Instant Analysis: Florida-Florida State

This was the kind of game Steve Spurrier could have only dreamed of when he coached the Florida Gators.

The man who hates field goals more than any other man in America this side of Mike Leach would refer to three-point kicks as "those things," as in "we don't like those things." Saturday, Spurrier's alma mater insisted on scoring touchdowns, while rival Florida State settled for "those things." Superior firepower—displayed even in a Tallahassee downpour—plus an unyielding red zone defense carried Florida to an easy victory on a day when some observers felt the Gators were ripe for a "trap game" upset leading into next week's SEC title tilt against mighty Alabama. Urban Meyer is now just one win away from playing for his second national title in the past three seasons, and it's all because his team never lost a handle on this battle in the Florida panhandle.

The tone was established early for the Gators by their impregnable defense. Twice in the first half, Florida State started drives inside the Florida 25, once because of a kick return and a second time because of a fumble by Gator running back Chris Rainey. When placed in these short-field situations, which gave Bobby Bowden's boys the perfect chance to ring up big numbers and make Florida squirm, coordinator Charlie Strong's unit thoroughly foiled FSU quarterback Christian Ponder. The Gators snuffed out Ponder as a runner, and gave him few good looks downfield in the passing game. The smothering defensive effort—throughout the game, but particularly in or near their own red zone—enabled the Gators to force Florida State to kick "those things." In a big-time confrontation such as this one, a succession of three-pointers, if not accompanied by a few touchdowns, won't get the job done. One could say that the homestanding Seminoles experienced death by a thousand field goals on a soggy Saturday afternoon.

While the Noles failed to crack the end zone in the game's early stages, Tim Tebow and his offense regularly hit paydirt, even after Florida lost superstar speedster Percy Harvin to an injury in the second quarter. (Harvin's status will be known in greater detail, of course, as the weekend continues.) By displaying excellent ball security but still flinging the ball downfield to a capable assortment of receivers who filled the void left by Harvin's absence, Tebow rang up a set of sevens to give his team a 28-9 bulge at halftime. Four touchdowns, compared to three of "those things," gave Florida a commanding lead that Urban Meyer's men never came close to relinquishing.

Today's authoritative performance on the road, in bad weather, against a hungry and upset-minded rival only shows, yet again, how focused and furious these Gators are. With Alabama week finally on the calendar, the group from Gainesville can only hope it has one more premium performance left in the tank.


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