NoleGameday

Game Preview: Florida vs Florida State

Florida Bio Flash:

Head Coach: Jim McElwain

Last Year’s Record: 10-4, 7-1 in SEC

Key Players: RB Jordan Scarlett, WR Antonio Callaway, CB Jalen Tabor, S Marcus Maye

Game Introduction:

The Gators head north hoping to carry over the momentum from their huge road win against LSU last week. Despite starting quarterback Luke Del Rio not playing because of injury, Florida was able to stop LSU at the goal line to seal the win. Florida State has bounced back nicely since the heartbreaking Clemson loss, and are riding a three game winning streak. FSU opened as seven point favorites, but don’t let Vegas fool you: This is the closest these two teams have been in regards to talent since 2012. The game kicks off this Saturday in Doak Campbell Stadium at 8:00 PM on ABC.

Headlines:

FSU looking to become 4-peat state champs

Florida State has dominated the sunshine state since the famous ’13 title run. They are undefeated against Florida schools since 2013, and currently have a seven game win streak against Miami. The ‘Noles have wins over Miami and USF already in 2016, and a win against Florida means another state champs crown.

Gators must protect QB Austin Appleby

Last year, it was Florida who struggled to move the ball offensively. The Gator’s defense played well for the first three quarters, but eventually fatigue set in and Dalvin Cook took advantage. This year is a different story. There were definitive signs that Florida had a weak offense going into the 2015 game, and FSU exposed those weaknesses. Of course, the Gators having a kicker last year would’ve helped them put more than two points on the board. This year, Florida again boasts a great defense. However, their offense is a better unit than in 2015, although they still rank 102nd in total offense in 2016. UF’s offensive line will have their hands full against this talented Florida State defensive line. The ‘Noles currently lead the nation in sacks with 41, and have done a great job of getting to the quarterback this year. DeMarcus Walker plays with an incredibly high-motor, and should be extra motivated in his last home game at Florida State. If FSU can generate consistent pressure on the Gators, they can make this offense one-dimensional. While its true the ‘Noles have been susceptible to the run at times this year, most of those teams had mobile quarterbacks (i.e. Lamar Jackson, Quinton Flowers).  Florida has found a pretty good running back in Jordan Scarlett, but they do not have the presence of a dual-threat quarterback. Because of this, FSU can rev up the blitz, and put a lot of pressure on Austin Appleby. A quarterback under pressure tends to make mistakes, and FSU just happens to have the country’s interception leader in Tarvarus McFadden. If the ‘Noles can generate pressure, McFadden will have a good chance to add another pick to his tally.

Vital X-factor: Special teams

No one likes to talk about punting, but it should be in the conversation for this game. Saturday’s game will feature two pretty good ones in Johnny Townsend and Logan Tyler. Townsend, a senior, has been very productive for the Gators averaging 47.8 yards per punt. That’s good for fourth in the country, and it’s a surprise he isn’t a finalist for the Ray Guy Award. Logan Tyler has had a very good season for a true freshman, averaging 40.9 yards per punt. With as good as both these defenses are, punting will be a huge factor. Both teams also have good punt returners, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we see a touchdown on special teams. The field position battle will be very important in this game, especially for Florida. If they can give their offense shorter fields to work with, Florida will have more success putting points on the board. And in case you haven’t heard, Florida has a kicker this year in Eddy Pineiro. FSU has a familiar last name at kicker, although a new face. Pineiro and Aguayo have both been pretty good this year, and both teams will be counting on them come Saturday. Special teams will be an important factor this year, so don’t look away from the game until it goes to commercial.

Burning Questions:

Can Dalvin Cook continue his in-state dominance?

Dalvin Cook has absolutely lit up in-state schools in his time at Florida State. Last year at Florida, Cook ran for 183 yards and two scores. There’s no reason to think he can’t do the same this year, if not better. The ‘Noles have more of a threat in their passing game, thanks to the emergence of wide receivers Nyquan Murray and Auden Tate. This could keep the Florida safeties back, which means more room for Cook to wiggle. In addition, head coach Jimbo Fisher has dialed up a lot more counters and jet sweeps in recent weeks. Using WR Kermit Whitfield as a weapon in the ground game has done wonders for Dalvin Cook. Opposing defenses have to shift in order to account for Whitfield going in motion, and this has gave Cook more room to work. Even with an inconsistent offensive line, Cook has found his groove in 2016. He had arguably the best game of his career in a losing effort agaisnt Clemson, where he had 169 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He’ll need to show up Saturday, because without him, the ‘Noles offense will struggle to move the ball.

Can the ‘Noles block this stout Florida front seven?

The Florida State offensive line hasn’t been as bad as some make them out to be. Yes, they are wildly inconsistent but they are still a relatively inexperienced unit. In recent weeks, they have been playing much better. Against Clemson, the o-line actually played extremely well except for the last drive. They’re going to need to play at their best Saturday, as the Gators have an excellent defensive line. Florida’s linebackers aren’t too shabby either, despite some injuries to that unit. Dalvin Cook is FSU’s biggest difference maker, but he is nothing without an offensive line. Florida will be calling lots of stunts along their front-four, and it’s imperative that the ‘Noles have good alignment and technique. Deondre Francois needs time to find his receivers, and if he doesn’t trust the o-line it could spell trouble for Florida State. FSU left tackle Rod Johnson will have his hands full against Florida DE Cece Jefferson, so keep an eye on that match-up come Saturday.

Forecast:

This is the toughest Florida State-Florida game to predict since 2012. FSU had a clear talent advantage the last three years, but this year is different. The ‘Noles were supposed to compete for a playoff spot in 2016, but injuries and a tough schedule saw those hopes disappear. Florida, on the other hand, has once again won the SEC East, but that’s not saying much. The SEC East has been the weakest power-5 division the last two years, but credit to the Gators for taking full advantage of that. This game could go either way, and every possession will be crucial. This feels like a game where the ‘Noles can’t start slow. I think it will be a low scoring, close, defensive battle. But Florida State has something the Gators don’t: Dalvin Cook. He is the best player in the game, and the biggest difference maker. I think he makes enough big plays for the ‘Noles to edge out the Gators. I’ll take FSU 21-17, in a very slow paced defensive battle. Should be another great game Saturday, so enjoy Thanksgiving and rivalry week. Try not to fight with your relatives over football too much.

 

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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