After several years that most Seminole fans would like to forget, the ‘Noles finally provided a game that showcased virtually everything good about the program on a national stage. Myron Rolle started things off by winning the Rhodes Scholarship (seriously, how amazing is that?), and then his teammates followed with an emotional performance on par with any game Florida State has played in several years. The offense, defense, and special teams all played well for four quarters.
Although there is still plenty of room for improvement, if all three units replicate their performance this week, fans of both teams will be biting their fingernails in Tallahassee late in the fourth quarter. The defense finally did an adequate job (not yet a good job, but an adequate one) in maintaining gap integrity, they tackled well in space, and the defensive backfield played exceptionally well against one of the best receivers in the country.
The offense took a step forward after taking two steps back against Boston College's mammoth front seven. In watching the last several games, it has become increasingly apparent that this ‘Nole offensive line and its zone running game should be able to handle just about any defensive line built for speed, though its youth and accompanying lack of strength handicap it against bigger fronts like that of BC two weeks ago. This is particularly encouraging because UF's defensive front relies on its quickness than much more than its size, giving the young ‘Nole offensive line a much more favorable matchup against the Gators than it has had against several other defensive lines it has faced this year (though those DLs may not actually any better than the UF front in general).
Christian Ponder still struggled a little with his accuracy at times—he will need to be sharper throwing the ball this week—but he was accurate enough that the ball only hit the ground five times, which is a step forward as well. The return of the five WRs involved in the on-campus brawl made a substantial difference both in down-field blocking and in the passing game. Amazingly, this was FSU's first game in a month in which it was playing without any suspensions (hopefully that trend continues).
Strangely, I've been getting the feeling of late (even after the BC game) that this FSU team matches up quite well with a red-hot (but untested in over a month) Gator team. This offensive line is built to beat the type of front seven UF puts on the field. This group of receivers is fast, big, and should put some stress on the Gator secondary. The running ability of FSU's quarterbacks is on par with—though not as publicized as—that of Tim Tebow, giving FSU the ability to create the same problems for UF's defense that Mickey Andrews' crew will have to face. Jermaine Thomas' emergence gives FSU two reliable tailbacks that should be able to churn out yards and shorten the game, giving the UF offense fewer chances to score.
Graham Gano's leg is capable of somewhat neutralizing Brandon James' ability in the return game (remember that Devin Hester never did much against the ‘Noles thanks to good kicking in those years as well), while Michael Ray Garvin's nation-leading kickoff return average gives the ‘Noles a chance to create a short field as well (hopefully this year's big return doesn't involve any toes on sideline paint).
The defense's strength is big, fast, and rangy linebackers who can tackle in space—a must for stopping UF's spread option attack. The defensive ends have been able to get penetration and pressure nearly all year (BC being the lone exception). The defensive backfield has the players to at least limit the Gator attack as long as there is some pressure on Tebow—Patrick Robinson finally looks healthy and seems to be hitting his stride. Justin Mincey's return to health gives the DT position a major boost just in time, though that segment will still need to play better than it has.
The point is that this game, although Florida has been the better team all year and really should win the game, is no gimmie for the Gators. This Seminole team has the pieces in place to win this game—something I did not think was going to be the case at the beginning of the year. Obviously, it will take an outstanding effort (and a raucous home crowd) for this to take place, but it is certainly not out of the question. The way I see it, the Florida game breaks down into three keys:
1) Maintain consistent gap integrity throughout—one breakdown could be a touchdown against the Gators' speed.
2) No turnovers—UF has taken some good teams behind the woodshed this year because they continuously gave Florida's offense a short field. If they have to make long drives all game, the hits on Tebow and the rest could take their toll.
3) Tackle in space. Like most dominant offenses, UF typically scores on big plays. If they have to be patient and drive the field, it's a totally different game.
Justin Mincey has been excellent the last two weeks. He and Brown were the only two guys with a pulse against BC, and he played great against Maryland. If he plays like this against UF, we're a much better football team.
As mentioned above, the linebackers did better "fitting" their respective gaps this week than any time I can remember this season.
Ponder continues to "drift" backwards a little; this is something he and the coaching staff are trying to fix, though it will be a bigger project in the offseason. That said, he's getting better with his downfield throws. The fade throw to Surrency was perfect, but it was also a great play by the CB. Ponder needs to be much more accurate on the bubble screens and short routes this week; several of those throws this week didn't allow the WR to catch in stride, though some of that might have been the WR being slightly off his spot.
Ty Jones might be a decent option at times against UF because of his power and his smooth downhill running style. It was pretty clear that he's finally healthy again and he seems to be running with some pop again.
D'Vontrey Richardson makes this football team a lot better.
Myron Rolle's accomplishment is probably the highest achievement ever by any FSU player. And the amount of positive press he provided the university in a turnaround season is priceless. We will all always be proud to call him an alum of the university and our football program. No other program in the United States has had an ambassador like Myron in many years. We are incredibly fortunate to have him.
The ‘Noles are going to beat the Gators. Call it a feeling.