Published: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 23, 2012 at 11:34 p.m.
Staff writers Robbie Andreu and Jon McDonald take a closer look at today's game at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Angry reaction for these two Gators?
No Gators are ever welcome at Doak Campbell Stadium. But two likely will be more unwelcome than usual today — true freshman Buck linebacker/defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and junior safety Matt Elam. Both of these guys were supposed to be Seminoles. In fact, Fowler was, for almost a year. Fowler gave a solid verbal commitment to FSU during his junior season at St. Petersburg Lakewood and went month after month without wavering. But at the end of the recruiting process last January, there were rumblings and rumors he was showing a late and genuine interest in Will Muschamp and the Gators. The Seminoles laughed it off. But on signing day, Fowler stunned FSU (and made UF's day) by signing with the Gators. He will have a target on his back today. Elam also appeared headed to Tallahassee three years ago. While Urban Meyer was flip-flopping about his job at UF, Elam was doing the same in recruiting. When it looked like Meyer was gone, Elam backed out of a UF commitment and committed to the Seminoles. He even posed for a picture for his local newspaper wearing an FSU jersey. But when Meyer announced he would be coming back after a leave of absence, Elam signed with the Gators. He's had an FSU target on his back ever since.
Can Gators win without much O?
Absolutely. As Florida has shown throughout this 10-1 season, there are many ways to win a football game. Strong defense. Turnovers. Big plays on special teams. With the exception of the loss to Georgia, the Gators have been able to somehow produce a winning formula every week by making up for their lack of offense with productive play in other phases. They'll try again today. It's pretty much a given UF likely will lose one phase of the game badly — its offense against FSU's defense, which is No. 1 in the nation. So, the Gators will try to make up for that likely loss with strong wins on defense and in special teams. Here's one key stat that could have a tremendous impact on today's game, and that has been widely overlooked this week: The Seminoles have a tendency to turn the ball over. They are 69th in the nation in turnover margin. While the Seminoles have been shaky taking care of the ball, the Gators have been sound (with the exception of the six-turnover performance in the loss to Georgia). If Florida comes up with a significant victory in the turnover battle today, the Gators will have a chance to spring the upset.
After the Gators shut out Jacksonville State a week ago, UF coach Will Muschamp said he didn't know if there was a better defense in the nation. FSU can make a strong argument that its is — the Seminole defense. FSU ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense (236.3 yards allowed a game), while UF holds down the No. 4 spot nationally (281 yards a game). FSU is giving up only 70.6 yards a game on the ground and opposing offenses have converted only 43 of 172 third-down plays (25 percent). The Gators have also been strong on third down, allowing opposing offenses to convert only 42 of 160 third-down plays (26 percent). Here's one key area where the Gators rank ahead of the Seminoles: UF is third in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 11.7 points a game. FSU is fifth (13.1 points). Both defenses have piled up a lot of impressive numbers, and a lot of the signs point to this game turning into a defensive struggle. Who has the best defense? Maybe we'll have a more definitive answer after today's game.
If the game comes down to a field goal, then each team would be happy to trot out its kicker. The Gators and Seminoles each have one of the three best kickers in the country, according to the Lou Groza Award finalist list. Florida's Caleb Sturgis and FSU's Dustin Hopkins are both in the running for the honor, which goes to the country's top kicker (the other is Tulane's Cairo Santos.) Hopkins also became the NCAA leader in points scored by a kicker (448) in last week's 41-14 win over Maryland.
After last year's 21-7 home loss, Florida coach Will Muschamp said his team played soft. Those words seem to have been taken to heart this season, at least by the defense. While the offense has been dominant at times (like the LSU game) the defense has been the Gators' rock. Even in the 2011 loss to the ‘Noles, the UF defense only gave up two of the scores and held Florida State to 95 yards of total offense. Muschamp would probably settle for that kind of “soft” performance today.
Give Pease a chance
The Florida offense has downshifted since the South Carolina game, scoring just 59 combined points against Georgia, Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette and FCS foe Jacksonville State. With this being Florida's last chance at a BCS game (and perhaps a national championship game), does offensive coordinator Brent Pease pull out all the stops? Florida has relied on its defense all season, but this could be the game when Pease opens up his playbook and surprises everyone. The Gators haven't needed the offense to be anything other than conservative and opportunistic for most of this season, but if there were a time, it would be today. Florida State's defense is tops in the nation, and they will be expecting everything the Gators have already run.
Bjoern to be wild
Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner is one of the driving forces on the line. The Nagurski Trophy finalist leads his team with 14 1/2 tackles for loss and is second with 9 1/2 sacks. For Florida to establish its running game, or any sort of offense, it will have to deal with the 6-foot-4, 255-pound monster who hails from Berlin, Germany. While impressive, Werner's stats are a bit skewed. The junior recorded four sacks and five tackles for loss in the Seminoles' season opener against Murray State.
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