KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 ET
SITE: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
SERIES: Florida leads 33-19-2 (last meeting, 2009, Florida 37-10)
RECORDS: Florida 7-4, 4-4; Florida State 8-3, 6-2
POLLS: Florida State (22 AP, 21 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Florida State 27-17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For Florida: Protect QB John Brantley. The Seminoles rank second in the nation in sacks with 41 and ninth in tackles for loss with 82. Defensively, the Gators will need to contend with a balanced Florida State attack, but taking away the run will be the priority.
-- For Florida State: Win matchups up front to establish the run. The Seminoles don't have the kind of big-threat passing game that will scare Florida's array of solid defensive backs. The defensive front has to stop the option, the short tosses, the misdirection pitches and quarterback draws that have buried the Seminoles.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS: Florida showed signs of life offensively against Appalachian State, generating 547 yards of total offense. A stiffer test will come Saturday against the Seminoles. Florida will continue to rotate three quarterbacks, employing Trey Burton and Jordan Reed on short-yardage and red-zone situations. WR Deonte Thompson will look to build off a career-best 100-yard receiving performance against Appalachian State.
Florida coach Urban Meyer said the Gators haven't dominated the line of scrimmage as well as Florida teams of the past. The Gators have moved DE Ronald Powell to strong-side linebacker in an effort to add more bulk to the front seven. Florida also has failed to generate a consistent pass rush this season, with just 21 sacks through 11 games. Florida has been decent this season forcing turnovers, with 24 (17 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries) through 11 games.
Florida State has have relied on quick slants, screens and immediate throws across the line of scrimmage to a wide receiver for the bulk of its 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 the Seminoles face. The Seminoles would love to generate a running game, even without top TB 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.
In the past four games, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has tried to mask injuries and depth issues with FSU's 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.
Gators: Florida has won six straight against the Seminoles (8-3). But Florida State has undergone a resurgence under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher. Florida State went 6-2 in the ACC, with losses to North Carolina State and North Carolina coming in games decided in the closing minutes. ... P Chas Henry was named as one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's top punter. The others are Georgia's Drew Butler and Iowa's Ryan Donahue. Henry has averaged 47.3 yards per punt, with 15 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. ... WR Carl Moore won't be suspended by the SEC for the Florida State game after he was ejected from the Appalachian State in the second quarter for fighting. ... The Gators are seeking a medical hardship for PK Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis has missed seven games with a hairline fracture in his back he suffered while lifting weights.
Seminoles: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 the Seminoles 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. ... Thirteen different Seminoles have now scored touchdowns this season, which is tied for the fifth most in the nation. ... Florida State is bowl-eligible for the 28th consecutive year, longest such streak 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.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB John Brantley -- Brantley bounced back from a disappointing game against South Carolina with a 222-yard passing effort against Appalachian State. How Brantley handles a relentless Florida State pass rush will be interesting to watch.
RB/WR Chris Rainey -- Rainey has averaged 90 combined rushing/receiving yards over his last four games and scored three touchdowns. He has become Florida's primary offensive threat since returning from a midseason five-game suspension following his arrest on stalking charges.
QB Jordan Reed -- Reed has played well as a change-up quarterback in the red zone, passing for three touchdowns and rushing for four more TDs over the last three games. Florida coach Urban Meyer said he's still unsure whether Reed's future is at quarterback or tight end, but he'll likely play both Saturday against Florida State.
SS Ahmad Black -- Black has been Florida's most sound tackler this season. The Gators may need Black to hold the secondary together, especially if CB Janoris Jenkins misses the game due to a concussion.
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 because of a sprainged ankle, 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 it began 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.
CB Janoris Jenkins (concussion, questionable), DE Earl Okine (concussion, doubtful), DL Domonique Easley (ankle, doubtful), WR/KR Andre Debose (ankle, probable), LB A.J. Jones (hamstring, probable), CB Jeremy Brown (hamstring probable), RB Jeff Demps (foot, probable).
Seminoles: TB Jermaine Thomas (knee, out), OG David Spurlock (concussion, out).