|FSU Run Game vs Florida Defense
Florida State has the 4th ranked rushing offense in the nation per S&P+. Led by FSU record holder Dalvin Cook, the Noles have averaged 5.03 yards per attempt which is tied for 38th in the nation. The offensive line has performed well in the run game going against some stout defensive lines, particularly Clemson, where they paved the way for 163 yards on 5.82 yards per carry against one of the top defensive lines in the country. Cook has had a lot of success against his rivals throughout his career and Florida is no different as the junior running back has 144 yards on 6.00 yards per carry and 183 yards on 7.04 yards per carry in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Senior Freddie Stevenson deserves a lot of credit for his efforts, too, performing admirably at the fullback position and helping open the holes for Cook.
Florida has a very good run defense, ranking 7th in the nation per S&P+. They are allowing just 3.31 yards per carry, 13th in the nation. Florida has shut down many opposition run games, but they have given up some yards, too, allowing 200+ yards against Arkansas, Missouri, and LSU. A healthy front seven for Florida has been pretty stout, but the Gators are far from healthy with starting linebackers Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis out and defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. expected to miss the game. Davis, who was recently named a finalist for the Butkus Award, is an especially big loss, particularly with the linebacking corps already thin. With safety Marcus Maye also out and safety Nick Washington also likely out, the Gators will be without 5 of their top 6 leaders in tackles. Defensive tackles Jordan Sherritt and Caleb Brantley still lead a formidable defensive line for Florida, though, and if they can dominate the interior of the line that could give the Noles an issue, particularly with center being a weakness on the Florida State offensive line.
Florida has a good run defense, but FSU has a good rushing offense and I think the injuries throughout the Florida defense will have an impact. The Noles have only been held to fewer than 150 yards rushing twice this year and they’ve gone against some of the top rush defenses in the nation. I think Dalvin Cook will have another successful game against a rival in what is likely his final home game at Florida State.
|FSU Passing Game vs Florida Defense
Florida State has the 22nd ranked passing attack in the nation per S&P+. Redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois has five 300+ yard games in his first year and has really developed a rapport with up and coming stars Auden Tate and Nyqwan Murray. Francois can struggle with accuracy at times, but can challenge all parts of the field and make all the throws. He’s shown to be a gritty, tough player, too, partly because he’s had to with the FSU offensive line underperforming in pass protection. At times Francois can hold onto the ball too long and there has also been breakdowns in protection by the backs. Back to Tate and Murray, these two players give the Noles additional playmakers that have been lacking recently in the passing game. Tate with his size and ball skills and Murray with his quickness, hands, and ball skills have taken pressure off of Travis Rudolph and have made the FSU passing attack more potent. Throw in talented and improving tight ends Ryan Izzo and Mavin Saunders and Francois has plenty of weapons.
Florida has the 9th best passing defense in the nation per S&P+. The Gators boast excellent corner play led by ‘Teez’ Tabor and Quincy Wilson. They also get pressure on the quarterback with 28 sacks on the year, 29th in the country. Freshman Jabari Zuniga leads the team with five sacks, but outside of that Florida shares the load in pressuring the quarterback. As stated above, the Gators will be without several starting linebackers and safeties and reliant on some younger, inexperienced players to carry the load.
Because of the ability to get after the quarterback, Florida has the advantage in this matchup, but not to the point that they would if they were fully healthy. If the Noles are able to protect Francois and establish the run game, then I could see the Noles having a lot of success exploiting matchups with the tight end and backs against the Gator linebackers and safeties. Protecting Francois is the challenge, though, and Florida’s advantage on the defensive line against FSU in pass protection is a big question mark.
|Florida Run Game vs FSU Defense
Florida has struggled running the ball this season. The Gators rank 103rd in the run game per S&P+, which is just behind Wake Forest for some perspective. The Gator offensive line has struggled this season due to issues in depth and injury. Florida averages 4.16 yards per carry, 89th in the nation. Sophomore Jordan Scarlett leads the way for the Gators and he is a good back that could have a promising future. Scarlett has 725 yards rushing on the season averaging 5.18 yards per carry. He’s especially good in short yardage situations and runs with good leverage and strength. Neither quarterback, Austin Appleby or Luke Del Rio is a threat with their legs and the Gators run a pretty traditional pro style offense compared to the spreads that FSU has faced throughout the season.
The Noles have been good against the run this year after getting off to a troublesome start. The improved health of Derrick Nnadi and the better linebacker play, led in part by the emergence of Dontavious Jackson. Ermon Lane’s move to safety has also been positive as he’s a physical player that has been a surprisingly sure tackler and a physical force in run support. The Noles are ranked by S&P+ as the 30th best rush defense in the nation. Largely what has hurt the Noles is a spread attack with a dynamic, talented running quarterback as is evidenced by their two worst performances against the run against Louisville with Lamar Jackson and South Florida with Quinton Flowers. Absent those two games, the Noles have held opponents under 4 yards per carry in seven of the other nine games.
Florida State has a big advantage here and Florida should struggle to get much of a ground game going. The style of Florida’s run game matches right into the teeth of what the Noles are good at defending.
|Florida Passing Game vs FSU Defense
Despite questionable quarterback play throughout most of the season, the Florida offense has the 56th ranked passing attack in the nation per S&P+. The Gators are completing just 58% of their passes for just 7.0 yards per attempt, 65th and 76th in the nation, respectively. Austin Appleby has been the better of the two getting extensive play the past two games. Appleby completed 81% with a 9.6 yards per attempt against South Carolina, but was held to a 44% completion percentage against LSU with 144 yards passing with 98 of those yards coming on a single play. Antonio Calloway is best of the receivers and the talented sophomore leads the Gators in receptions with 37 and yards with 545, almost double the next highest yardage total. Florida hasn’t thrown for 250 yards or more since week four against Tennessee and they have just one 300 yard game on the season.
Florida State’s pass defense has been improved over the second half of the season, but still ranks just 41st in the nation. The Noles do boast the nations leader in interceptions with 8 in Tavaraus McFadden and the nations second leading sacker in Demarcus Walker with 13. In fact, FSU leads the nation in sacks with 41 and has four players with 4 or more sacks. Where the Noles have struggled is with breakdowns in communication and allowing receivers to run free. This problem was exasperated with the loss of arguably the best player on the team in safety Derwin James in the second game of the season and veteran Nate Andrews. When Trey Marshall has also been out at times, the breakdowns have been especially problematic as evidenced in the fourth quarter against Clemson after Marshall was ejected for targeting. That said, Marshall missed practice earlier in the week but was back out there and Nole fans should hope that he’s okay and ready for Florida.
Florida State has the advantage here and if they can prevent breakdowns and not allow big plays, they should be able to shut down the Gator passing game really get after Appleby or Del Rio. The Gators will take shots downfield and as they showed against LSU, big plays can make the difference in the game.
The Noles have a good opportunity to make it four in row and six of seven over their in state rival. The Florida offense has been bad this year and the Florida State defense has been good of late and matches up well against this Gator offense. On the other side of the ball, the Noles have been good and are facing a depleted Florida defense.
A full strength Florida defense would keep this low scoring and really ugly. I think the Noles can take advantage of some of those losses, though, and put together a handful of scoring opportunities. Big plays, turnovers, and special teams are the great equalizers and big swings can happen if one team benefits more in one of those areas. The Noles are the more complete and deeper team in this contest and I expect them win comfortably when all is said and done.