Florida State (6-5) vs. No. 8 Florida (9-2, No. 11 CFP)
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville
TV: SEC Network.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850.
Line: Florida by 18.
Series record: Florida leads 35-26-2.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
Florida is looking to end a four-game losing streak against archrival Florida State in Gainesville. The Gators also can win 10 games in consecutive years for the first time since 2009 and move a step closer to potentially securing a New Year’s Six bowl. Florida State would improve its bowl landing spot with a win and strengthen interim coach Odell Haggins’ case for replacing Willie Taggart.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Florida State: James Blackman has thrown for a combined 592 yards and five TD passes in the last two games, both wins under Haggins.
Florida: Linebacker Jon Greenard leads the team with 12 tackles for loss, including six sacks, and could wreak havoc on an FSU offensive line that allowed nine sacks against Miami and eight against North Carolina State.
Statement time for Haggins?
He’s never been a head coach, he’s never even been a coordinator, but you have to wonder what FSU does with interim head coach Odell Haggins if he leads the Seminoles to a big upset in The Swamp tonight. Do they name him the head coach? The players, who have played with great energy and passion from him, certainly would like that. In the two games since Haggins took over, the Seminoles have been a different team, winning both games and playing with the confidence and efficiency that were missing under Willie Taggart. There’s no question, this could turn out to be a career-changing night for Haggins if the Seminoles pull the upset.
Taking back The Swamp
One of UF’s biggest goals coming into the season was to do undefeated at home and turn The Swamp back into the special (and very loud and raucous) home-field advantage that it used to be in better days. The Gators can accomplish that with a victory tonight. At the same time, UF has a chance to end FSU’s four-game winning streak here that started with the 2011 game. Since The Swamp became The Swamp in 1992, no other opponent has won four consecutive games here. It’s a rare streak and the Gators are looking to end it.
With the running game missing this season, Florida coach Dan Mullen has put the offense almost exclusively in the hands of quarterback Kyle Trask and a deep and talented group of receivers. And the passing game has come up big, helping put the Gators in a position to possibly earn a second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl bid. It’s been a dramatic turnaround in just a year for the offense. Last season, UF ranked 83rd nationally in passing offense. Now, the Gators are sitting inside the top 20, at the No. 19 spot. On an offense where the passing game really needed to come through, it has in a big way this season.
Florida’s secondary vs. Florida State wide receivers Tamorrion Terry and D.J. Matthews:
Terry and Matthews are explosive playmakers who definitely have the attention of the Florida defense, the secondary in particular. Terry is a dynamic deep threat and one of the best wide receivers the Gators will have faced this season. He’s caught 44 passes for 892 yards and eight touchdowns and is averaging a whopping 20.3 yards per reception. Matthews is equally dangerous. He’s caught 33 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns. Now that Marco Wilson has moved from cornerback to star and Trey Dean has gone back to corner, his more natural position, the UF secondary has settled down and started to play up to expectations. It’s a confident group in the back end, but the DBs will be challenged early and often by Terry and Matthews.
Florida’s run defense versus FSU standout Cam Akers, who has 1,042 yards rushing and 17 total touchdowns this season. Akers ranks sixth in school history with 2,772 yards on the ground and seventh with 26 rushing touchdowns.
Florida defensive end Jabari Zuniga, one of the team’s most disruptive pass-rushers, is expected to play a full game for the first time since early September.
The fifth-year senior has dealt with a high ankle sprain most of the season. He was only able to play on third down against Georgia, sat out the last two games and had a bye week to get as close as possible to full speed.
FACTS & FIGURES
Florida State has won seven of the last nine in the series. … This is the seventh time since 1995 that the game has featured a double-digit point spread. The favorite has won — and covered — in the previous six (2000-01, 2007-09, 2013). … Haggins is 4-0 as FSU’s interim coach, including a 2-0 mark to close out 2017. … FSU is one of two teams nationally that haven’t given up a 30-yard run this season. … Florida has won seven in a row at home. … It’s “Senior Day” for the Gators, who will recognize 22 seniors, including 14 scholarship players, prior to kickoff. The list includes Greenard, running back Lamical Perine, linebacker David Reese, defensive linemen Adam Shuler and Jabari Zuniga, and receivers Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, Van Jefferson and Freddie Swain. The class is credited with getting Florida back on track following the team’s 4-7 debacle in 2017. … Florida had a bye week before facing FSU for the first time since 2005. The Gators won that game 34-7 in Gainesville. … UF can finish unbeaten at home for the 14th time in the last 30 years and first time since 2016. … Florida and Oregon are the only FBS teams to hold five opponents without a touchdown. The Gators did it against UT Martin, Tennessee, Towson, Vanderbilt and Missouri.
Tonight’s game questions
- Can the Florida defense hold 1,000-yard rusher Cam Akers to less than 100 yards rushing?
- Will Florida quarterback Kyle Trask have time to pick apart the FSU secondary?
- Who will be the senior star on Senior Night?
- With the return of defensive end Jabari Zuniga, will the Gators be able to put steady heat on FSU quarterback James Blackman?
- Who wins the turnover battle?
Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers
Florida 31, Florida State 21
(Season record: 9-2)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.