Florida State Opponent Preview: Florida

Florida State will wrap up their regular season slate with a Friday night prime time matchup against the Florida Gators inside Doak Campbell Stadium. FSU is coming off a fourth consecutive blowout win most recently against the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns. Meanwhile, the Gators are coming off an embarrassing road loss to SEC bottom feeder Vanderbilt. 

However, anything goes in a rivalry game and while FSU “should” win on paper nothing is guaranteed in games like this one. Florida State has been on a roll the past four games beating their opponents by a total of 173-39 but in fairness those teams are a combined 21-23. Still, it says something that week after week they have absolutely dominated those lesser opponents. Every Saturday we see teams across the country come out and play down to the competition. 

Even though the Gators are having a less than stellar first year under new head coach Billy Napier, the Noles won’t need any extra motivation for this one. It’s already one of the more intense rivalries in college football but the Noles may also have a little revenge on the mind from last season. Florida was able to keep FSU from reaching bowl eligibility in a rather disappointing loss to an interim staff.

It appears Norvell has been out to make a statement the past four weeks and I don’t suppose this week will be any different. I have a feeling if he can break this game open, he will keep his foot on the gas. However, despite their struggles Florida should matchup better with FSU talent wise than any of the last four teams.

Florida has the potential to keep this game close if they show up to play, but the Gators have been wildly inconsistent at times. They beat a solid Utah team to open the season, hung with Tennessee on the road and beat the brakes off a decent South Carolina team. On the flip side, they almost got beat at home by a 1-10 South Florida, struggled to pull away from a terrible Texas A&M team with 19 players out, and lost to Vanderbilt on the road for the first time since 1988.

No matter which Florida team shows up, I think it’s more about FSU showing up and playing their A-game. They must control their emotions and limit mistakes which they did against Miami. If they do, they should be able to get to 9-wins with a second victory over a rival. Let’s look at what the Gators will bring to Tallahassee.

Offensive Preview

The Gators have a decent offense, but it lives and dies with the success of quarterback Anthony Richardson. Speaking of inconsistency, Richardson has thrown for under 200 yards in 6 games this season but also thrown for 400 or more yards twice. He has a cannon for an arm but struggles with accuracy and lacks a true dynamic threat at receiver. Richardson is a talented runner that FSU will certainly have to game plan for. On the season he’s racked up over 600 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground. Let’s look at the passer profile for Anthony Richardson.

Passer Preview UF

What the Gators lack in the pass game they make up for on the ground. They come in as the 15th ranked rush offense and have put up over 200 yards on the ground in 7 games this season. However, last week against Vanderbilt, who has the 75th ranked rush defense, Florida only rushed for 45 yards. While not the most dominant, Florida does have a solid and experienced group up front. They also have two good backs in Montrell Johnson (avg 5.8 YPC) and Trevor Etienne (avg 6.2 YPC). Couple that with a legit running threat at quarterback and the Seminoles 52nd ranked rushing defense will be in for a challenge.

At receiver, the Gators have a few different guys to keep your eye on. Justin Shorter, Ricky Pearsall, and Xzavier Henderson are their three lead guys with a combined 1,438 yards and 7 touchdowns. With the 67th ranked passing offense, Florida is not the worst passing attack FSU has faced this season, but they surely aren’t the best either. 

The Noles are currently ranked fourth in pass defense so Florida will face a challenge of its own. It will be crucial for FSU to pressure Richardson without losing containment on him. He’s been far worse under pressure but bringing the heat can obviously be a double-edged sword against a mobile quarterback.

The Gators offense is not bad if it gets going and is the stronger side of the ball for them. However, I got to see that offense in person and although it was against a really good Georgia defense it just wasn’t that impressive. Florida has played three top 50 defenses this season and scored an average of 21 points per game against them which is more than a shoe’s throw down from their season average of 31.2. FSU currently has the 11th ranked defense and is allowing just 18 points per game. Florida is also 119th in red zone offense and had a few kicking issues of their own going 10/16 on field goals so far this season.

Defensive Preview

The Gators defense has been a bit of a different story this season. Their 98th ranked total defense has allowed over 400 yards in seven games and over 500 in three. Florida is allowing 27.3 points per game this season but against the three top 50 offenses they have faced that number jumps to 33.6 PPG. FSU is currently ranked 16th in total offense scoring an average of 35.4 points per game. Statistically, this will be the worst ranked defense FSU has faced all season with Wake Forest being the next at 88th. 

Florida surprisingly dismissed one of their best defensive players, Brenton Cox Jr., from the team after the Georgia game. For reasons unknown, it may have been the right move by Napier but that doesn’t mean it didn’t deliver a big blow to this defense. Despite Cox Jr. not playing the last 3-games, he is still tied for the most defensive pressures on the team. The Gators will also be without their best linebacker Ventrell Miller for the first half against FSU due to a targeting call against Vandy. This could be big as FSU has jumped out to an early lead the past few weeks and then coasted to the finish line while getting the backups valuable reps.

Florida has struggled to stop the run which is music to the ears of those in garnet and gold. They are 92nd in rush defense, 107th in rushing success rate on defense and 115th in run defense EPA. They have allowed over 150 yards rushing in eight of eleven games and over 200 in four. FSU has rushed for over 200 yards in six consecutive games including two against top 20 rushing defenses. The Gator defense has been terrible on third down as well ranking 127th of 131 teams. 

Florida’s defense has faced two offenses ranked higher than Florida State’s this season (Tenn & UGA) and gave up a combined 1,131 yards and 80 points to them. The potential for FSU to have a successful night on offense is there but they will need to come ready to play and limit mistakes. Not that Tennessee’s defense in any good, but South Carolina put up 63 points and over 600 yards on them a week after Florida held the Game Cocks to just 6 points and 237 yards.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

Even if it’s not the most important chapter in the story of this historic rivalry, this game is still huge for FSU. Florida State has already exceeded the expectations of many and had what I would consider a successful season. But it would be a humongous letdown to drop this game at home against a struggling Florida team.

On the other hand, it cannot be understated what it would mean for FSU getting 9-wins (with a chance at 10 in the bowl game), wins over both in-state rivals and carry serious momentum into a crucial off-season. This game is big for recruiting, bragging rights and the pure satisfaction of beating your rival.

On paper, FSU should have blown Miami out, but we had to at least consider the rivalry game aspect. Turns out it didn’t matter very much but then again Miami is also a dumpster fire right now. Florida isn’t very good either, but they aren’t quite as bad as Miami.

Florida is one of only two opponents that has a harder strength of schedule than FSU. Three of their 5 losses came against really good teams in Georgia, Tennessee, and LSU. I suspect the rivalry aspect may be a little more of a factor in this one and Florida will have a little less quit in them than Miami. However, after losing to Vanderbilt last week if FSU were jump out to an early lead, we could see the Gators start to wave the white flag.

FSU is playing their best football right now and gets the added advantage of a hostile home crowd that sold this game out months ago. To be honest, I’m not sure I see this one being quite as dominant as the last 4 weeks based off talent level and motivation. I also don’t see it being that close either given the reasons I stated in the start of this paragraph. With that said, I’ll take the Noles at home 38-20 over the Gators! 

It’s hard to believe the regular season is already coming to an end but hopefully the Noles can send everyone in garnet and gold into bowl season knowing this program has finally turned the corner. Thanks for reading and Go Noles!

Final Score Prediction

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