Matchups - UF/FSU

The Florida Gators play their final home regular season game this Saturday vs the Florida State Seminoles. The Gators look to rebound from a sound defeat by the 'Noles from last year. Inside I break down all of the matchups and offer my prediction on the game.

QUARTERBACKS

Chris Rix is completing 57% of his passes and has thrown 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  His interceptions have drawn the criticism of many Seminole faithful and rightfully so.  In the Maryland game, Miami and NC State games, he had interceptions returned for touchdowns.  He is very comfortable when he has a running game.  When the Noles don't run well he struggles.  He also has struggled versus the blitz, especially against Clemson.  Rix does have a win over Florida and played in the Swamp two years ago.

Chris Leak has played much better the last couple of games even though his numbers were better early on during the Gator win streak.  He is doing two things very well.  Number one, he is not turning the ball over.  He has five interceptions in the Gator's three losses this season and ten overall.  Leak is also seeing the things quicker and using his legs to buy time or extend the possession.  He is a freshman however and Florida State Defensive Coordinator Mickey Andrews has been very good against some other Gator freshmen.  Kerwin Bell was the last Gator freshman to beat FSU.

While Rix has history on his side, Leak is playing better right now and has his teammates confidence.

EDGE:

RUNNING BACKS

Greg Jones leads the Seminoles in rushing but only has shown glimpses of his first round talent prior to his knee injury.  Leon Washington is the best running threat right now for FSU.  He had a huge day a year ago against Florida and has a lot of confidence.  Washington can also beat you in the passing game.  Lorenzo Booker has shown flashes of brilliance including a brilliant long TD run against NC State.  FSU will run out of the "I" formation on first down 50% of the time and it's important for Florida to "win first down" this week.

Ciatrick Fason may get the start this week and he really deserves it.  Like Washington for the Seminoles, Fason is the home run threat for UF, averaging 7.5 yards per carry.  Ran Carthon and DeShawn Wynn have combined for 13 touchdowns and 1,022 yards and will be used in the red-zone area a bunch.  C-4 has a trait that's required for a big game against an aggressive and talented FSU front – vision.  Fason can see the cutback and it will be a big part of the UF ground attach this week.

Both team are three deep and it could come down to whose until is utilized the most by each offensive coordinator.  This one is too close to call.

EDGE:

WIDE RECEIVERS

The Seminoles took a major hit with the loss Craphonso Thorpe.  He was the go-to-guy for Chris Rix and he bailed him out several times this season.  He was also FSU's fastest receiver.  P.K. Sam (46 receptions), Chris Davis (22 receptions) and Chauncey Stovall (15 receptions) will all try to fill the void of their star player.  The most likely candidate because of his speed could be Willie Reid.  He has been moved all around on the offense but did catch a touchdown against Miami and could present the element of surprise to the Florida secondary.  FSU really runs just three routes; the take off, curl and stop routes.  It will be interesting to see on the three step passing game who Rix looks for on the slant.  To put it into perspective, FSU lost half (11) of it's receiving touchdowns (22) and that tells a lot about Thorpe's impact.

The Gators receiving corps is hungry for redemption after last season's debacle in Tallahassee.  Once again Ben Troupe will play a major factor in the passing game.  Michael Boulware has already matched up with Kellen Winslow and is as talented as anyone.  The one thing UF can do to take pressure off of Chris Leak is to force FSU to double Troupe.  To do that they must find him early in the passing game.  The seniors could have a big day, especially Carlos Perez.  FSU safeties will have a tough time with O.J. Small as well in the middle of the field.  Keep an eye on Dallas Baker to make one play in this game.  Florida will look his way once in man coverage on Saturday.

Without Thorpe the Noles are limited in productivity.  UF's receivers are solid but not spectacular and are led by the tight end.

EDGE:

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Seminole offensive line has been banged up this season and is very think at a few positions.  David Castillo has played hurt the entire year at center while guard Bobby Meeks has been in and out of the lineup.  The weakness is up the middle for FSU as Alex Barron and Ray Willis are solid at tackle.  Willis, who has 22 career starts, had a big game two years ago as a freshman, holding Alex Brown without a sack.  FSU has only given up 12 sacks but their scheme does not allow for the quarterback to hold the ball long.  The line averages 6-4 and 305 pounds, which is not big by their standards.

Florida's line has improved every week, starting with the LSU game.  The front four for Florida State will present a talented and strong line a lot like Georgia's.  LSU was big and physical at the defensive ends while Georgia and Florida State both have speed rushers.  Max Starks will have to perform at a high level or he could move inside and Jonathan Colon could get some work.  Shannon Snell and Mike Degory are playing at All-SEC level and the running game turned out 234 yards on the road last week.  The key will be protecting the middle of the line versus Darnell Dockett and Jeff Womble.  The Gator rushing attach has 21 touchdowns this season, which is one more than last year. 

EDGE:

DEFENSIVE LINE

This FSU defensive line is similar to those of past great fronts with Dockett, Womble, Eric Moore and many others combing for 32 sacks this season.  Florida State rarely brings more than five guys to pressure the QB because of their depth and athletic ability.  Teams are averaging 3.1 yards per carry and only 108 yards per game rushing against them.  Charles Howard and Kameron Wimbley are talented and this is a deep front.  Wake Forest, a running team, had 252 yards on them while Clemson had 150 yards (on 50 attempts).  Miami had 131 yards rushing while half the schedule was held to less than 100 yards of rushing.  Protection is vital in the passing game and FSU runs a lot of twist and stunts with it's front four.  The Gator offensive line must have good communication.  Dockett is the career tackles for a loss leader at Florida State with 64.

UF's defensive front has been a big surprise this season.  With the entire unit healthy and ready to go for FSU they should provide some pressure on Rix.  The unit tends to get tired very quick, especially in the second half.   Part of the problem is the unit is on the field too much and the other problem is they lack depth at the defensive end spot.  Darrell Lee and Bobby McCray should play 40-50 snaps.  Travis Harris had one great game and he started against Georgia.  Ray McDonald was a major force early in the season but he has hit the wall a bit at defensive tackle.  Kenny Parker played well in South Carolina and Maurice Mitchell should be a force against the run this week.  McCray has played much better overall this season and could have a big game from a numbers standpoint.

The Noles have more sacks and more quality depth.

EDGE:

LINEBACKERS

Kendyll Pope, Michael Boulware and Allen Augustin are all seniors and have tremendous speed.  FSU is actually two deep and have great youth for the future.  Augustin has had a big year in the middle helping this defense improve over last season.  The LB corps is a big part of FSU's ability to adjust at halftime.  The Noles only give up 5.8 point per game in the second half all season.  Pope is the best rusher and Boulware is the best cover guy.  Boulware is 8th all-time on FSU's career tackle list and Pope is 11th.  Boulware leads the team with 84 tackles.

Channing Crowder is the best linebacker on the field for both teams and could prove it if the Gators win this game.  Crowder has played nicked up the last month but should be as healthy as he can be for this matchup.  The concern for Florida is the speed of the other two linebacker, Matt Farrior and Reid Fleming, when the Noles run wide or throw swing passes to their backs.  Fleming has been very good in short yardage situations and down on the goaline.  Earl Everett could see a lot of time this week because of his athletic ability and speed.  The key will be getting help from other areas in the running game such as defensive backs and ends.  This is a unit which has overachieved all season and must tackle well for the Gators to slow down FSU.  

The Gators have the best player but the Seminoles have the best unit and depth.

EDGE:

SECONDARY

Florida State's secondary has a lot of experience and is led by Stanford Samuels.  They have up some years the past couple of weeks but do have 13 interceptions this season (none in the past 2 games).  Leroy Smith had a huge interception for a touchdown versus Notre Dame under the Golden Dome.  For the most part it has been a secondary that will let you have some plays and also is susceptible to routes over the middle of the field.  The safety play, led by Pat Watkins and Jerome Carter has been up and down all season. 

The Gators have an experienced and talented secondary led by All-American candidate Keiwan Ratliff and his nine interceptions.  One more pick and he will be within two of the all-time SEC record for a season, which is 12 by Terry Hoage of Georgia.   One trait this unit has across the board is toughness.  This is a much more physical until that the one that faced FSU a year ago.  Ratliff was embarrassed by the Noles last season and is looking for redemption.  Guss Scott and Daryl Dixon time the safety blitz versus the run as well as any group in the country.  Florida is third in the country in interceptions and all four members, Johnny Lamar, Ratliff, Scott and Dixon, have had at least one game with nine tackles.

The Seminoles do have 13 interceptions and plenty of talent but Florida has one of the best secondaries in the country.  UF also has guys who are not afraid to take chances and make plays.

EDGE:

SPECIAL TEAMS

FSU's special teams are solid but Xavier Beita missed a game winning kick for the second time last week against NC State.  As long as the game is not on the line he is solid.  Jesse Stein is an adequate punter but keep an eye on safety B.J. Ward.  He has blocked a couple kicks this season and Leon Washington has a couple of kick and punt returns for touchdowns in his career already.  In a game versus Wake Forest, Washington set an FSU record for punt return years in a game.  Antonio Cromartie, FSU's best kick returner, almost went to Florida.  He ahs game breaking ability and UF must cover well. 

The Gator kicking game is much improved due to the confidence of kicker Matt Leach.  He has a career long of 50 yards in the LSU game on the road and has been rock solid all season long.  He has converted all his extra points and kicked the game winning field goal against Georgia in Jacksonville, which netted him the SEC Play of the Week.

Freshman Eric Wilbur is special and ranks first among freshman and in the top ten in the country in punting.  The kickoff return team is much improved and ranked in the top 25.  The Gators must cover kicks well as they have up a punt return for a touchdown against South Carolina and LSU.  That could prove costly.

Both teams have speed and game breaking ability in the return area.  Both punt teams are solid in the kicking games as well.  Beita is 0-2 in game winning kicks while Matt Leach nailed one against Georgia earlier in the month.

EDGE:

INTANGIBLES

Both teams are not very good on third down conversions and both defenses are pretty good against third downs.  Both teams are about equal in turnover margin.  Florida is at +8 and FSU is at +7. 

The Gators have won five in a row while Florida State won the ACC Title and a BCS Bowl berth.  If Florida can win it can get to nine wins and a possibly the Capitol one Bowl.  A win also could help UF jump over Tennessee in the BCS, which would send the Gators to Atlanta.   While this seems like along shot it should provide motivation for Ron Zook's team.  Florida State is looking to get back to ten-win plateau that they owned for 14 years before consecutive nine win seasons.  FSU has not played well on the road and Florida has not played lights out at home.  This is a close game that usually favors the home field advantage.

EDGE:

HOW IT WILL PLAY OUT

This could be as close of a game as the one in 1997 without a national title hanging in the balance.  This could be an even game that could be decided on one big play.  Both offensive coordinators will play a major part in the outcome of the game.  Last season, FSU used a running attack with limited passing and Rix delivered a win without interceptions.  Charlie Strong has dialed the right blitzes at the right times all season and will run blitz with both safeties.  Chris Leak faces a Mickey Andrews defense that will flatten most freshmen quarterbacks.  Leak must show poise and patience and Zaunbrecher must give him a chance to throw the ball 28-30 times against the FSU secondary.  It may depend on which offensive coach can manufacture three touchdowns.  UF's defense and special teams will chip in for the Gators at home.  I think Florida will make one more play than FSU and get redemption for last season.

MY PREDICTION: FLORIDA 24-20


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