Rivalry Renewed: Gators fighting for seniors, bowl bid in first FSU game since 2019
When Florida interim coach Greg Knox first addressed the team this week, it wasn’t difficult to get the players’ attention.
They all went home Sunday night and “cleared their heads” following Dan Mullen’s firing, Knox said. When they reported back to the football facilities Monday morning, his message to them was all about Florida State and Senior Day.
“We’re excited about playing an in-state rival. Big, big game. Big, big game. So that was the message,” Knox said. “We’re playing a rivalry game and it is big.
“We’ve got a group of seniors who came here, dedicated themselves to this program for five years and we want to make sure they leave the right way.”
Redshirt senior defensive end Zachary Carter is one of just nine scholarship players who was on the Gators when they last lost to FSU in 2017. UF also had an interim coach for that game in Randy Shannon, who’s now a senior defensive analyst for the Seminoles.
Florida owns a two-game winning streak in the series, but the two teams didn’t play last year for the first time since 1957. The game was shelved after the SEC moved to a conference-only schedule due to COVID-19. This year's edition is sold out.
“It was odd,” Carter said of not facing FSU in 2020. “That was the first year we didn’t play them since I’ve been here, so I’m excited to go against the Seminoles. It’s been awhile.
“It’s my last game in the Swamp, big rivalry game, Florida-Florida State. I grew up watching that game as a kid. Still one of the biggest rivalries in college football. So it would mean a lot to go out with a win. That’d be big-time.”
In addition to the renewed rivalry and Senior Day, the Gators (5-6) are also fighting for bowl eligibility along with Florida State (5-6). UF hasn’t missed postseason play since 2017, while FSU failed to make a bowl in 2018 and 2020.
Gators-Seminoles: No bowl for you
Somebody is staying home again this year.
“Obviously Florida-Florida State is a big, big deal. Our players know that and understand that,” UF interim defensive coordinator Christian Robinson said. “Last year, not being able to play that game, that’s something that you look forward to. … This in-state rivalry, it’s a special, special day and you don’t want to come out on the bottom.
“So we’ve been talking about going to win for our seniors, going to close out this regular season on a positive note and being able to go to a bowl game. So the stakes are as high as ever. That’s what matters to our players, that they go perform on this one Saturday this week and be at their best.”
Florida and FSU have been trending in opposite directions since the first month of the season. The Gators are losers in five of their last seven games, including four consecutive in SEC play, while the ’Noles have won five of the last seven after starting out 0-4.
“They’re a good team,” Knox said of the Seminoles. “They are actually playing very well right now. Doing things well on offense, playing hard on defense. So it’s a challenge.”
Knox had to prepare for this matchup with starting quarterback Emory Jones not at 100 percent. He suffered an ankle injury in Monday’s practice and was out Tuesday, but returned to practice Wednesday.
Jones is expected to be available against Florida State, but backup Anthony Richardson could make his second career start after taking the majority of the first-team reps this week.
“They’re both very capable and you see the versatility. They’re both explosive movers,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said of Jones and Richardson. “They have very strong arms. As they’ve grown throughout the offense, you see where certain guys are more comfortable with being asked different things than others. But both of these guys are very capable quarterbacks and you have to account for their arms as well as what they do with their legs.”
Jones has 2,400 passing yards on the season with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, along with a team-high 674 rushing yards and four more scores. Richardson’s at 474 passing yards and 374 rushing yards with eight total TDs and six turnovers (five picks), but has played just one series in the last three games.
Florida State’s turnaround has been sparked by quarterback Jordan Travis, who reclaimed the starting job in Week 5 after losing it to UCF transfer McKenzie Milton in the season opener.
Travis rushed for over 100 yards in wins over Syracuse (113) and North Carolina (121) and eclipsed 250 yards passing in his last two victories against Miami (274) and Boston College (251).
Travis has thrown for 1,337 yards with 14 touchdowns and five picks in nine games. He’s scored six rushing TDs and ranks third on the team (428 yards) behind tailbacks Jashaun Corbin (877) and Treshaun Ward (490).
“Florida State, they’re a pretty good team,” UF linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper said, who had a career-high 12 tackles (11 solo) last week at Missouri. “We just gotta keep doing what we’re doing and flying to the ball. As long as we do that, it shouldn’t be a problem.
“I’m a Gator. So, you don't want to lose to Florida State, and that’s just that. You don’t want to get beat by those guys. We just want to come out and play hard. … We’re just trying to end this thing with a win, honestly. So, that's all the motivation we need.”
Who: Florida State (5-6) vs. Florida (5-6)
When: 12 p.m.
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Tickets: Sold out