Seminoles are at stake of ending a 37-year bowl streak.
But it’s rivalry week. It’s the craziest week of the season, and when two teams with so much animosity toward one another square off, literally anything can happen.
“You throw the records out,” said head coach Dan Mullen. “None of that really makes much of a difference, with whatever the records are for either team. You’ve just got to go out there and you’ve got to play a great game … It will be a great challenge for us. They are a very, very talented football team.”
FSU hasn’t had a good first season under new head coach Willie Taggart, but there is a lot more talent on that roster than the 5-6 record indicates.
It is a hungry team coming off its best game of the season, and overlooking that would be a huge mistake by Florida.
Despite all the struggles this season, the Seminoles still have players like Cam Akers who can completely change a game if given the chance.
“I’ve watched them and they have explosive playmakers,” Mullen said. “And I think one of the things that always worries you is they’re a team that they’ve made mistakes, but as they get more and more comfortable in the offense and more and more efficient, they got playmakers and they need to make plays. The game last week against Boston College, who was a ranked team, when they needed to make plays they just scored at will. I think they’re getting more comfortable in what the offensive system is and what they’re trying to do.”
The Gators will try to kill that newfound offensive confidence by attacking FSU’s biggest weakness—its offensive line. Deondre Francois is a capable quarterback but hasn’t stood a chance this season with absolutely no protection.
Florida has the defensive playmakers to make the Seminoles pay for that all game long.
“We seen their frustration with their O-line and their quarterback,” said linebacker David Reese. “We just wanna put pressure on them, let our guys eat. And I feel like our guys are the best in the country, especially at pass rushing, so just let those guys go to work.”
The biggest test may come on the other side of the ball. FSU has a strong defensive line led by one of the best ends in the country.
Brian Burns could cause some havoc as he has all season with 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss to his name. Feleipe Franks will need to be on his A-game with a player like that coming for him every snap.
“He might be the best pass-rusher we’ve seen all year,” Mullen said. “He’s got length, he’s got speed, he’s got size, can come off the edge, causes all kinds of problems for you. I don’t know that we’ve faced a pass-rusher like that this year … He’s a guy you’ve got to know where he is on the field. He can disrupt the pass game that much.”
The point is, FSU may not be the caliber team it’s been in recent years, but it will be far from a walk in the park in Doak Campbell on Saturday.
“We were in their same position last year and still gave them a good game, so I know the talent that they have over there,” Reese said. “You know, they still got the same guys. They just might click. You never know. You can’t take that team lightly.”