First, the Seminoles and their season:
Because of doing FSU post game on Sunshine Network this year, I have been able to see every snap this season. FSU is as talented as ever, but they are more conservative than ever. Bowden relishes wins and because of quarterback play and offensive gameplanning the Noles really have only had one big game and that was against Virginia. This is the worst passing offense the Seminoles have had since 1986 and they have only thrown for nine touchdowns. Jeff Bowden has received his fair share of criticism, but quarterback play has been suspect at best. Chris Rix, who is a senior, has thrown one touchdown pass while Wyatt Sexton has struggled on the road.
FSU has talent at the running back and receiver positions. Cro Thorpe has not played at the level he did prior to his broken leg, but he is still a very dangerous receiver. Chauncy Stovall, Dominic Robinson and CC Davis have all battled injuries but make no mistake, they will be ready for Florida. The key player for FSU is Leon Washington at running back. He is the offensive leader for this football team. He won the Syracuse game almost by himself and has put this offense on his back several times this year. Leon has a banged up right shoulder but with nine days to get ready he should be primed for a big game. Lorenzo Booker has more yards but he does not like to run between the tackles. Booker is very dangerous once the Noles spread the offense out and attack and Bowden is not afraid to run him on a draw in the red zone.
The defense has been terrific all year and is number one in the country in fewest offensive touchdowns allowed. It all starts with the front seven and the linebackers of Simms,Nicholson and Davis are perhaps the best group in the country. Teams have not driven the ball on them all year. The way teams move the ball is by "big-playing " them and Maryland and Miami were able to sneak out wins.
I am not sure how good the secondary is because they have not really been challenged this entire season. Bryant McFadden is a corner who looks like he has finally reached his potential. One final thought on FSU and Bowden: A lot of people questioned Bowden's decisions this year but one correct one he made was getting Xavier Beita out as kicker and Cissmessia in. X Man was struggling and had no confidence while the freshman has been terrific. If it comes down to a kick this kid has ice water in his veins.
Keys to the Game:
I really believe the matchup of strength vs strength will decide this football game. Florida's offense and it's offensive line versus the outstanding front seven. The Gator offensive line has given up the least amount of sacks in the SEC which is impressive considering how much UF likes to throw the ball.The Nole front four is as good and deep as any for Bowden in the last five years. The key matchup will be Travis Johnson against Mike Degory. Jeff Womble got the best of Degory last year but this year, Degory is looking to set the record straight with FSU. Johnson has been terrific all season and really looks like a big time player.
FSU will try to get pressure first with their front four. If UF proves it can block and control them, look for FSU to bring the blitz later on. This series has really always been decided in the trenches.
The second key and maybe the most important for Florida to win the game is field position. When you go on the road, it is not advantageous to be starting inside your own 20. That happened two years ago with Rex Grossman's team and it ended up giving FSU a touchdown courtesy of Kendyll Pope. UF must be solid in the return game and Eric Wilbur needs to have a big night. FSU looks like two different teams offensively when they have field position in their favor.To illustrate this go watch the NC State tape and look at the first half with bad field position and the second half with favorable field position.
The third and final key for the game is quarterback play and who gets sharper faster and longer. Chris Leak must open the game like he did against Tennessee earlier in the season. He must know he is going to get hit and expect to take some shots. It is more important for UF to have the sharper quarterback earlier to stay in the game. Sexton has been very good at home but if he struggles you could see Chris Rix. Look for Jeff Bowden to give Sexton more opportunities this week to make plays than the last game against the Wolfpack.
What UF Must Do To Win:
Play from ahead! The last time UF led in Tallahassee was 1998. To win on the road you must establish right away you are in it for four quarters and score early. It helps calm the crowd, it gives your team confidence and even puts a bit of doubt in the opponent.
Win the field postion battle. UF kick returners must be decisive when returning kicks and get UF out near the 30 yard line. Matt Leach and Wilbur have got to be sharp as well.
Blitz on defense. The Noles have had no answer for the blitzing teams. Sexton is easier to blitz than Rix because he is not mobile. The Seminoles will throw the jump ball versus man coverage and take their chances. By attacking early it sets the tone for the defense to be aggressive not passive.
Finally, take chances. The Gators have played tight in Tallahassee and were too wound up the last 20 years. Don't come out trash talking and out of control. The football game is three hours play hard, run some trick plays, jump on hitch route for an interception but most importantly play loose. The pressure is squrely on FSU not Florida.
Key Players: Chad Jackson, Chris Leak, Dee Webb, Lance Butler, MIke Degory and Marcus Thomas.
Prediction: I do think UF can win the game and they may do it, but I will cop out and go with history. In a high scoring game, I go with FSU, 35-31.