GAMEDAY: FSU vs. UF position by position matchup

It was little more than a year ago when Florida State Athletic Director Dave Hart placed a call to the Alcoholics on Crack Co-op offices (ACC) and whispered those sweet little words, "I need a fix." "Just send a few of the boys down to Gainesville and do in the Florida game. Ya know what I mean? This Zooker character is really cramping the inroads Bobby's made recruiting" Hart said.

"We can't have another Dockett situation. That hit too close to home. We don't want that at our doorstep". Somewhere, somebody is asking, did that actually happen? No. But, as conspiracy theories go, that was as good as it got in Gainesville following last seasons' 38-34 loss to Florida State in "The Swamp".

A lot has transpired since that ridiculous day. Ron Zook will be coaching his last game as the Florida head coach. According to sources, Utah's Urban Meyer has agreed in principal to take the position. And Jeremy Foley is seemingly more upset about the "unfounded rumor" involving the coaching search, than he did about the pathetic calls by the ACC zebras. Such is the state of Florida football.

On the flip side is a rockin', sockin' game which will feature a couple of prep rivals from the River City of Jacksonville, who will do their best to have some fun showcasing their wares in front of nationally televised audience. Their goals don't involve a conference or national title. They don't involve a wheelbarrow full of bonus money. They simply hope to lead their team to victory.

Just three years ago, Ciatrick Fason and Leon Washington were arguably the best players in the football hotbed. Fason excelled at Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach. Washington at Jackson High School in Jacksonville. Both players were named Mr. Florida Football in their respective classes. Presently, Fason leads the SEC in rushing, while Washington ranks second in the ACC.

In my opinion, they represent everything this interstate rivalry is all about. Friends, who will for a day, give it up for bragging rights before soon taking their rightful place in the big business that is the National Football League. This is The Sunshine State Winter Olympics. Let the games begin.

Florida offensive line vs Florida State defensive front

The Florida offensive line has been solid throughout the 2004 season. Lately though, mental mistakes resulting in penalties have cost the Gators much needed momentum. These guys are better than that, and will have to prove it if they plan on besting an outstanding Florida State defense. The O-Line has opened holes for running backs Ciatrick Fason, DeShawn Wynn, and Skyler Thornton to exceed the 100 yards mark (combined) for all games except LSU (94 yards) and South Carolina (92 yards). The Gators faced a pretty quick South Carolina defensive front that ran very well to the football. This weekend, they'll face a Florida State group that runs even better.

The Seminoles have the top ranked run defense in the nation. The 'Noles are tied for 3rd nationally in scoring defense, largely due to a stubborn front seven. Defensive tackle Travis Johnson has been a beast up front. The senior has recorded 16.5 tackles for loss, which leads the ACC. He has also chalked up eight quarterback hurries. Defensive end Chauncey Davis has also put up some gaudy numbers. The Auburndale native has recorded 15 quarterback hurries, five sacks, and 10 tackles for loss.

Junior linebacker AJ Nicholson has 10 tackles for loss and four sacks. He also leads the team in tackles with 68. Former North Florida Christian star Ernie Sims has tallied 66 stops. Sims has 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The Gators haven't faced front seven that will pose as many problems as the Seminoles are capable as throwing at them. This unit has chalked up 36 sacks, which also ranks second in the ACC. They have recovered 10 fumbles.

Analysis: The Gators have struggled with mental mistakes that prove costly in games of this magnitude. That could very well be compounded by the crowd noise. Quarterback Chris Leak will see a lot of movement from Andrews' front seven. The one constant will be the pressure, from somewhere. I understand the 'Noles will be getting their hands up to knock down his passes at the line.


Florida skills positions vs Florida State secondary

Florida's use of the tight end will have Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews adding to the list of the Gators tendencies. True freshman Tate Casey hauled in a pair of second quarter touchdown passes. They were the only two passes he caught all evening. The wide receivers continue to impress. Caldwell, Jackson, and Baker each had deep touchdown receptions.

The Gators employ of the backs in the passing game has been successful. Fason caught a five yard touchdown pass, where his focus on the ball and the boundary was absolutely tremendous. Florida has also utilized fullback Billy Latsko out of the backfield.

Quarterback Chris Leak was not outstanding, but he threw a few beautiful deep balls, which helped earn him the SEC Offensive Player of the Week. Hopefully, this will be Leak's week to shine. He usually plays well in the big games. The SEC leading passer had strong outings versus Tennessee and Georgia.

Florida State ranks eighth in the conference in pass defense. The Seminoles have picked off 13 passes. Pat Watkins and Antonio Cromartie have four interceptions each on the season. Bryant McFadden has broken up a team high nine passes. Watkins has broken up eight passes. Both Cromartie and Leroy Smith have taken interceptions to the house. This is a very athletic group, but not one of the better groups in the Andrews era.

Analysis: This will mark Leak's first journey into Doak Campbell. It will be interesting to see if he can handle "The Chop" as well as he did the crowd noise in Knoxville. Florida's skills can beat the 'Noles secondary. Can the O-Line give Leak the time though?

EDGE: Even

Florida defensive front vs Florida State offensive line

Defensive coaches will hit the film room running, curious to see just how North Carolina State shutdown the Florida State offensive attack last Thursday night in Raleigh. One thing that was left on me was their hustle. The Pack flew to the football, and played as though they take their nickname literally. The Seminoles averaged 1.77 yards per offensive play against the Wolfpack. N.C. State forced Florida State to punt 11 times.

The Seminoles scored both of their touchdowns in the third quarter after taking over the football in Wolfpack territory, courtesy of a pair of Willie Reid punt returns for 16 and 40 yards respectively. A fumble by State running back T.A. McClendon at his own 18 yard line gave Florida State additional field position for a 44 yard Gary Cismesia field goal.

The Florida State offensive line has given up 23 sacks on the season. Florida's offensive line has given up just 12. The Seminoles have also been a slow starting group in '04, putting up just 37 points in the first quarter all season.

The Florida defensive front sacked South Carolina quarterbacks three times and forced four turnovers. They weren't able to shut down the running attack, and doubt that they'll be able to shut down Washington and Booker. However, the Seminoles offensive line is not any better than South Carolina's.

Analysis: Florida State's offensive line gives up sacks. Florida's defensive front has been inconsistent in their efforts to get the quarterback on the turf. The Gators had some measure of success against South Carolina last week, but will have to turn it up a notch in Tallahassee. Also, the Seminoles are very effective when in the red zone. Florida can't afford to play bend, but don't break.

EDGE: Florida

Florida secondary vs Florida State skills positions

Florida State quarterbacks Wyatt Sexton and Chris Rix will have one thing in common on Saturday night. They will go after Florida's corners. Expect the Seminoles to especially challenge Rey Hill. The senior cornerback had one of his worst performances last Saturday night against South Carolina. Hill was beaten on a deep play early, but was able to get back to Gamecock receiver Matt Thomas because quarterback Syvelle Newton hung the ball up. However, Hill had no idea where the ball was because he didn't look for the ball which resulted in a 34 yard completion to the Florida 34 yard line. Hill also gave far too much cushion in zone on a second quarter play when the defensive front had the quarterback under pressure. He was replaced late in the second quarter in favor of Vernell Brown, but returned to start the second half. For that matter though, neither Hill nor Dee Webb have been looking back for the ball when it's in the air.

However, the Florida secondary received a big boost in the form of safety Kyle Jackson. The true freshman picked off two third quarter passes which seemingly boosted the confidence of the Gators secondary, and thwarted any thoughts of yet another Florida second half meltdown. Jackson and fellow safety Jarvis Herring played well throughout the game.

Florida State is not the typical high powered, scoring machine that it has been in years past. The Noles rank just sixth in the ACC in total offense. The biggest problem is the passing game. Florida State quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (9), and that's not just Chris Rix at quarterback.

Florida State is not the typical high powered, scoring machine that it has been in years past. The Noles rank just sixth in the ACC in total offense. The biggest problem is the passing game. Florida State quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (9), and that's not just Chris Rix at quarterback.

While quarterback Wyatt Sexton should get the start, although I'm not convinced that he'll play the whole game out. Sexton has been fairly solid, especially when compared to a fourth year starter in Rix. Sexton has played much of his brief Florida State career in mop up duty. However, he stepped in and led the Seminoles to a 41-22 victory over Clemson after Rix was injured, actually seeing significant time. The 6'2 206 sophomore was solid in three of first four starts with periodic meltdowns against Syracuse and Wake Forest. After the meltdown and Florida State loss to Maryland, Bowden opted for Rix to start the Duke game, probably in part because it was homecoming. Big mistake. The Noles led 9-7 at the half against the then 1-7 Blue Devils, requiring a Sexton jump start to pull out a 29-7 win. Sexton has completed 125 of 220 for 1497 yards. He has thrown eight touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

The one team that Rix has been especially cruel to, besides his own, is the Gators. In last year's game he completed 14 of 19 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. All three passes went for more than 20 yards. Two years ago, the man who is a legend in his own mind helped the 'Noles beat Florida with a 13 of 29 for 194 and a pair of touchdown passes. Never one to shy away from throwing an interception, Rix hasn't thrown one in the past two years against Florida. That's a stat that Bobby will remember. The sad truth on Rix is 51 of 102 for 558 yards. Rix has thrown one touchdown pass and four interceptions.

The Florida State passing attack is led by a pair of senior wide receivers, Chauncey Stovall and Craphonso Thorpe. Both receivers have the size and speed that coaches love. Stovall (6'2 216) ranks third in both receiving and yards per game in the conference. The Vero Beach native has hauled in 40 receptions for 590 yards and five touchdowns. He has five touchdowns. Thorpe (6'2 200) ranks sixth in ACC receptions with 32 for 370 yards and a touchdown.

Running backs Lorenzo Booker and Leon Washington hold down the number 3 and 4 spots in the receiving countdown. Booker has 23 catches, while Washington has hauled in 14 receptions. The Seminoles utilize their talents to actually put points on the board in this offense. The pair has combined for 10 touchdowns rushing. Booker has 761 yards with a 5.1 average yards per carry on the season. Washington checks in with 745 and an impressive 6.3 yards per carry average.

Analysis: The difference in the Seminoles quarterbacks are the wheels. Rix has exploited the Gators defense in the past by running for first downs. Containing the running quarterback has at times been a weakness for this defense. Rix averages 4.3 yards per carry, while Sexton -10.9 yards per carry. If Florida can slow down the Seminoles running attack and manufacture ways to get pressure on Sexton, don't be surprised to Rixy enter the fray. The Gators secondary picked off four passes against South Carolina.


Coaching matchup

One has an AARP card that simply reads Ol' Bobby. The other is in a temp position, much like the folks who will wrap your Christmas packages at your nearest mall. The game will mark the final regular season game of a sixth (different) Gators head coach Bowden has faced. (Dickey, Pell, Hall, Darnell, Spurrier, and Zook) Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley has to be hopeful that the seventh time will be the charm during the Bowden era. Can you imagine having to hire yet another coach before Bowden is put out to pasture?


Intangibles & Environment

Is all of the expansion finally complete? We think so. It wasn't during our last trip to Tallahassee. The makeover of Dork Shambles Stadium couldn't have happened without you, the taxpayers of Florida. Thanks to you, those driving along Pensacola Street won't have to endure the view of the World's Largest Erector Set. Still, the place has been a burden to Florida teams that have played there since the Galen Hall era.


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