NoleGameday

Florida State vs Florida- Game Preview

Florida (10-1, 7-1 in SEC) Bio Flash:

Head Coach: Jim McElwain (1st year, 10-1 record)

Key Players: RB Kelvin Taylor, WR Antonio Callaway, CB Vernon Hargraves III, CB Jalen Tabor

Last Year’s Record: 7-5, 4-4 in SEC

Analysis:

Offense:

Florida’s offense through eight games has seemingly surpassed all expectations coming into the year. They were averaging 31 points per game and 380.9 yards per game during that stretch. Through seven games last year (the first game against Idaho was cancelled), Florida averaged 379 yards per game and was averaging 30 points per game. So what changed from this year to last year with such similar numbers?  For starters, Florida had a much tougher schedule last year. The SEC East was much better, and Florida ended the year as an average four loss team. First year coach Jim McElwain took over this Florida team at just the right time. The SEC East is the worst rated power-5 division this year, and Florida avoided playing Alabama out of the SEC West. Though Florida’s offense was clicking through the first eight games, there has been a significant drop off in the last three games. Just look at this chart per ESPN: 

The three teams Florida played in that stretch were Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Florida Atlantic. They rank 22nd, 90th, and 78th nationally in total defense respectively. Florida State ranks 20th in total defense, and is the only team in the country that has not allowed an opponent to score more than 25 points. Florida State’s defense is putting up similar numbers to Vanderbilt, so let’s use that game as a measuring tool. Starting quarterback Treon Harris went 12/24 for 158 yards, with 0 touchdowns and 1 interception. His total QBR (according to ESPN) against Vandy was 45.5. In addition to Harris struggling, running back Kelvin Taylor had a rather unimpressive day. Taylor carried the ball 17 times for 47 yards and one score. His longest run of the day was nine yards. This game was played at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, yet Florida’s offense still struggled. One of the biggest reasons Vanderbilt’s defense had so much success against Florida’s offense was their ability to limit Kelvin Taylor and shut down tight end Jake McGee. McGee, a graduate transfer from Virginia, has been a great weapon for the Florida offense. UF loves to use him on crossing routes, out routes, and wheel routes. When Florida scored 28 against LSU, McGee had 5 catches for 43 yards and 2 touchdowns. Against Vandy, McGee’s lone target was intercepted. If Florida State can shut down both Taylor and McGee, Florida’s going to have a tough time moving the ball.

Defense:

Defensively, the Gators are one of the nation’s best. They rank 6th in total defense and are allowing only 281.7 yards per game. Without Florida’s great defensive play this year, the Gators might have more than one loss. Unfortunately for UF, their defensive line took a huge hit with injuries on Saturday. Anyone that watched the game could see why, as FAU cut blocked on almost every pass play. For those who don’t know, a cut block is where the lineman dives at the defenders legs, instead of engaging the defender with his hands. Here is the injury report released on Monday per 247 Sports:

The biggest losses on this report are DE Alex McCalister and DT Jonathan Bullard. On the year, the two have combined for 24.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Without these two and others, Florida State’s offensive line should get a huge boost. However even if the ‘Noles offensive line gives Sean Maguire time in the pocket, he’s going to have to make great throws. Florida boasts perhaps the best secondary in the country, and cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor will both be playing on Sundays very soon. Florida State will have to be able to establish the run against Florida if they want to win. LSU was able to efficiently run Fournette against the Gators, making the safeties creep up. This led to a few huge deep passes for LSU off play action and a flea-flicker. It should also be noted that Florida gave up a 74 yard touchdown run to Vanderbilt, who had established no real threats in the passing game. If Cook can break free for a long run, the play action will open up. Screens will be theoretically useless against Florida’s defense as far as moving the ball goes, but may cause the corners to press the line of scrimmage. Florida State must get a couple big plays from it’s offense come Saturday, whether its on the ground or through the air. If Florida limits the big play, this game just might come down to special teams.

Special Teams:

This is where Florida has been good, bad, and downright ugly. Let’s start with the good first. Antonio Callaway has been a dangerous punt return man, and scored a touchdown against LSU. Although LSU was worst in the nation in punt coverage at the time, Callaway still poses a threat and averages 14.9 yards per return. On kick returns, Brandon Powell takes the majority of the reps and has enjoyed a decent year averaging 21.5 yards per return. He doesn’t neccessarily have the ability to flip the field consistently, but can break loose for long returns. Florida punter Johnny Townsend has been solid, averaging 43.8 yards per punt on the year. For comparison purposes, FSU’s Cason Beatty is averaging about the same, at 44.0 yards per punt. Here’s where it gets bad, and where FSU returners Jalen Ramsey and Kermit Whitfield can do some damage. The Gators are in the midst of a kicking crisis, and cannot figure out the position. If the kickoffs are short, Whitfield and Ramsey both pose a major threat to not only get the ball into Florida territory, but score. Sticking with UF’s kickers, here’s where it gets ugly. Florida has missed an extra point twice in the last three games, and has missed multiple field goals. If Florida can move the ball into FSU territory but not get touchdowns, they might just end up with empty trips.

4 Things 2 Watch:

1) DBs vs. WRs

This is not a specific match-up, and it goes for both teams. Both Florida and Florida State have an incredibly talented secondary. Offensively, both teams have struggled and dealt with questionable quarterback play. Although both teams are run first, eventually a wide receiver is going to have to step up. The biggest advantage in this department goes to Florida State, because one Florida defender gets the task of covering the speedy Kermit Whitfield in the slot. Assuming both Hargreaves and Tabor will be covering the outside receivers, Florida will have to figure out a way to stay step for step with Whitfield. If Florida gets caught playing Whitfield man to man on a crossing route, watch out.

2) Maguire’s Game Management

Sean Maguire is in his 4th year of Head Coach Jimbo Fisher’s complicated offense, and seems to have a firm grasp on it. It will be up to him to check plays at the line of scrimmage amidst 88,000 plus screaming people wearing ugly colors. It will be just as loud as it was in Death Valley, where Maguire played well against a top five Clemson defense. If Maguire can stay focused and help Florida State move the ball consistently, Florida’s offense might not be able to keep up.

3) Kickin’

Florida is in a world of hurt in the kicking department, but on the flip side Florida State has one of the best kickers in the nation in Roberto Aguayo. His NFL caliber range will mean the ‘Noles won’t have to move the ball as far down the field as the Gators to get points. With the way both team’s defenses have been playing, points might be hard to come by. But if the game does come down to field goals, Florida State has the clear cut advantage.

4) Turnovers

If the game doesn’t come down to field goals, it’s because one defense was able to create turnovers. If Vanderbilt’s defense was able to force four turnovers on the road against Florida, the ‘Noles could very well get a couple takeaways. However, Florida State’s offense won’t be perfect either. It’s almost inevitable that Florida’s talented secondary will be able to get at least one interception. This game will be close, but if it somehow gets out of hand its because one team’s offense could not take care of the ball.

Forecast:

This has been the toughest game to predict all year. The teams enter the game ranked 12th and 13th in the country and the line has moved from favoring Florida by 3 to favoring Florida State by 2.5. Both defenses are very good, but where the advantage comes is on offense. Not only does Florida State’s offense rank well ahead of Florida’s, they also have a game changer in Dalvin Cook. He’s electric, and the most dangerous runner in the country. Every time he touches the ball he has a chance to score six. Florida may have the 6th ranked defense in the country, but the ‘Noles have already faced two better in Clemson and Boston College. With the way Florida’s offense has played lately, there isn’t much to be optimistic about. Injuries have also hit Gators’ linemen hard on both sides of the ball. With that said, I think Dalvin Cook has a huge day and breaks off a few long runs. This allows Sean Maguire to not have to do too much, and the ‘Noles win a close one, 23-13. Expect Roberto Aguayo to make a couple long field goals, and Florida to miss one or two. This is going to be an ugly game any way you look at it, and the rivalry only intensifies this. There will be lots of penalties and turnovers by both teams. In the end though, Florida State is playing better and has the more talented roster as of now. Again, this game can go either way and anything can happen in the crazy world of college football. It should be a fantastic game Saturday, I hope you enjoy the end of a wild 2015 season.

 

Ben Brewton

Writer at Nole Gameday covering football and basketball. FSU alum. Follow me on twitter (@Ben_Brewton) and we can talk sports. On the 8th day, God created college football.



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