Earlier this week, I helped Tomahawk Nation's Dylan Kidd preview Florida. Today, Dylan returned the favor. Enjoy!
Florida and Florida State have both had good seasons, but both sport some big flaws — Florida's offense, and FSU's offense on the road. Is this more likely to be a game of breaking tendencies, or are we in for a rock fight?
I think you'll see a few breaks in tendency, especially early on in this one. I don't think the Gators have run much zone read with Treon Harris this season, and I'm confident we'll see some of that against the Seminoles. Harris ran effectively against FSU last season, so I'm sure McElwain will want to bring that out.
Jimbo Fisher is also famous for having some wrinkles for the opposition in big games. He usually likes to throw on early downs in these kinds of games, so that wouldn't be so much a tendency break as maybe an unexpected event for Florida fans thinking that the ‘Noles will run Cook early and often. That said, the ‘Noles have got to stay out of obvious passing situations, so any way that they can stay ahead of the chains is fine by me.
These tendency breaks and/or shot plays are going to be huge in what figures to be a low-scoring game. I've been thinking of this one as a higher variance game in terms of outcome, as one single big play could very well decide a game in which the over/under is in the 40s (and I'd take the under).
I think "rock fight" is an apt description of what we'll see for the most part. I don't see either offense being able to consistently move the ball against the opposing defense, and special teams will be critical. We've talked before about the 2011 game as an analog, and I do expect this one to be similar in terms of being aesthetically displeasing to fans.
Sean Maguire's taken over from Everett Golson as FSU's starter at quarterback and generally upgraded the Seminoles' passing game. How has he done it, and can he have success against Florida given the Gators' pass rush and secondary?
Maguire has improved the quality of the FSU offense by running its base plays much better than Golson ever did. The offense under Golson was significantly watered down, and Maguire has shown the benefits of having been in the program for four years. The Seminole passing game is much more dangerous when it can utilize its full array of concepts, and Maguire has shown the ability to make the required reads and throw the ball into tight windows with anticipation.
Now, while he's been a net positive for the ‘Noles' offense, those aforementioned qualities could pose some problems against an excellent Gator secondary. He's not afraid to sling it into coverage, and Florida has excellent defensive backs that play a lot of zone, which means talented eyes on the football. Couple that with a fearsome pass rush against an inconsistent FSU offensive line, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the aggressive Maguire toss a couple of interceptions to Florida defenderson Saturday evening.
The Florida State narrative this year is of a rebuilding team that might be a year away from once again contending for a national title. Has the rebuild proceeded according to plan, or is it ahead of or behind schedule? How has it surprised, if at all?
Our expectations at the outset of the year were split between 9-3 and 10-2, so it's fair to say that the rebuild right on schedule at the very worst. I think you can make a real argument that it's ahead of schedule. Everyone of consequence aside from Jalen Ramsey and Roberto Aguayo is likely to return at this point, and the young guys on defense have produced more than anyone could have reasonably expected. Derwin James and Josh Sweat are going to be terrors over their next two seasons, and there's talented young depth around them. The whole offensive line will return, and the offense should feature very experienced receivers, a healthy Dalvin Cook, and will see a quarterback competition this spring.
It'll be a loaded roster next season, which seems to be about the only certainty after a week of upheaval.
Dalvin Cook is one of the nation's best running backs, and thinks he's the best one by his own admission. But his nagging injuries have left him looking more like a home-run hitter who can't quite get the ball over the warning track as often as he'd like. Are those injuries mostly healed, and is Cook primed to have a big day despite Florida's rugged run defense?
The only sure thing about Dalvin Cook's injury(ies?) is that Florida State is not going to give you reliable information about them. Those Belichick/Saban tree coaches, am I right? Anyway, Cook clearly hasn't been right since he injured the hamstring against Wake Forest, and has seemed to deteriorate most weeks since that time. I'd be happy if I felt like he was 80% against Florida, and I don't expect to see him fully healthy until the bowl game at the very earliest.
Even at 80%, though, he's still one of the more dangerous backs in the country. He's got enough burst to make chunk gains, and his vision is still incredible. Florida State is going to need him to play well if they're going to have much hope of moving the ball against Florida.
Sean Maguire is not going to be able to consistently have success against the UF pass defense with this set of receivers. I expect the Gators to continue to play very physically with the Seminole wideouts, as they have over the last three or four years, and this group doesn't feature a Kelvin Benjamin who can win the hand fighting and get open. The ‘Noles need to have success running their split inside zone plays as they did a year ago and stay ahead of the chains, or this one will be even uglier than I expect it to be.
I expect a white-knuckle evening for both fanbases. As I mentioned, it could very well be one unfortunate blunder that decides this one, and I'm not sure which team is more likely to make it. I'd give a slight edge to Florida's defense over FSU's, but FSU's offense is a good bit better than Florida's (provided, of course, that the awful early-season road version doesn't show up) and the ‘Noles have Roberto Aguayo. I'll take the Seminoles, less than confidently, and call it 18-14.