Second-and-13 on Florida State’s 32-yard line, Matt Jones rushes for a 32-yard touchdown to seal the game for the Florida Gators, allowing them to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Growing up as a fan, especially at a young age, I was blessed to witness Tim Tebow play in his final game in “The Swamp” on television, the Jeff Driskel era, Jameis Winston and Dalvin Cook go off on the Gators years later, and then three consecutive wins over Florida State which started in 2018. Over 10 years of watching this rivalry, I truly learned how impactful this game is, and how this is the game that is circled on the calendar for both teams. From years of watching rough, gritty, and intense football, I realized what a true rivalry looked like.
Statistical Point of View
Statistically, the Florida Gators lead Florida State 37-26-2 in the all-time series. Currently, on a three game win streak, but Florida State is looking to break that streak on Friday. Florida State are 9.5 point favorites, but from this college football season, it doesn’t matter how many points you are favored to win by. All that matters is what team wants it more. This season, the Gators have only won against one ranked opponent, and that was in Week One against Utah. The Gators will be facing a team that averages less yardage allowed than them, but they are almost evenly matched when it comes to average passing yards, rushing yards, and points scored per game. The Gators will be facing a much more confident Jordan Travis, who has thrown 21 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson has already called his shot for the game, currently Richardson is coming off a spectacular passing performance against Vanderbilt, but also a crushing defeat. The theme for the Gators this year has been, who will show up?
How To Beat Florida State
Unlike Florida, Florida State has not beaten a ranked opponent this season. Since Week One against LSU, where it was a sloppy game from both teams, Florida State has come extremely far in terms of growth. In each of Florida State’s losses, the run attack did have significant total yardage, but each running back was held to under 100 rushing yards. Some cases even less than 80. Stopping the run game will be key for Florida; however, the Gators do allow on average 171 rushing yards, which is 46 fewer yards than what Florida State averages per game. The Gators will need to make that gap bigger so that it forces Jordan Travis to throw the ball. The bad thing about forcing Travis to throw the ball is that, with the unique style that Travis plays with, he can be extremely lethal on the ground and through the air.
In the pocket, Travis has been able to adapt to pressure, which means he is great against the blitz. On the other hand, Florida State does not have a very good offensive line, and with a defensive front like the Gators have, if they can make Travis panic, they can force mistakes. The key to playing Jordan Travis is not letting him find that deep ball. He has solid awareness and play recognition while in the pocket, but he can also take off, which means the Gators will have to play more to the style when they faced Hendon Hooker. They can’t allow Travis to do what Hooker did against their defense. Dual-threat quarterbacks have been a challenge for the Gators, and containing Travis will win them this game.
On the other side of the ball, the Gators’ offense will need to be perfect this game, no mistakes. Currently, the Gators average 230 passing yards, and 209 rushing yards. The Seminoles defense averages around 155 passing yards allowed, and 138 rushing yards allowed. The Gators’ offense could be a significant challenge to the Seminoles defense. Whether it’s letting Anthony Richardson run or throw will be the biggest factor because when he excels in both, the Gators typically win. Richardson will need to be on his A-game for Friday night, he can’t get sloppy, and he can’t let Florida State’s defense get to him mentally. There should be no problem running the ball, as Montrell Johnson Jr., Trevor Etienne, and Richardson are capable of running all over the field, no matter who they face. I can foresee Johnson and Etienne having a fantastic game, as in the past we have seen over the years how hard Florida State has tried to stop Florida’s running attack but has failed.
The stakes aren’t as big for Florida as it is for ranked Florida State, but pride and bragging rights are always on the line. If the Gators pull out the victory, their win would make it four consecutive wins against Florida State, and it would definitely take a bigger blow on FSU’s bowl game projections. A win would also give first year head coach Billy Napier a case on why he should continue being the head coach and why he is the right fit. A rivalry game is always the best to watch, and I really do think both teams will fight hard, no matter what their records are. The Gators will have to be perfect offensively and defensively to come out on top.