It’s here. The rivalry that gets every Florida fan’s blood boil, gets the heart racing and seeing the letters “F-S-U” anywhere puts a scowl on the face of any Gator faithful. It’s here, and it means a heck of a lot more than just bragging rights this year. As you all know, if Florida wins Saturday they could easily clinch a BCS bid, and if Notre Dame loses on the road to USC, they could make a trip back to Miami for the BCS National Championship game. It’s here. Time to break down the ‘Noles and see just how close this match-up really is.
Strength of Schedule- Advantage: Florida
There is no question that Florida has one of the toughest schedules in all of college football, which is why they are so high (#2) in the computer poll. This week against the ‘Noles will be the fourth top ten team the Gators have faced this season. When you look at Florida States résumé closely, the only quality win the ‘Noles had this year came against Clemson, who they did beat impressively 49-37 in week 4. However they did lose to unranked NC State on October 6th. Despite the ‘Noles one-point loss to the Wolfpack, many are saying that if they beat Florida they could make a run at a BCS bowl or even get into the national title conversation. However, when I look at the teams they’ve faced this year, I am almost appalled at the lack of quality opponents the ‘Noles have faced in 2012. Take a look at the teams’ records that the ‘Noles have faced, again with the exception being Clemson.
Murray State- (5-6)
Savannah State (1-10)
Wake Forest (5-6)
NC State (6-5)
Boston College (2-9)
Miami (FL) (6-5)
Virginia Tech (5-6)
I don’t know about you but this schedule doesn’t look anything like BCS caliber. Besides Clemson, Florida is the biggest test offensively and defensively for Florida State all year.
Offense- Advantage: FSU
Florida State’s offense is currently ranked 14th in the nation and rightfully so- they average 494 yards per game. ‘Noles quarterback EJ Manuel has 2,785 passing yards and completes 69% of his passes. Ever since ‘Nole running back Chris Johnson suffered season-ending ACL injury against Miami, Manuel has been the key to the ‘Nole offense. Manuel faces it’s toughest pass defense against the Florida secondary, which is first in the nation in pass efficiency defense and has 16 interceptions. Manuel has 6 INTS on the year and has thrown a pick in each of his last two games. The FSU offensive line has given up 21 sacks all season, Florida’s defense comes registering 23 sacks on the year. Back-up ‘Noles running back Devonta Freeman has averaged just 79 rush yards in four games, and notably had just -5 total yards in a tight 6 point victory against Virginia Tech two weeks ago. Florida’s defense only gives up 95 rushing yards per game. Although the FSU offense is impressive, I am very confident in Florida’s defense heading into this game. I think they should be able to get some real pressure on Manuel that he has yet to see all season.
Defense- Advantage: FSU (statistically)
Both Florida and Florida State have outstanding defenses. FSU currently leads the nation in total defense, and Florida sits behind them at #4. While FSU is at the top of almost every defensive statistic, I think that numbers can be deceiving, especially when you look at the quality of offenses the ‘Noles have faced this year. Now I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t Florida’s offense hellacious regardless? Yes, Florida’s offense has struggled mightily since the Georgia game, but despite this, FSU faces one of the toughest offenses rushing-wise with Florida it has seen all year, the exception again being Clemson. All of Florida State’s past opponents average just 126 rush yards per game- Florida comes in averaging 190 rushing yards per game. If Florida can rely on their rushing attack, they should be able to get things going offensively. This also holds true with the quarterback position and Jeff Driskel, if he is 100% healthy from his ankle sprain. If he is healthy look for the zone-read plays to be a big factor. If Driskel has to, he has to be able to get things going in the air. FSU’s pass defense allows 166 yards per game and has just 6 INTs. Florida averages just 143 pass yards per game, but hopefully the Gators can stick with the running game. Look for Mike Gillislee to have a big day. He is just 36 yards away from getting to a 1,000 yard season.
Breaking Down FSU’s Notable Games: Clemson, NC State, Virginia Tech
Clemson: W, 49-37
If there’s a win that gets Florida State into the BCS conversation, it’s this one. Many believed after this win that the ‘Noles were Miami- bound if they could just run the table, which they didn’t, losing to unranked NC State two weeks later. But this was a very impressive win for the Noles, and they did so with EJ Manuel having a monster game. He completed 27 of 35 of his passes for 380 yards and ran for another 102. Florida has done a great job of containing mobile quarterbacks, especially in the second half. Florida held mobile quarterbacks Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Connor Shaw of South Carolina, and James Franklin of Missouri to just 87 yards combined. Another important takeaway is Clemson, who averages 204 rush yards per game, just 14 yards more than Florida, was able to punch holes in the ‘Nole defense and rush for 136 yards. While this was a big signature win for the ‘Noles, there are some things Florida can take away from both teams’ performances.
NC State: L, 16-17
Now if there’s a game that would take FSU out of the BCS talk, it’d be their loss to unranked (6-5) North Carolina State. EJ Manuel threw for 218 yards and had an interception, and then-starting running back Chris Thompson had 141 rush yards- someone Florida doesn’t have to prepare for this week. While the numbers offensively are impressive, NC State’s defense held FSU to just 122 yards of offense in the second half. Florida’s second-half adjustments on defense have been stellar all year. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon shredded the ‘Nole secondary, throwing for 259 yards and two touchdowns- a film Jeff Driskel has surely watched. The ‘Nole defense failed to account for Glennon’s arm in this loss- something Jeff Driskel can try to mirror this week. Also an important stat was the ‘Noles on 3rd down conversions- FSU went just 3-15 on third down against NC State. Florida holds opponents to complete just 26% of third downs.
Virginia Tech: W, 28-22
This game was unexpectedly close for the Noles, and they barely squeaked by in Blacksburg against a then (4-5) Hokies team. I repeat, (4-5). Florida State turned the ball over twice in this game and was held to -15 rushing yards. That’s right, -15 rush yards against a Virginia Tech rush defense that allows 150 rushing yards per game. Florida State’s 326 passing yards allowed them to convert offensively, and three Hokie turnovers did not help VT out much. Again, failure to convert on third downs put FSU in a tight spot- ‘Noles converting just 3 out of 14 times on 3rd down.
There is no doubt that this is a very good Florida State team, but I hope this post shows that some of their numbers are deceiving, and that Florida has an incredible opportunity on Saturday. On paper, FSU’s defense would prove to be the defining factor of this game. But as I said, this is the toughest run game the ‘Noles have faced all year and in addition the Gators play for the opportunity to get to a BCS bowl and possible National Title game. Florida knows what’s at stake tomorrow. Look for the Gators to come out with some fire on Saturday.
Morgan Moriarty is a sophomore Telecommunications major at the University of Florida. She works in the Office of Student Life on campus, and covers college football and recruiting for ESPN Radio. She is also on the University of Florida Women’s Club Water Polo Team. Follow her on Twitter @moriarty343