TSX Mid-Week: Florida State

The stage is smaller, the stakes not as grand. But don't think for a minute that Saturday's Florida-Florida State game doesn't mean anything. For both teams, a win would change the overall perception of the season and keep fans from grousing.

The Seminoles (8-3) may need it more. They have a six-game losing streak to Florida, matching the longest in series history. If there were ever a time, a year to change that domination, it may be right now.

"We're going to have our hands full," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They're still a very talented football team. They've lost a couple of heartbreakers. They lost a couple on last plays of the game. Sometimes you go through those years. They're a well-coached team, and it's a great challenge."

The Seminoles, ranked No. 21 in one poll, are the only ranked team in the showdown, and it's the first time since 2004 that Florida State has been ranked above Florida for this game. But here is the most ominous stat of all: In the last three meetings, the Gators have won by a combined score of 127-37.

"We still know it's going to be an extremely tough game," Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder said. "It's one game that we really want to win, but it's going to be tough. They're a good team. They have a lot of great athletes. I'm still expecting them to play like a top-5 team."

The Seminoles know better than to talk-trash or sound confident because they have not been competitive against Florida in most of the past six losses. If you ask their fans, beating Florida would trump anything else this season. The Seminoles' supporters would not care about getting into the ACC championship game if it means another loss to Florida. That's why in some aspects this is one of the bigger Florida State-Florida games of the series.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Seminoles' fate in the ACC race will be decided at the same time as the Florida game. The North Carolina State-Maryland game has the same kickoff time. A Maryland win makes Florida State the Atlantic Division champions and sends them into the ACC title game on Dec. 4 against Virginia Tech in Charlotte, N.C. But to avoid distractions, or further dampen the mood, Florida State has decided not to post any scores of the Maryland game on the scoreboard. There will likely be a buzz, however, if fans on cell phones keep up with the game.

--Thirteen different Seminoles have now scored touchdowns this season, which is tied for the fifth most in the nation.

--Florida State is now bowl-eligible for the 28th consecutive year. The Seminoles' current bowl streak is the longest in the nation.

--CB Xavier Rhodes is the highest-ranked freshman pass defender in the nation. Rhodes is currently tied with senior Stephen Harrison of Kansas State and sophomore Leon McFadden of San Diego State for seventh in the FBS in passes defended.

--RB Chris Thompson has averaged 7.7 yards per carry this year.

--Florida State students quickly gobbled up their ticket allotment, and Florida's visiting seat allocation has also been filled, ensuring this will be the first sellout in two years and likely the largest crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium since 2008.

SERIES HISTORY: Florida leads Florida State 33-19-2 (last meeting, 2009, Florida 37-10).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Seminoles have relied on quick slants, screens and immediate throws across the line of scrimmage to a wide receiver for the bulk of their passing offense. Against Florida, however, the Gators have corners good enough to play man-to-man coverage and go chest-to-chest with a receiver coming off the line. That will be one of the challenges Florida State faces in this game. The Seminoles would love to generate a running game, even without top tailback Jermaine Thomas available. The big issue will be whether QB Christian Ponder has enough time to read coverages and make some downfield throws. The offense has been sporadic, at best, since the Miami game in midseason. It needs to have a breakout game against Florida.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: In the past four games, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has tried to mask injuries and depth issues with the defense. The Seminoles have played their best defense when protecting their own red zone. That has been the philosophy, to allow field goals if necessary, but not touchdowns. The Seminoles' young cornerbacks like Xavier Rhodes, Greg Reid, and Mike Harris will be tested by Florida, and the big matchup will be defending Gators star WR Chris Rainey. The Seminoles created turnovers against Maryland. That will be the hope in this game to try to swing the emotion and keep Florida from finding a rhythm with its three-headed quarterback plan.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I can always brag for the rest of my life I was a state champion. A lot of guys were saying on the field that we want to be state champs today in practice. We got a lot of goals we set, and we are trying to get that goal." -- Florida State DE Markus White, a senior, on the motivation to beat Florida, thus gaining a sweep over rivals Miami and Florida in same season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Florida (7-4) at Florida State (8-3), Nov. 27 -- The Seminoles enter as a slight favorite for the first time since the 2004 meeting, back when Ron Zook coached the Gators and they stunned the Seminoles on the night the field was named after Bobby Bowden. Since then, it has been all Florida and all Florida routs, for the most part, in this series. But while the zest has been removed from a matchup that once captivated the nation, this game is huge for both programs. Perception for recruiting is part of the stakes. The Seminoles have their best shot at ending Florida's six-game winning streak in the series, but they must overcome their offensive struggles and a penchant for the defense to give up long drives.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seminoles have to be able to run the ball. Period. They don't have the kind of big-threat passing game that will scare Florida's array of solid defensive backs. For Florida State to run effectively, the Seminoles' senior-laden offensive line has to win matchup battles, something the unit has failed to do in recent games against Florida. On defense, it's the same type of matchup question at the line of scrimmage. Can Florida State's defensive front stop the option, the short tosses, the misdirection pitches and quarterback draws that have buried the Seminoles? Florida still enters this game with apparent talent advantages on the line of scrimmage. That has been the biggest gap between these programs. If the Seminoles can prove they are physical enough and willing enough to play a game far different than the past several ACC games this season, then they have a chance to end the streak.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

OG Rodney Hudson -- He's the Seminoles' best offensive lineman, a legit NFL prospect and he could earn himself a lot of money with a big game against the Gators. He wasn't able to play last season due to an ankle sprain, but this is the kind of matchup that scouts will want to see. The Seminoles need him to help create running lanes for their tailbacks.

QB Christian Ponder -- He didn't play in last year's one-sided loss to Florida, either. Ponder has had a so-so senior season. It's not the kind of year Florida State expected of him when marketing Ponder for the Heisman Trophy in July. But if he could steer a win against Florida, he would elevate himself in the eyes of Florida State supporters. Ponder's track record against quality teams is not very good. He must avoid throwing passes into coverage and losing big yards on sacks.

DT Jacobbi McDaniel -- He grew up in a town between Gainesville and Tallahassee, so he is one of those Florida-born players with a huge emotional stake in this rivalry. He's been the Seminoles' top down lineman, and they need him to key an effort to contain Florida's spread offense.

ROSTER REPORT

--TB Jermaine Thomas (knee) will miss the game, as expected, after sustaining his injury in the win against Clemson. It's a big loss, since Thomas was such a breakaway threat and a solid pass-catcher. It will put more emphasis on the play of Chris Thompson and Ty Jones to produce a needed running game.

--OG David Spurlock will miss his fifth straight game since suffering a concussion against Boston College on Oct. 16.


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