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FSU vs. Florida: Preview, keys to victory

FSU (5-6) heads to Gainesville to take on arch-nemesis Florida (5-6) with a lot more than bragging rights on the line Saturday. Of course, both teams need a win to get to a bowl with the winner taking away the added satisfaction of knowing it kept its biggest rival at home for the holidays.

And, at least at face value, it looks like a meeting between two programs going in different directions. After all, FSU has won five of its last seven games after starting the season 0-4. Florida fired Dan Mullen on Sunday after dropping five of its last seven games. There will no doubt also be ripple effects in recruiting based on the outcome of this game when you include all the dynamics in play. By the way, it is also the first time the schools have met since 2019 with the series paused last season due to Covid, which means it will be head coach Mike Norvell’s first experience with one of the most historic rivalries in college football. Florida leads the all-time series 36-26-2 and has won the last two meetings.

Florida 2021 schedule and results

Florida 35 FAU 14

Florida 42 USF 20

Florida 29 Alabama 31

Florida 38 Tennessee 14

Florida 13 Kentucky 20

Florida 42 Vanderbilt 0

Florida 42 LSU 49

Florida 7 Georgia 34

Florida 17 South Carolina 40

Florida 70 Samford 52

Florida 23 Missouri 24

Coaches’ Corner

Greg Knox, who has logged over 30 years has a college assistant coach, was named Florida’s interim head coach earlier this week. He worked with Mullen at Mississippi State from 2009 until both arrived in Gainesville in 2018. Knox worked as the running backs and special teams coordinator prior to being named interim coach. Prior to joining Mullen’s staff in Starkville he had stints at Auburn and Ole Miss as an assistant coach.

Florida will also be without Todd Grantham, who was fired as the team’s defensive coordinator after the Gators’ loss to South Carolina, as well as offensive line coach John Hevesy.

By the Numbers: Florida’s Offense vs FSU’s Defense

Florida Total Offense- 480 YPG (11th in NCAA) vs FSU Total Defense- 380 YPG (71st in NCAA)

Florida Rushing Offense- 215 YPG (17th) vs FSU Rushing Defense- 145 YPG (58th)

Florida Passing Offense- 265 YPG (34th) vs FSU Passing Defense- 234 YPG (74th)

Florida Scoring Offense- 32.5 PPG (39th) vs FSU Scoring Defense- 26.7 PPG (75th)

Florida Third-Down Offense- 41.5% (55th) vs FSU Third-Down Defense- 38.5% (61st)

Florida Sacks Allowed- 1.0 spg (8th) vs FSU Sacks Made- 2.91 spg (21st)

Florida Run Plays Over 10 yards- 76 (16th) vs FSU Runs Allowed Over 10 yards- 54 (68th)

Florida Pass Plays Over 20 yards-38 (58th) vs FSU Passes Allowed Over 20 yards- 38 (88th)

Florida on Offense

FSU will likely see two quarterbacks lead the Florida offense on Saturday. Junior Emory Jones (6-2, 211) has started all but one game for the Gators this season while freshman Anthony Richardson (6-4, 230) has one start this season but has also seen plenty of action coming off the bench. Earlier this week there was some questions about Jones’ availability this week after reports that he did not practice earlier this week. However, sources have since told the Osceola that Jones returned to practice on Wednesday.

Both signal callers possess strong arms and both can make things happen in the quarterback run game or scrambling when protections breaks down. Of course, Jones leads the team in passing, where he has thrown for 2,400 yards and 18 touchdowns while completing almost 68 percent of his passes. However, he has not been a stranger to throwing the ill-advised pass as he has been intercepted 10 times this season. Jones also leads the team in rushing yards (743) and rushing attempts (128). Richardson is not as accurate a passer, completing just 58 percent of his passes for 474 yards. He is a bigger threat with his legs at this point in his development and ranks fourth on the team with 394 yards on the ground and fifth on the team with 40 rushing attempts.

As the numbers indicate the strength of the Florida offense is its rushing attack, which features three running backs who have totaled over 300 yards on the ground this season. Senior Dameon Pierce (5-10, 215) leads the team in rushing yards (467) and rushing touchdowns (11). Pierce is also reliable out of the backfield as a pass catcher. He has 18 catches for 217 yards this season. Senior Malik Davis (5-10, 207) is first on the team in rushing attempts (77) and second on the team with 401 rushing yards. He has also caught 19 passes for 173 yards. Sophomore Nay’Quan Wright (5-9, 196) has 336 yards on 69 carries and also has 12 catches for 176 yards.

When it is time to throw the ball Gator quarterbacks have no shortage of options with nine players having totaled at least 12 catches this seasons and 16 players having at least one catch. Junior wide receivers Jacob Copeland (6-0, 202) and Justin Shorter (6-5, 228) are tied for a team-best 36 receptions. Copeland leads the team with 575 receiving yards, while Shorter is second with 486 receiving yards. Tight end Kenmore Gamble (6-4, 243) is third on the team with 27 catches for 319 yards. Sophomore backup wide receiver Xavier Henderson (6-3, 195) ranks fourth on the team with 25 catches for 272 yards.

Florida’s offensive line is big and experienced and is of course the primary reason Florida has been successful on offense. Four of its starting offensive lineman are classified as juniors or senior. They are most experienced at the two tackle spots. Junior left tackle Richard Gouraige (6-5, 312) has made 35 career starts, and senior right tackle Jean Delance (6-5, 307) has 27 career starts. Mammoth senior right guard Stewart Reese (6-6, 345) has 20 career starts under his belt.

By the Numbers: FSU’s Offense vs Florida’s Defense

FSU Total Offense- 382 YPG (82nd) vs Florida Total Defense- 363 YPG (53rd)

FSU Rushing Offense-181 YPG (49th) vs Florida Rush Defense- 154 YPG (71st)

FSU Passing Offense- 201 YPG (97th) vs Florida Pass Defense- 209 YPG (33rd)

FSU Scoring Offense- 28.2 PPG (66th) vs Florida Scoring Defense- 26.5 PPG (71st)

FSU Third-Down Offense- 34% (104th) vs Florida Third-Down Defense- 35 % (35th)

FSU Sacks Allowed- 2.9 spg (110th) vs Florida Sacks Made-2.79 spg (29th)

FSU Run Plays Over 10 yards- 75 (19th) vs Florida Runs Allowed Over 10 yards- 57 (76th)

FSU Pass Plays Over 20 Yards- 34 (77th) vs Florida Passes Allowed Over 20 yards- 34 (51st)

Florida on Defense

Florida is veteran-laden with eight of 11 starters being juniors or seniors in a multiple-look but 4-2-5 base defense has not done much chomping on opposing offenses of late. The Gators have given up an average of 39.8 points and 416 offensive yards over their last five games.

The front four’s top five players feature four seniors and one junior. Senior Jared Moon (6-5, 245), who splits his time between linebacker and defensive end has 30 career starts and is fifth on the team in tackles with 49 stops. At the other end senior Zach Carter (6-5, 285), who has 24 career starts, has been even more of nuisance for opposing offenses. Carter has made 28 tackles and leads the team with 11 tackles for a loss and eight sacks. Senior nose tackle Antonio Valentino (6-3, 312) and senior defensive tackle Daquan Newkirk (6-3, 308) have combined for 36 tackles on the interior of the line. Sophomore backup nose tackle Gervon Dexter (6-6, 303) is an emerging force inside. He has 41 tackles this season.

Florida’s best linebacker and tackler is senior Mohamoud Diabate (6-3, 227), who leads the team with 83 stops. Senior Amari Burney (6-2, 239) will line up next to Diabete at the other linebacker spot, where he has split time with Moon this season. Burney has made 21 tackles this season. Backup linebacker Ty’Ron Hooper (6-2, 228) is fourth on the team with 52 tackles, which included seven stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Their secondary features two very active safeties. Senior strong safety Trey Dean III (6-3, 206) is second on the team with 75 stops, including 3.5 TFLs. Sophomore Rashad Torrence (6-0, 205) also has 75 tackles, including 4 TFLs and a team high two interceptions. Junior Kaiir Elam (6-2, 196) is the team’s best and most experienced cornerback. He has 23 tackles, one interception and has broken up five passes. The other three players listed on the Gators’ two deep at corner are either redshirt or true freshman.

Florida on Special Teams

The Gators will utilize two place-kickers. Chris Howard is the guy they use from inside 40 yards and he has made all five of his attempts this season. Jace Christmann has the stronger of the two legs and has made three of this six attempts this season, two of which have been good from over 40 yards.

Jeremy Crawshaw is averaging over 43.5 yards per punt with 12 of his 34 attempts traveling over 50 yards. His punts have also forced opposing offenses to start possession inside its own 20-yard line.

The Osceola’s Keys to an FSU Win

#FreeFallin – The Gators are in a bit of free fall as their recent results and firing of its head coach surely indicate. They have pretty much imploded defensively over the last five weeks and offensively have struggled to find the end zone despite some impressive offensive statistics. FSU needs to get off to a fast and dominating start in all three phases of the game like it did a week ago against Boston College.

#Won’tBackDown – It’s a rivalry game and there will likely be some momentum swings during the course of the contest and FSU must weather the storm when things go the Gators’ way. Florida’s offense has been explosive at times so even if FSU gets off to the same kind of start it did a week ago it is imperative that it play with the same intensity and focus as it did during the first half of last week’s game.

#IntoTheGreatWideOpen – Another key to this game will be which offense has more success finding room to run. Running the ball is what both offenses must do to be successful. FSU’s and Florida’s running games also set up their success passing the ball. Which team does the best job limiting the other in finding open running room will have a significant advantage towards winning the game and in limiting the opponent’s chance of finding offensive balance.