Gators preparing for Winston and FSU

With fewer playmakers around him this season, the numbers haven’t been as good for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner still has the full respect of the Florida defense.

Winston has thrown for 3,125 yards, 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. Last year, he ended his Heisman Trophy season with 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His completion percentage has dropped from 66.9 percent to 66.0 percent this season.

Missing playmakers like Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Devonta Freeman has hurt, but the Gators know they will have to be creative to slow Winston on Saturday.

“You've got to change things ups,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “He's a guy that when he knows what he's getting -- he's good, regardless -- but he's really good when he knows what he's getting, whether it's pressure or coverage, middle field or split safety. I think you've just got to continue to change up and have creative looks that you are playing multiple things out of.

“You can't wholesale changes against a really good player. And then you make a mistake and all of a sudden you cut a guy loose down the field. We've got to stay within what we do. We've got enough in our package to be able to manufacture some things."

The Southeastern Conference has been down at the quarterback position this year, and Florida has missed some of the best ones in the league. That makes Saturday a new challenge for the Gators. They were tested by South Carolina’s passing attack with Dylan Thompson, and Kentucky’s Patrick Towles hit some big plays down the field.

Alabama’s Blake Sims threw for 445 yards and four touchdowns, and even LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings hit a couple big throws down the field.

None of those are close to the challenge that Winston presents.

"He's right up there with the best of them,” Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “He's put that team on his back a couple of times this year and just found a way to get a win. That's probably the best compliment you can give someone in a competitive sport like this. They find a way to will a team to victory, that's something special. He's got all the ability and talent, but when you mix that in with I think his leadership ability -- and you can tell that team responds to him -- he's got that competitive juice and he gets it done."

Muschamp and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher worked together for four years at LSU, which could give Fisher a clue into how the Gators plan on defending Winston. The two became close friends, and their relationship has been well documented since coaching at rival schools.

There is a familiarity between the two as coaches. Muschamp said he knows a few things Fisher likes to go to in important situations, but that relationship also works both ways.

Muschamp even said that the staff was watching Florida State film earlier this week when he pointed to a formation that the Seminoles might go to on Saturday. Durkin looked at Muschamp and told him that formation wasn’t in the breakout of Florida State. Muschamp then realized that his information about Fisher’s tendencies was about 10 years old, and he wanted it in the breakdown because he knows what Fisher likes.

“He's got a pretty good feel for how we're going to play some things, and we've got a pretty good feel how they'll play some things,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day, it comes down to execution."


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