Consider the momentum halted. And in some corners of Gator Nation, you can consider the goodwill squandered.
After back-to-back feel-good victories, Florida suffered a brutal loss on the road to Vanderbilt last Saturday. In my opinion, the loss was more of a fluke than a sign of things to come, but anytime you lose as a two-touchdown favorite, questions will be asked.
For example: How did Florida’s offense go from rolling over Texas A&M and South Carolina to playing sour notes in Nashville? Well, Vanderbilt did some things schematically to limit Florida’s run game. This was not unexpected if you read the Vandy preview last week. Clark Lea has done a great job all year mixing up his fronts and making offensive lines think, and the Gators didn’t help their cause by gifting Vanderbilt points, short fields, and penalty-aided third down conversions.
Florida doesn’t have a lot of time to look back on the Vanderbilt debacle, because they have a quick turnaround before facing a much-improved Florida State team. The Seminoles are 8-3 and looking to get Mike Norvell his first win against the Gators. Florida is currently a 9.5-point underdog. Do the numbers back that up? Let’s take a look.
Florida vs. FSU Statistical Comparison
|Available Yards % O||54.60%||30||62.60%||10|
|Available Yards % D||53.40%||109||36.90%||18|
|Third Downs O||39.86%||57||51.43%||6|
|Third Downs D||48.30%||127||31.97%||19|
|Explosive Plays O||66||16||80||1|
|Explosive Plays D||52||82||28||5|
|Average Starting Field Postion||Own 27||98||Own 29||51|
|Player Average||Rank||Player Average||Rank|
|Team Talent Composite||89.86||12||88.44||17|
Statistically, Florida State is the superior team on paper. Both offenses have had success, with the Seminoles being a little better than the Gators. On the other side of the ball is where we see a gulf: Florida State is in the top 20 in all the above defensive metrics, while Florid is closer to the bottom 20 in a couple.
The numbers would certainly seem to point to a Florida State victory, but maybe some context will give Florida fans some hope. Several times this season, I have written about Brian Fremeau’s Strength of Schedule metric. He measures schedule strength by equating how many losses an elite team (two standard deviations better than average), a good team (one standard deviation better than average) and an average team would have against each team’ schedule.
Florida has had one of the toughest schedules in the country. Against Florida’s schedule, an elite team would have two losses (No. 1 national rank), a good team would have 4.51 losses (No. 3) and a good team would have 7.28 losses (No. 12). So by this metric, Florida is between a good team and an average team. By our weekly eye tests, this seems to track.
In the same metric, Florida State’s strength of schedule is closer to middle of the road. Against the Seminoles’ schedule, an elite team would have 0.74 losses (No. 55), a good team would have 2.74 losses (No. 52) and an average team would have 5.92 losses (No. 52). Florida State, much like Florida, is between a good and average team. However, Florida State is much closer to the good side of the spectrum than the Gators — at least so far.
SP+ tells much of the same story, but it’s a little closer. Florida’s average opponent in that metric is ranked 39.8 (Florida is 39th, for reference), with the 48th ranked offense (Tulane) and the 44th ranked defense (Oregon). Florida State’s average opponent is ranked 56.3 (James Madison) with an offense ranked 68th (Northern Illinois) and a defense ranked 50th (South Carolina).
Even if the metrics are somewhat inflated due to schedule strength, it probably isn’t by a ton. This Florida State team has taken care of business, for the most part, against average to below average teams. Billy Napier said this week that the Gators can be an elite team or a very average team.
The question is: Which version of Florida shows up?
Scheme Things We May See
The Florida State offense is really well put together. They have a diverse run game including both zone and gap run schemes. Norvell has always done a great job using his backs, and this year is no different with Trey Benson, Treshaun Ward, and Lawrence Toafili. FSU will hand them the ball, throw the ball, and line them up in different spots all over the field. The run game is augmented by Jordan Travis and the ability to attach a read to almost every concept. Travis also uses his legs to escape the pocket and extend plays.
In the passing game, the Seminoles have some big-bodied receivers — most notably the titanic Johnny Wilson — that can win one-on-ones on the outside and use their frames to shield defenders when working inside. FSU is also a big screen team, and will throw them to backs, receivers, and even tight ends. The Semioles also utilize RPOs to help protect their run game.
It’s all produced an offense that ranks near the nation’s best in several categories for explosive plays, though those numbers are somewhat skewed by how comprehensively FSU has beaten the dregs of its schedule. For example: FSU is second nationally in runs of 20+ yards — and actually first by a per-game measure, as national No. 1 Ole Miss has played 12 games already — but is just 23rd in that same counting stat against ranked teams, and has only played two of them; Florida, which has played twice as many ranked teams, checks in at seventh in the same metric.
Regardless of those numbers, though, the obvious truth is that FSU is explosive and efficient enough for Florida defense will have their work cut out for them. The FSU offensive line has a low stuff rate, and the run game has been very good to them. I think Florida can get to the passer in obvious pass rush situations, but they have to be mindful of their rush lanes: They can’t let Travis get loose, lest they risk disaster.
One thing of note: I have seen Florida State fumble in every game I have watched. They recovered some of them, but the ball seems to hit the ground a decent amount, and the numbers back this up, with FSU at 12 fumbles on the year (the same as Florida, actually). If Florida can generate some turnovers, that will go a long way towards pulling the upset.
Defensively, Florida State is an even front team. They do move some up front, but not a ton. On the back end, they will play a variety of coverages. I’ve seen some zone, possibly some pattern-match stuff and a decent amount of man coverage. And FSU is not afraid to bring pressure and leave their back end on an island. Teams that have had some success against them have been able to win some of these one-on-ones; Wake Forest, in particular, was able to make a few contested catches for big plays.
With Florida’s injuries at receiver, I don’t think FSU will be hesitant to play man coverage and load the box for the run game. Florida will have to break out some man-beating concepts in the passing game and run Anthony Richardson early and often. The +1 element in the QB run game could help against a stacked box.
And Richardson’s already led one win over the Seminoles.