Florida State-Florida storylines
Published: Saturday, November 26, 2011 at 10:13 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 26, 2011 at 10:13 a.m.
Neither of the state's powerhouse programs has lived up to their monikers heading into tonight's rivalry game with a combined nine losses between them. Florida State (7-4) snapped Florida's six-game winning streak in the series with last year's 31-7 victory at Doak Campbell Stadium, and will look to start a streak of its own. Florida (6-5) has struggled in its first season under new management, and would love nothing more than to hand the hated Seminoles their fifth loss of the season.
One of the areas where Florida can flex its muscle today is on short-yardage downs. FSU has struggled recently in converting on third-and-short runs, picking up only one on nine attempts over the past two games and six of its last 21 tries. Florida ranks third in the SEC for third-down stops. Florida State's offensive line has also surrendered 31 sacks, most in the ACC, so the Gators' young defensive line could make a big impact today.
The comforts of home
Former UF coach Steve Spurrier once said that “only Gators get out alive” of The Swamp, but that wasn't the case in Urban Meyer's final season that saw three home losses. First-year coach Will Muschamp is starting to reclaim that phrase, with the Gators only losing one home game at this point, a tough loss to Alabama in which Florida starting quarterback John Brantley went down in the first half. A home win today against rival FSU would go a long way in convincing UF fans that Muschamp can restore the sanctity of the Gators' stomping grounds.
Senior Day at The Swamp
The Gators will honor 19 players today on Senior Day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, including several who contributed to the 2008 national championship team. In a season that has seen Florida struggle, a victory over Florida State is one of the few things (besides a bowl win) that these seniors have left to play for. Among today's honorees: quarterback John Brantley, offensive linemen Dan Wenger and James Wilson, running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, wide receiver Deonte Thompson, tight end William Steinmann, defensive linemen Jaye Howard and William Green, cornerback Moses Jenkins, and punter David Lerner.
Rivalry turns friends into foes
Much has been made this week of the friendship between Will Muschamp and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. They met while working together at Auburn, and it was Fisher, the offensive coordinator at LSU, who recommended that Nick Saban hire Muschamp. It pretty much launched Muschamp's coaching career. Now that Muschamp and Fisher find themselves on opposite sides in one of the most bitter rivalries in college football, their friendship seems to have waned a bit. “We don't really talk a whole lot,” Muschamp said. The two co-own a beach house in Northwest Florida, but both joked earlier this week that they would like to sell it if they could. “You seen the market up there? You want to buy it?” Muschamp said.
Losing elite status
There was a time not so long ago (especially for UF) that these two teams enjoyed elite status in college football. No more. Just look at the schedules for both teams. The Gators' signature win this season was against Tennessee, which is 5-6 and not even bowl eligible yet. The other wins have come against FAU, UAB, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Furman. Not exactly elite stuff. The same goes for the Seminoles, whose big win this season was against 6-6 Miami. The other victories were over Louisiana-Monroe, Charleston Southern, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina State and Boston College.
Manuel poses problems
Florida's defense has had a difficult time containing quarterbacks who can run and pass — and FSU's E.J. Manuel is one of them. The feeling is that if South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw was able to run around and through the Gators, that Manuel is going to have a chance to really hurt UF with his legs. It's pretty obvious that he's the guy the UF defense will be focusing on tonight.
Numbers aligning for Gators?
In something you don't see very often, twice this season the Seminoles have had the same scores and results in back-to-back games. On Sept. 24, FSU lost to Clemson 35-30. A week later, the ‘Noles fell to Wake Forest 35-30. On Oct. 15, the Seminoles defeated Duke 41-16. The following Saturday, they beat Maryland 41-16. Weird, huh? The Gators can only hope that this will happen to the Seminoles for a third time this season. FSU was upset by Virginia 14-13 last Saturday. Florida would love that same result tonight.
Before every game Sun staff writer Robbie Andreu asks five questions. Click back for the answers after the game.
TODAY'S GAME QUESTIONS
1. Can Florida's struggling offensive line protect quarterback John Brantley and create some space in the running game?
2. Will the Gator defense, which struggles against the run, be able to stop or slow down the Seminoles' struggling ground game?
3. How much success will FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel have throwing the ball against UF's young and somewhat suspect secondary?
4. Both teams rank low in turnover margin. Which defense will produce some turnovers tonight?
5. Both teams have a knack for making big plays on special teams. Who wins this battle?
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