Week 14: Florida at Florida State

    Florida (6-4) at Florida State (11-0) Nov. 29, 3:30, ESPN Here’s The Deal: There have been times when Florida and Florida State have played when they’re

    November 26, 2014

    Florida (6-4) at Florida State (11-0) Nov. 29, 3:30, ESPN 

    Here’s The Deal: There have been times when Florida and Florida State have played when they’re each at superpower status, and there have been times recently when it’s been just another game, but for the most part lately, it’s become a big in-state game that goes to the better team that needs it more. 

    Some rivalries are famous for heartstomping upsets – Michigan vs. Ohio State – and some for their raw intensity – Miami vs. Florida State – and others for their insanity – Auburn vs. Alabama – but Florida State vs. Florida has been about blowouts. The last seven have been decided by more than a touchdown, and even when they relatively recent ones were close – Florida winning 21-14 in 2006 – the better team won. But while this year’s game might not match the importance or the talent of the 1996 regular season showdown that led to a rematch for a national championship, it’s very, very big for both sides, but in very, very different ways. 

    Florida is in transition out of the Will Muschamp era, but this could still turn out to be a successful year with a win over the Seminoles and a bowl victory. Do that, and assuming there would’ve been an easy win over Idaho to start the season – the game got cancelled due to bad weather – and 2014 Florida can be called a nine-win team. That might not be what the program is shooting for, but it’s not bad. 

    With one of the nation’s best defenses and a brutally effective running game, and a great attitude considering all of the adversity, the team is going to come out with a nothing-to-lose attitude, because it’s true. There’s going to be a new coach in a few months, the team has already locked up a bowl bid somewhere, and there’s no more speculation or pressure to save anyone’s job. Florida can play the role of spoiler, and it has the makeup to do it. 

    Florida State remains the only unbeaten team from a Power 5 conference, and even though it hasn’t played up to its talent level, and even though it hasn’t been all that great at times, and even though it took a wee bit of good fortune to get by Clemson in overtime, Notre Dame in the final seconds, and Boston College after a Jameis Winston official shove, 11-0 is 11-0 is 11-0. There’s still a nasty ACC championship ahead against Georgia Tech to get through – and even if the Seminoles lose this week, they’re probably in the playoff with a win over the Yellow Jackets – but it’s time to flex a little defending national champion muscle. It’s time for the ACC to get a big win over the SEC, or else Florida – even in its down state – can make its season one to remember. 

    Why Florida Might Win: While the Florida and BC have vastly different running styles, the Eagles provided a little bit of a blueprint last week by grinding out the clock – holding the ball for almost 34 minutes – not turning the ball over, and running for 240 yards. Most importantly, BC was able to create manageable third down situations by coming up with good running plays early on and being able to move the chains without a problem, converting 8-of-14 third down opportunities. Florida hasn’t been strong on third downs, or offensively overall, but when it comes out with pop and power – like it did against Georgia – it has the ability to take control of games. Considering Florida State is a painfully slow starter, the Gators have to take advantage by using its offensive line early and hoping to wear down the Noles into the second half. 

    Why Florida State Might Win: Where has Florida State been most vulnerable this year? The running game hasn’t been great, but it works when it needs to. The pass protection has been shaky at times, but for the most part it’s been fine. The concern has been in the secondary that allowed five 300-yard games and gave up 200 yards or more eight times. Worried about the opposing passing game? No problems there with the Gators, who have to fight through QB Treon Harris’s knee injury and might have to rely occasionally on Jeff Driskel. If there’s any way possible FSU can get off to a good start and get up early, the Gators won’t have the ability to come back. 

    Who To Watch Out For: For this to work, Florida needs all the rushing parts working from the start. Kelvin Taylor ripped up Georgia for 197 yards and two touchdowns, but has been relatively pedestrian since then, even with a touchdown in two of his last three games. Matt Jones rumbled for 192 yards and two scores against the Bulldogs, and ran for 82 yards against Vanderbilt, but he hasn’t been able to bust out many big runs throughout the year despite averaging over five yards per carry overall. These two, along with Harris and Driskel, have to get into a groove right away and have to get physical early on. Florida can’t rely on its passing game, and the bruising backs have to produce even though they’ll be keyed on from the start. 

    What’s Going To Happen: Here’s the difference. Florida State has been able to get away with playing poorly because, eventually, the talent comes through in the second half. Louisville, Boston College, and even Miami, to some extent, can’t quite match the skill of FSU, but the Canes were able to matchup with the speed and athleticism, and so were Clemson and Notre Dame – and that’s why games against the Irish, Tigers, and Hurricanes were so close in the final moments. Florida doesn’t have the passing game, but it has the defense and athleticism to not crumble in the second half. 

    Prediction: Florida 27 … Florida State 26 
    Line: Florida State -7.5 o/u: 52 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Birdman – 1: Horrible Bosses 2 … 4.5 

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