By staff writer Robbie Andreu and correspondent Graham Hall
Who: Florida State (4-6) vs. Florida (4-6)
When: 12 p.m. today
Where: Florida Field
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Line: FSU favored by 5
Senior Day to honor 20 Gators
Before Florida takes the field to face FSU at noon today, the Gators will recognize 20 seniors who will be part of the festivities for one final game in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The ceremony will begin at about 11:50 a.m., and among the list is Duke Dawson, Luke Del Rio, DeAndre Goolsby, Marcell Harris, Brandon Powell, Jordan Sherit, Johnny Townsend and Nick Washington. “We want to send those guys out on the right note, guys like (Brandon Powell), Duke (Dawson), all those seniors, Johnny (Townsend),” sophomore wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “Guys that worked hard and come in every day and play their tails off for us. We definitely want to send those guys out on the right note. For us, we have to show our appreciation for them by going out and playing our tails off and having a great game.”
Improving the focus of UF’s receivers
With FSU’s defense built around stopping the run and forcing the quarterback to beat the secondary, the Gators will need the wide receiver corps at full strength. Freshman wide receiver Kadarius Toney missed consecutive practices throughout the week, further putting his situation in doubt. Yet the biggest issue for UF interim coach Randy Shannon is the focus level of the wide receivers who are healthy for UF. Shannon said he’s yet to see the unit fix the mistakes from the 36-7 win over UAB, and the plan will be to continue harping on the issues until they’re corrected. “Wasn’t sharp as I expected to be, the receivers didn’t focus. We’ve got to do a great job of getting those guys tuned in because they didn’t execute the way we wanted to. We’ve got to execute what we’re trying to get done.”
Advocating for Shannon
Heading into Saturday, the focus of the Florida fanbase appears to be split between beating the Seminoles and the coaching search. Although it’s a near certainty that Randy Shannon will not be promoted to head coach after the season, the locker room appears to be fully in support of having Shannon return to the coaching staff next season in some capacity. The players have noted that Shannon’s attitude and approach allows for a more relaxed and fun atmosphere during the practice and preparation phase. “Everybody loves that guy. He has nothing but love for each and every one one of us,” senior defensive back Duke Dawson said of Shannon. “The respect that we have for him and the respect that he has for us, it’s unbelievable.”
FSU looking to set series records
Much has been made of Florida’s senior class looking to secure their first win over the Seminoles. But the Gators will also strive to avoid another mark of futility at the hands of their in-state rivals. FSU’s four-game streak over the Gators matches the longest winning streak in the series, set in 1977-80 and matched in 1987-90. Much of FSU’s success is due to the dominance of coach Jimbo Fisher, who is 6-1 against Florida. Florida will look to break that streak and subsequently eliminate the Seminoles from bowl contention. “He (Shannon) had made a point, asked (senior receiver Brandon Powell) how many times he beat Florida State and he was like ‘We are 0-3 against them’, so it’s in our head to send them out on a good note,” wide receiver Dre Massey said. “And we hear they have an opportunity at a bowl game, so we’re going to just spoil that.”
Mo coming into play
It’s been a rough season for both the Seminoles and Gators and both enter today’s game with losing records (UF will finish the season with one; FSU can become bowl eligible with a win today and one a week from today against ULM). The promising thing for both teams is they’ve managed to generate some late momentum and have a chance to end on a positive note. Two weeks ago, the Seminoles pushed Clemson to the limit before falling in the fourth quarter. They might have been one turnover away from pulling off the big upset on the road. Then last week, FSU simply destroyed Delaware State 77-6. So, the Seminoles are coming in hot. The Gators also are feeling better about themselves. They hung tough and rallied in the second half at South Carolina before falling 28-20. Then they finally got back on the winning track with a complete performance in a 36-7 win over a bowl-eligible UAB team last Saturday. It’s been a disappointing season for both schools, but one is going to end it on a positive note.
Even though the Seminoles lost to arch-rival Miami at home earlier this season, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher remains the king of college football in the state of Florida. Fisher is a remarkable 17-2 against teams from the state. He’s won 11 of the last 12 games against in-state foes, including four in a row against Florida and three straight in The Swamp. In those three wins in Gainesville, FSU has outscored UF by a combined 85-16. It’s no wonder Fisher and the Seminoles have been cleaning up in recruiting ever since he’s taken over for the legendary Bobby Bowden. The Seminoles have one big selling point: their supremacy in the state of Florida, where there is an abundance of talent.
Stacking the box
Florida interim head coach Randy Shannon, a former coach and player at the University of Miami, is facing off against the Seminoles for the 24th time today. Even if this was just his first time, Shannon would know what FSU’s defensive game plan is going to be: load the box to stop the Gators’ running game and force true freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks to make plays in the passing game. “They’ll challenge our receivers and are going to crowd the line because of our running game and are going to force us to throw the football,” Shannon said. “But we have to be able to run the football and create space to always be above the sticks and not behind the sticks.” For the Florida offense to have success, the Gators are going to have to win first down and stay out of obvious passing situations.
Today’s game questions
• Who wins the battle of young quarterbacks? FSU true freshman James Blackman or UF redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks?
• Can the Gators establish a running game against a physical FSU front that will be anticipating the run?
• The UF receivers dropped multiple passes in the win over UAB a week ago. Will they atone today?
• The Gators held UAB to three yards rushing a week ago. How will the run defense do against an improving FSU rushing attack?
• The UF defense forced four turnovers against UAB. Can they create some more today?
Florida 21, FSU 20
Florida’s young secondary vs. FSU freshman quarterback James Blackman:
The Gators have been starting two true freshmen and playing as many as four in the secondary. As a result, there have been some rookie mistakes and blown assignments that have led to some long touchdown passes. It’s a trend that has continued late into the season. The Gators gave up a 74-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter against UAB last Saturday due to a freshman mistake. Although young, this is a secondary that has flashed lots of promise for the future. The same can be said of Blackman, who also is a true freshman. Blackman has had made some crucial mistakes and failed to take care of the football at times, which is to be expected from a true freshman at that position. He’s also shown immense potential, especially as a deep passer, an area where he has excelled. So, there’s no question Blackman and the Seminoles are going to test the young UF secondary with some deep shots, maybe as early as the first offensive play of the game for the Seminoles. If the young secondary gets burned deep early, it could lead to more big plays for the FSU passing offense.