Preview of Emerald Bowl, Florida State

It's almost eery how similar UCLA and Florida State are, with very good defenses that are great against the run and struggling offenses that don't run the ball well. It could come down to who passes the ball and defends the pass the best...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- The UCLA Bruins (7-5, 5-4, 4th in the Pac-10) face Florida State (6-6, 3-5, 5th in the ACC) in the Emerald Bowl, Dec. 27th, in San Francisco's AT&T Park.  Kick-off is 5:00 p.m., the game being televised nationally by ESPN, with commentators Dan Fouts and Tim Brant in the booth.

-- Amazingly, UCLA and Florida State have never met each other in football. UCLA is 5-2 all-time against teams currently in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

-- FSU, of course, is coached by Bobby Bowden, the Hall of Fame coach who is #1 all-time in Division 1-A with 365 career coaching victories.  He is currently in his 31st season at Florida State and his 41st in coaching.  He captured national championships in 1993 and 1999, and is the only coach in history to post 14-straight, 10-win seasons (1987-2000). Under Bowden, FSU is the only program in college football history to finish in the top five in the major polls for 14 straight seasons.  He is 292-81-4 at Florida State.  Just to ponder that Bowden's first year as a head coach was 1959 is mind-blowing. While his accomplishments are legendary, there is sentiment out of Tallahassee that the time for the 77-year-old Bowden could be winding down.

-- UCLA enters the Emerald Bowl with an overall bowl record of 13-13-1. UCLA's 11 bowl wins in the last 24 years ranks #1 in the Pac-10, while there are only seven other teams nationally with more in that time span, Florida State being one of them.

-- Last year, UCLA participated in the Sun Bowl, beating Northwestern, 50-38.

-- FSU's six losses this season is its most since the 1976 season, which was actually its last losing season (5-6). So, if FSU loses to UCLA, it will be its first losing season in 30 years.  Currently un-ranked, if FSU ends the year un-ranked it will be the first time in 20 years.

- UCLA, of course, beat USC, 13-9, Dec. 2nd, knocking the Trojans out of the BCS Championship game, and the glow and confidence from that game could still be inspiring the Bruins.

-- The Bruins and Seminoles did have one common opponent this season. UCLA beat Rice, 26-16, in its second game of the season on September 9th. Two weeks later, Florida State beat the Owls 55-7.

-- Because of FSU's struggles on offense this season (ranked 73rd in the nation), offensive coordinator, Jeff Bowden, Bobby's son, will be relieved of duties after the Emerald Bowl. Long-time running backs Billy Sexton will also leave the program.

-- Since UCLA struggled on offense this season, also, it is strongly rumored that offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda will be replaced.

-- Emerald Bowl officials expect the game to be sold out, already selling just about the entire 38,437 seats available for football at AT&T Park.

-- UCLA sold its allotment of 11,000 seats and then got an addition 1,000 from Florida State. The Emerald Bowl has set a record for local ticket sales, which its attributing to having a Pac-10 team for the first time and Bay Area UCLA fans.

-- The two teams have been in the Bay Area practicing since late last week.  Florida State didn't practice Tuesday, but had a walk-through in their hotel because of the rain.

-- Weather forecasters are putting the chance of rain at 60%, with the chances diminishing a bit by game time. It will be windy and chilly, feeling like it's in the 40s.

FLORIDA STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

Florida State is very similar to UCLA, in many ways. The Bruins and the Seminoles both have struggling offenses offset by very good defenses.  In fact, if UCLA had lost to USC, they'd both be 6-6, with losses to their in-state, rival school, just like FSU.  

Florida State, like UCLA, also has a bit of a quarterback controversy.  Last week Bowden announced he'd start sophomore Drew Weatherford (6-3, 220) over sophomore Xavier Lee (6-4, 227). Weatherford started most of the games this season, but missed a game due to an ankle injury, and then Lee became the starter.  Weatherford then started against Florida and didn't look good, throwing three interceptions, but Lee didn't look much better.  Weatherford is more of the drop-back type with a more accurate arm, but Lee still has a pretty strong arm and brings a running dimension.  It's thought that Bowden could use both against the Bruins.  Weatherford has been saying that he didn't play well after the injury because of a lack of mobility, but he's recovered now.

FSU's Drew Weatherford and Lorenzo Booker.


Either quarterback doesn't even rank with most of the quarterbacks UCLA has seen in the Pac-10 this season.  In fact, with the way UCLA has pressured quarterbacks this year, particularly from its two defensive ends, Bruce Davis and Justin Hickman, it looks to be a good match-up for the Bruins. Both Weatherford and Lee have been knocked off their games by good pass rushes, combining for 15 interceptions against just 18 touchdowns for the season while also being sacked 25 times.

FSU does have one big advantage on its offensive roster, and that's sophomore receiver Greg Carr (6-6, 203). Carr made All-Conference, having 11 touchdown catches on the season, using his size to make it difficult on smaller DBs to defend the fade routes in the endzone.  Senior receiver Chris Davis (6-0, 180) is also one of the most consistent receivers in the ACC. The Seminoles' strong receiving group is rounded out by junior receiver De'Cody Fagg (6-3, 214) and true freshman tight end Brandon Warren (6-2, 230).

FSU's passing offense has been solid, especially when its offensive line has given Weatherford/Lee time to throw.  The problematic match-up for FSU against UCLA are its very big, but slow (comparatively) offensive tackles, senior Mario Henderson (6-7, 304) and junior Shannon Boatman (6-7, 312). The line is anchored by veteran, senior guard Cory Niblock (6-4, 307).

What the line hasn't done particularly well is create running room. In fact, Florida State's running game is one of the worst in the country, ranked 103rd, gaining just 95 yards on the ground per game.

Senior starting running back Lorenzo Booker (5-11, 195) is someone UCLA fans are familiar with, being so hyped out of Ventura St. Bonaventure High School and having not really lived up to the hype at Florida State. Booker, while quick and with good moves, has proven to be a bit too slight of frame. He's averaging just 44 yards per game, and is Florida State's leading rusher. They do have a promising sophomore tailback, Antone Smith, but he's out for the game with a dislocated elbow.  FSU's next biggest ground gainer is back-up quarterback Lee.

What has really hurt Florida State's offense is their penchant for giving up the ball. They have committed 26 turnovers and rank 109th in the country in turnover margin.

This definitely isn't the high-flying, high-scoring Florida State offense of the '90s. Not only is the scheme being scouted and looking a bit stale, FSU, while it does have very good athletes, doesn't have the super elite athletes it once had in the '90s, at least on offense.

Advantage: UCLA. UCLA's defense matches up really well against Florida State. With such a good rushing defense, UCLA will probably be able to drop back an additional man into coverage, to try to relieve the pressure on its cornerbacks in covering FSU's receivers.  UCLA's pass rush was made to match up against Florida State, pitting speed and quickness against size, a match-up UCLA has tended to exploit all season against its opponents.  You can expect UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker to again have a good scheme against Florida State's pro-style offense, sending pressure on the quarterback from different spots and mixing up coverages to keep the quarterbacks jumpy.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. FLORIDA STATE'S DEFENSE

It's a very similar match-up to Florida State's O versus UCLA's D.

In fact, UCLA's offense is ranked 76th in the country, and Florida State's offense is 73rd.  UCLA's defense is ranked 32nd, and Florida State's 15th.

UCLA's rushing defense is 12th in the country, and FSU's is 8th.

It's almost eery in how similar it is.

Both defenses have made it their signature at stuffing the run this season, and FSU has done it with a very strong front seven, led by a very good linebacking unit.

And the similarities continue. FSU's middle linebacker is experienced vet, senior Buster Davis (5-11, 240), who is very similar to UCLA's Christian Taylor - undersized, but smart and aggressive.  Davis is the team's leading tackler.  On one side of him is junior strongside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (6-3, 227), who is a quick, big athlete, leading the ACC in tackles for loss with 18. The weakside 'backer is no slouch either: sophomore Geno Hayes (6-2, 211).
Florida State's Buster Davis.


The headliner on the line is junior nose guard Andre Fluellen (6-4, 286), who is considered a good NFL prospect. 

FSU has allowed just five opponents to run for more than 100 yards this season, and it'd probably be a stretch to think UCLA will add its name to that list.  UCLA's running game hasn't proven to be special this season, and FSU's rushing defense has.

Like UCLA's defense, FSU is a bit more vulnerable against the pass.  The secondary is led by one of the best freshmen in the country, safety Myron Rolle (6-2, 217). This is a case of a high school prospect getting a ton of hype and living up to the hype, stepping into FSU's secondary and starting his first year, and being third on the team in tackles (64).

But again, with similarities to UCLA, FSU has smaller cornerbacks, sophomore Tony Carter (5-9, 162) and sophomore Michael Ray Garvin (5-8, 185), which UCLA's taller receivers will try to exploit.

Advantage: Florida State.  It's as clear as the advantage that UCLA's defense has over FSU's offense, and it's similar in many ways. Probably the distinct difference in the match-ups is that UCLA protects its quarterback far better than FSU does, and FSU isn't near the pass-rushing team that UCLA is.  The USC game illustrated, also, how UCLA quarterback Patrick Cowan is a weapon running the ball, and it will be interesting to watch Cowan trying to gain yards on scrambles against FSU's linebackers. 

UCLA has a clear advantage on special teams, with UCLA's kicker, Justin Medlock among the few best in the country, and FSU's Gary Cismesia (5-11, 208) not. UCLA even has an advantage in punting, since FSU's Graham Gano (6-1, 189) has been very inconsistent this year.  FSU's kick coverage team, also, has been poor, allowing big returns this season, and something that could be a factor in establishing field position in what looks to be a defensive-oriented game.

Prediction:

It really is a bit eery how similar these two teams are:

-- Struggling offense
-- Dominant defense
-- Defense very good against the run
-- Offense not good running the ball
-- Controversy of two quarterbacks
-- Good receivers; average running backs
-- FSU is averaging 25 points a game; UCLA 22.
-- FSU is averaging giving up 19 points a game; UCLA 17.

Perhaps the difference that will determine the winner here is the match-ups in the passing game.  UCLA's passing game matches up better against FSU's passing defense than FSU does against UCLA's.  FSU's cornerbacks are young and a bit suspect, and UCLA's wide receivers are better than their modest stats.  Also, FSU doesn't get a great deal of pressure on the quarterback and UCLA has been good at pass protection all season. On the other side of the ball, UCLA defends the pass much better and puts pressure on quarterbacks very well. With both offenses not rushing the ball well, and facing defenses that defend the run very well, the game should come down to who can move the ball through the air better, and UCLA looks to have an advantage in the match-up.

The weather could be a factor. It could rain, and it will definitely at least be cold and windy, which isn't exactly great weather for an aerial show. 

Everything points toward this game being a low-scoring, defensive affair.

UCLA  20
Florida State 17


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