Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
Nick Joost (@juicyjoost)
The Gators travel to Tallahassee this weekend to take on the Seminoles in Will Muschamp’s final game as head coach for the Florida Gators. The last time Florida brought a coach to Doak Campbell Stadium for his farewell tour was in 2004 when Ron Zook stunned the Noles. Despite the differences in records, FSU fans have to be wary of an archrival team that has nothing to lose.
This week, Gator blogger Nick Joost and myself will be answering 5 of the popular questions asked leading up to this rivalry match-up between the Gators and the Noles.
1. What needs to happen for Muschamp to ride off into the sunset with a season spoiling victory over FSU Saturday at Doak Campbell, just like Ron Zook a decade ago?
Alex (FSU): A couple things need to happen for the Gators to spoil the Noles season and end their 27 game winning streak. First, UF needs to run the ball effectively. Florida State is ranked 43rd in the nation in stopping the run and everyone saw what the Gators did to Georgia this season rushing for over 400 yards. Secondly, Florida has to win the turnover battle. Forcing turnovers will keep the Seminoles offense from putting up points and give the Gators a chance to dominate the time of possession. Last but not least, they need to play loose and full of emotion. There is nothing to lose for the boys in orange and blue, and in a rivalry game, momentum could be the difference between a win or a loss.
Nick (UF): In short, a lot. The last time FSU lost (28 games ago, vs UF in 2012), it was during a time in which Will Muschamp was about to be named SEC Coach of the Year. Much has changed since the Gators last took the field at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Worth mentioning: A Gator victory this Saturday would be far more improbable than Zook’s triumph in 2004. The ’04 team averaged nearly 32 points per game and led the SEC in passing offense. It also featured junior running back Ciatrick Fason, who led the conference in rushing. The shock value of the 2004 victory had a lot more to do with the fact that Florida hadn’t won in Tallahassee since 1986, and that it was on the same day FSU would dedicate its field to Bobby Bowden.
For the Gators to win Saturday, the turnover battle must lie decisively in UF’s favor. Turnover margin, along with which team is able to rush for more yards, will be the most telling statistic of the game. Here’s an encouraging nugget for Gator fans: In Florida’s last four games (UGA, Vandy, SC, EKU), it has turned the ball over just three times. The previous four games (Bama, Tenn, LSU, Mizz) — Florida relinquished a total of 15. The Gators need to keep that trend steady.
On the other hand, UF has fallen behind by seven or more points in three of its last four games — not a place you’d like to be against Jameis Winston and his explosive ‘Nole offense. Bottom line, Florida wants this game to be won or lost in the trenches, not through the air and not through special teams.
2. Treon Harris, a long time FSU commit, will start at QB for Florida. Dalvin Cook, a long time Gator commit, will factor in largely at RB for the Noles. Who does a better job of sticking it to the team they rejected?
Alex: I think that when its all said and done Saturday, Gator fans will be looking around at each other saying: “I wish we had that guy,” when they talk about Dalvin Cook. Cook, who is leading the Seminoles in rushing, has improved each week and his big-play potential is evident every time he touches the ball. On the other hand, Treon Harris has been a very effective runner, but the question is: if FSU bottles him up on the ground, can he beat the Noles with his arm? That remains to be seen.
Nick: I guess that ultimately depends on whose team wins the game. Dalvin Cook, arguably FSU’s most talented ball carrier, will likely have the more productive day. Cook has shined the brightest when the ‘Noles needed him most — coming up with huge scores against Louisville and Miami — and has reminded Gator fans why he was such a devastating loss to last year’s recruiting class. I think Treon Harris certainly plays a vital role in the outcome; the less you hear Harris’ name, however, the better for Florida. Ball security is priority number one for the freshman quarterback.
3. What are the chances Muschamp is auditioning to be long time friend Jimbo Fisher’s defensive coordinator next year on Saturday?
Alex: Man, I would love to say that Will Muschamp would be teaming up with his good buddy next season as the defensive coordinator at FSU but I just don’t think its realistic. Sure, the Noles have struggled defensively, but realistically I have to say the chances are slim to none. Jimbo Fisher would be the only coach in memory that fires a coordinator that has zero losses under his belt to date. Muschamp might just sit at home on the couch and count his dollar bills until a perfect opportunity presents itself.
Nick: 0% chance that Muschamp is somehow ‘auditioning’ for the Seminole Defensive Coordinator position. There is no audition. If Muschamp becomes the next DC at Florida State (I don’t believe he will, but for the sake of argument) it would be based on his impeccable resume in his many years of coaching defense in the SEC and NFL. I don’t believe Will Muschamp would go to Florida’s arch-rival, even if offered the job. Considering the kind of relationship he’s built with the locker room in Gainesville, I can’t picture Muschamp wearing garnet and gold next fall. He’ll land a DC job somewhere — not Tallahassee.
4. What player scares you the most on each side of the ball and why?
Alex: Anytime you’re playing the Gators you know that their roster will have some top tier talent regardless of the teams’ record. On offense I’d say that running back, Matt Jones, strikes the most fear in me. Jones is a bruising running back that had a great deal of success running down the Noles throats in 2012 where he averaged 10.1 yards a carry. The Noles inability to stop the run has to have Jones drooling at the opportunity to batter the Seminoles. Whether it was Louisville, Miami, Boston College, it has been obvious that Florida State can’t stop the run.
On defense you would be hard pressed to find any player more terrifying than former FSU commitment, Dante Fowler Jr. Fowler is an elite pass-rusher and a sure-fire first round pick. True freshman left tackle, Roderick Johnson, will be making his 3rd consecutive career start and will be lining up across Fowler. If Johnson can’t contain him, Fowler will be in Jameis Winston’s grill for most of the afternoon. A good pass rush can create turnovers and ruin field position, so the success of Fowler could translate into the Gators’ success. (Note: Johnson will likely have a tight end lined up with him on most plays to chip Fowler and attempt to slow him down)
Nick: Easy. Florida has to be most concerned with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, and it’s not even close. Sure, Winston hasn’t been able to replicate his incredible freshman season statistically, but he still possesses all the tools and experience that make for a game-changing quarterback. Two years ago, EJ Manuel threw three interceptions and lost a fumble, which proved to be too much to overcome. Winston has been more turnover-prone this year, but his M.O. is still based on his ability to change an entire game’s momentum with one flick of the wrist. He has the Charlie Ward, Tim Tebow, Vince Young kind of moxie you want in a college quarterback — that’s why he’s never lost a game. The entire team responds to Winston’s energy. Florida must find a way to rattle him early in the game.
Defensively, I’d be most concerned with defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. Edwards emerged as one of the nation’s top defensive ends last season and has blossomed into one of FSU’s best players on defense. We’re talking about a guy who scooped up a fumble against Clemson last year, and bulldozed 37 yards into the end-zone faster than most linebackers would. What’s dangerous about Edwards is, at his DE position, the fact that he can wreak havoc in both the passing and running game. Florida must neutralize Edwards if it wants to send Muschamp out with a win.
5. What is more likely, Noles break out of their funk and pound the rival Gators at home, or the game comes down to the wire with Florida getting a chance to win at the end?
Alex: I’d really like to say that a fire will finally be lit under the Seminoles and they will come out of the gates guns blazing and not look back, but the sad reality is that we haven’t seen that yet. I think the Gators will have success on the ground, allowing them to control the game clock and ultimately keep this game close. The way the Seminoles have let teams hang around has to concern FSU fans and coaches, and I don’t see that changing this Saturday. I think the Noles find second half magic once more to hang on against their archrivals.
Nick: This is probably the toughest question for a number of reasons. Watching the Gators and ‘Noles this season, there’s still that feeling that we haven’t seen either team’s true colors. We’ve been waiting for FSU to flex its muscle all year and show us a glimpse of the 2013 ‘Noles, and we haven’t quite seen that. Florida has been so inconsistent; there’s no rational explanation as to how Florida can lose to Missouri 42-13 on Homecoming, and beat Georgia 38-20 the following game — that’s just college football for you. I expect the game to make fans of both sides bite their nails throughout, and we may even witness the first Florida-Florida State overtime game before it’s all said and done. Believe it Gator fans, Florida will win Saturday because it will emerge as the more physical team and FSU will succumb to the pressure it’s faced all season.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
Apparently winning isn’t everything anymore, just ask Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles. When the college football playoff committee released their new rankings on Tuesday, it was a one-loss Oregon team that found itself ranked number 2 instead of the unconquered reigning National champions.
The Ducks win over the Utah Utes last weekend must have been enough to pole-vault them over the Noles despite their loss to the 7-2 Arizona Wildcats earlier this season. Arizona is no powerhouse either, losing to 6-3 USC (who lost to Boston College from the ever so weak ACC) and 8-2 UCLA. So how is Oregon being rewarded for losing to the Wildcats? Since when did a loss mean less than an “unimpressive win?” I used to think that the point of this new playoff committee was to do away with the “style points” that once ruled the rankings of the old BCS system.
The Seminoles keep winning, and the Seminoles keep dropping. The accumulation of 25 consecutive victories has yet to impress the committee because FSU isn’t absolutely obliterating teams like they did just a short season ago. But what the Noles have done is win, and if they want to stay in the final four, they better keep winning.
What better way to gain the attention of the national media than beating the Miami Hurricanes in Miami? As if the Noles needed any more inspiration to beat the Hurricanes, they now are not only fighting for bragging rights in this heated rivalry, but they are also fighting for their ranking. A win over Al Golden’s Canes could be just enough for the Seminoles to impress the committee and regain that number 2 ranking. However, beating Miami will be easier said than done. This is a team that has improved with each game as their freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya continues to build confidence. Kaaya is quietly leading the ACC in touchdown passes and after early losses to Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech, he has taken his game to the next level, performing at a Jameis Winston type level statistically.
Even with the emergence of Kaaya, the Canes most dynamic offensive weapon is Duke Johnson. Johnson is the ACC’s second leading rusher and averages 7.7 yards per carry. Last season against Florida State he scampered for 97 yards before breaking his ankle in the third quarter. Johnson may be the most elite back to play in Miami since Frank Gore in the early 2000’s and the Noles will have a difficult task containing this game breaker.
The keys for a Seminole victory are simple: Limit turnovers, slow down Duke Johnson and start fast. Jameis Winston has thrown five interceptions in the last two games alone. If the Seminoles want to start fast and beat the Hurricanes, protecting the ball will have to be a priority. Stopping Duke Johnson is almost impossible, so in order for the defense to be successful they will at least need to slow him down. It will be important to get penetration in the middle of the line and make Duke stretch the run to the outside. Forcing plays to the outside will allow the Noles to swarm to the sidelines because of their elite defensive speed. If the Noles want to avoid an upset, they need to come out of the gates firing and not look back. A slow start against the Canes could result in an insurmountable lead.
Florida State has every reason to come out guns blazing and lay it on the Hurricanes. The drop in the rankings and the pressure of the rivalry may be just enough to wake up this sleeping giant.
By: Nicholas Joost
Two weeks ago, they were dead.
Leaving behind a disgraced Swamp with chants of “Fire Muschamp” still echoing across Gainesville, you were certain their spirits were crushed. More certain was the notion that Will Muschamp had finally done it, and for good.
The leash that Athletic Director Jeremy Foley placed upon Muschamp — well, Muschamp finally stretched it past its breaking point.
Foley let him tug and tug, and there went 'Coach Boom' — screaming and sweating and flailing about — dragging on until the leash snapped right at the center, whipping the entire program across its face, as he approached the edge of a fiery cliff.
You can't blame the fans for their collective sentiment towards Muschamp. A loss to Georgia had to result in his firing and you knew it was coming.
After Florida's 42-13 Homecoming loss to Missouri, what else was there to say? It was the epitome of fireable offenses at the University of Florida — even worse than Georgia Southern.
This year was finally supposed to bring us answers. Instead, leading up to the 92nd edition of Florida-Georgia, it had delivered nothing but a trick-or-treat-sized bag full of despair, and full questions:
Why is this coach still representing this program? Why is Driskel so bad? Why’d we think this year would be any different? Why isn't it basketball season yet?
That last question alone is enough to make you sick. Gator football has been that bad for a large part of Muschamp’s tenure.
If there were any Gator fans still supporting Muschamp before the Missouri game, they flipped like a switch after that rancid Homecoming night from Hell in The Swamp.
All except one — Jeremy Foley, ironically — the only man with the power to end this nightmare. Or so we thought.
Instead, it turned out the team that died two weeks ago still had a pulse. And as Mike McNeely raced to the goal line after a fake field goal, the beating pulse was about to kick-start a beating of its own against the stunned Bulldogs.
Even if it only meant for one night, the Gators would put this nightmare to rest on its own. Led by the powerful rushing combo of Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor, the growing confidence level was palpable, and Georgia had nowhere to hide. The Gator offense was disciplined and commanding, as Jones and Taylor accounted 389 yards.
You hoped it'd never end. And now here we are, still getting goosebumps over the Saturday in Jacksonville that not even the wackiest, die-hard Gator could have predicted. You almost forgot how it felt to watch the red and black side of Everbank Field evacuate the premise when there was still plenty of football to be played.
And it felt better than ever seeing it on Saturday.
Florida’s 38-20 triumphant upset of Georgia will be remembered for one reason or another over the years. Did it save Muschamp’s job? Will it become a turning point for the Florida program?
We don’t know.
Florida could lose to Vandy this weekend, and the “Fire Muschamp” chants will be back in queue. That’s just the reality of it all.
Obviously, questions about the program remain — but one vital question was answered right around halftime of Saturday’s game against Georgia:
This team is going to put it all on the line for its coach, who was given the game ball in the locker room following his first victory in the rivalry. Will it put too much pressure on them, knowing they're potentially a bad game away from losing their coach? It could, but pressure is no stranger to this team.
Confidence? Now that’s been a stranger to Will Muschamp’s offense, and they got to know each other a little bit in Everbank Field.
These guys didn’t become Gators go 4-8, and certainly not to go an entire career without beating Georgia. These players came to the University of Florida for moments like Saturday — and for the first time in a long time, they never let that moment slip from their grasps.
The road won’t be easy, but it’s paved with chance and opportunity. That’s all you can really ask for in life.
Especially for a team that was dead two weeks ago.
B: Dan Hancock (@danhancock1978)
What does Florida’s victory on Saturday mean to Gator Fans? On Sunday, I was reminded of an old Lewis Grizzard joke, which helped me with an answer. Grizzard, before his passing in 1994, was considered by many southerners to be as good a story teller as any since Mark Twain. He wrote for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and wrote many books about life in the South since the age of 23. If Lewis Grizzard wanted to be known for anything, it was being a proud graduate of The University of Georgia. Lewis was also known for being slightly provocative, but his humor was all based on real life happenings and the culture of the time. So when Lewis Grizzard said that “Southern Baptists have become so liberal that they’re actually making eye contact in the liquor stores,” I was reminded of this comment yesterday.
Still on a buzz from Saturday’s victory, I stopped by the grocery store to stock up on munches for Sunday’s Jags game. Since I live in Melbourne, I don’t see a lot of locals in their Sunday that includes teal and black. I saw some very happy Gator fans still in their orange and blue and proudly marching the isles of the place where shopping is a pleasure. There was even eye contact and a few random “Go Gators” without being provoked.
Does Saturday’s win mean that the team is fixed and that the remainder of the season is on cruise control? Absolutely not. What it does mean, hopefully, is that the notion of “all kinds of weather” will still hold true. It’s not fun to see the Gator Nation lose interest and stop supporting the team. It was good to see Will Muschamp be shown the respect that the University of Florida head coach deserves. It was good to show young fans that beating Georgia matters. Many under the age of 20 think that Florida’s main rival is Florida State. While they may be a close second, they are not Georgia. This rivalry matters. This being such a huge upset matters for the future of the rivalry, especially next year’s game.
Although Florida State is not the primary rival, they are the next big rivalry game and it’s traditionally a tough game at the end of the season. If Saturday did nothing else, I hope it put a little extra worry in the Seminole’s fan base for the game on November 29. They have been lucky too many times already this season. Hopefully Saturday’s game will give Florida the confidence to go into Doak Campbell Stadium.
Like a popular Grizzard book published in 1983, If love Were Oil, I’d be a Quart Low, If confidence was oil, Gators would be a drop away from blowing a head gasket. They may be a few weeks away from a possible oil change, but for now, they may have enough in the engine block to get in and out of Tallahassee.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
We all know the all too familiar term “trap game.” For some odd reason these “Seminole traps” have coincidentally always fallen on a Thursday night. Every Florida State fan shares the same uneasy feeling about playing on a Thursday. It could be that it just isn’t orthodox, or that we always have to play on the road since our university won’t allow us to host a Thursday night game, or it could be because we believe in some curse that looms over the program for these mid-week games.
I don’t believe in curses or magic so the reason I hate these games is simply because they never seem to end well for the Noles. Pick your poison of Thursday night heartbreaks: 1995 in our first ACC loss against Virginia, 2010 or 2012 against NC State or 2002 against Louisville in the pouring rain! Florida State was favored in all four of these losses.
Bobby Petrino will lead the 25th ranked Cardinals into Papa John’s stadium with aspirations of repeating the result from the 2002 upset of Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles. Petrino, an offensive guru, finally has his offense back at full strength with the return of star wide-out DeVante Parker, running back Michael Dyer, and starting quarterback Will Gardner.
Fisher claims Parker is a future 1st rounder and he strengthened the coach’s statements with 9 catches for 132 yards in his season debut last weekend against NC State. Dyer is best known for his phenomenal performance as an Auburn Tiger (transferred to Arkansas State then Louisville) against Oregon in the national title game in 2011. Dyer also seemed to hit his stride just in time for the biggest game of the year, rushing for 173 yards versus NC State.
The Cardinals defense has been tremendous against the run this season, an area FSU has struggled with offensively. A storyline to watch will be how Jimbo Fisher attacks this defense. He could come out guns blazing and spread the field against a less talented Louisville secondary. I’m hoping Fisher puts the ball in the hands of Jameis Winston and let him silence the crowd with his right arm.
Florida State will have to endure the initial surge from the hometown Cardinals, who are almost guaranteed to play over their head in an attempt to knock off the champs. I think they’ll take some blows in the early stages of the game, as the Cardinals will be throwing everything they have at the undefeated Noles. Playing turnover free football will be important for the Seminoles to keep the crowd out of the game and avoid the Thursday trap.