Gators look to offset mismatch against FSU
Published: Friday, November 29, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 29, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.
It was only a year ago that Florida dominated archrival Florida State in the second half in Tallahassee and won the big rivalry game going away, 37-26. Now, a mere 12 months later, everyone is wondering if the Gators can even stay on the same field with the powerful Seminoles.
No. 2 Florida State (11-0) at UF (4-7)
WHEN: Saturday, noon
RADIO: 103.7 FM, AM-850
How did that happen?
Well, at Florida State, quarterback Jameis Winston happened. The gifted redshirt freshman and leading Heisman Trophy candidate, with the help of a deep and talented supporting cast, has lifted the Seminoles from an ACC championship team to a serious national title contender.
At Florida, massive injuries happened, hitting hard and early and forcing the Gators to limp through what has become a demoralizing season, UF's first losing year since the 1979 team went 0-10-1.
The combination has turned the rivalry upside down from where it was a year ago.
The 11-0 Seminoles are now on top (way on top). And the Gators are on the bottom (way down on the bottom).
The sudden gap between the rivals seems jarring, shocking.
“It doesn't shock me,” senior Florida wide receiver Trey Burton said. “I don't think there's really that big of a gap. We've had some things not go our way, and they've had a lot of things go their way. That's basically life, and that's basically how football is.”
And that's basically why almost no one is giving the heavy underdog Gators a chance to win Saturday's game in The Swamp.
The Seminoles are on a roll, the reeling Gators are rolling downhill.
FSU is coming of an 80-point performance against Idaho. Offensively challenged Florida is coming off a home loss to Georgia Southern.
This game would seem to have the potential to be the biggest mismatch in the history of the rivalry.
But as bad as it looks, as bad as things have gone for the Gators this season, they seem confident that they can compete with the Seminoles on Saturday.
“It's a rivalry game,” Burton said. “Every time we play Tennessee, it's going to be close. Every time we play Georgia, it's going to be really close. Every time we play Florida State, it's going to be close.
“Rivalry games, somehow, it doesn't matter what you've done in the beginning of the season or the whole year. Stats and all that stuff — I know you guys have heard it all before — it doesn't really matter what's happened during the whole year.”
Shell-shocked Florida fans, many seemingly fearing the worst, probably would take “close” right now and feel somewhat encouraged by it.
But the Gators think they can do better than just keeping Saturday's game close.
“I think we have a chance,” senior offensive guard Jon Halapio said. “If we go out there and play like we're capable of playing, I think we still have a good chance of playing a good game and possibly beating them.
“We've just got to execute. That's the big thing that we've been not doing all year offensively is executing and scoring points. We need to score points, we need to drive the ball like everybody else in the country is doing.”
The Florida offense has not consistently been able to drive the ball all season, even against the likes of Georgia Southern, an FCS team. And the defense has consistently given up big plays when it has needed big stops, a trend that has proved fatal through the Gators' six-game losing streak.
So, what makes the Gators suddenly think they can move the ball and get defensive stops against an FSU team that's averaging 55.2 points a game and giving up only 11.4?
They point to last year's game in Tallahassee, and the fact that this is a rivalry game, and rivalry games don't always unfold the way everyone thinks they will.
“We competed with them last year with the same group of guys,” senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins said. “We have the same coaching staff that pulled out a win there last year.
“Each one of our games, we find ourselves in the game some kind of way but we don't finish it. If we can get that corrected, I'm pretty sure we can compete with them. We definitely know we can compete with them.”
Florida's chances of springing the monumental upset would be enhanced if the Seminoles, based on UF's body of work this season, took the Gators lightly.
But the 'Noles say they won't let that happen. They have come too far and have too much to play for to lose their focus now. With a win over UF and a victory in the ACC title game next week, Florida State likely will be playing in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl.
“Every time you play Florida or Miami, when they step on the field it's always going to be a fight,” junior FSU tailback Karlos Williams said. “It doesn't matter who you played last week or who you're playing the week after that. It's all about that moment, getting the job done.
“Those guys are very tough. A lot of their guys we know personally playing with or against them in high school. It's going to be a very familiar game. There's going to be a lot of chips on the shoulders.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.