TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the first time in 16 years, Florida State’s annual meeting with the Florida Gators won’t mark the end of the Seminoles’ regular season. But, as usual, there’s plenty of intrigue surrounding the 62nd meeting between the two rivals. Here are the names, numbers and notes you need to know before the Seminoles visit the Gators.
Florida State (4-6, 3-5 ACC) at Florida (4-6, 3-5 SEC)
When/Where: Saturday, noon/Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (91,916) in Gainesville, Fla.
TV/Radio: ESPN/Seminole IMG Radio Network/SiriusXM Ch. 80
Coach: Randy Shannon (Interim coach, 1-2 in three games at UF; 29-24 overall)
Last game: The Gators shook off a five-game losing streak with a 36-7 victory over UAB last week. Three UF running backs ran for at least 75 yards, and kicker Eddy Pineiro became the first Gator kicker to make two 50-yard field goals in the same game.
Last game vs. Florida State: One week after becoming FSU’s all-time leading rusher, Dalvin Cook set the school mark for career rushing touchdowns during a 31-13 win over the Gators in Tallahassee last year. Cook’s 45th TD broke a record held by Greg Allen for 32 years. The win was FSU’s fourth straight over Florida, and sixth in seven seasons under coach Jimbo Fisher.
Florida vs. Florida State all-time: Florida leads the series 34-25-2, and is 20-11-1 in Gainesville. But FSU has won four straight and six of seven, and the Seminoles lead the series 23-19-1 since Bobby Bowden took over in 1976.
Florida: Big plays have been rare for the Florida offense, but receiver Tyrie Cleveland is UF’s best bet to stretch the field. The sophomore has caught 21 passes for 395 yards (18.8 YPC) and two scores, and is the only Gator receiver to catch more than one touchdown pass.
Hybrid defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson ought to give FSU’s offensive line another busy afternoon. He’s got team highs in sacks (four) and tackles for loss (10.5) while also registering 38 tackles.
Florida State: Two weeks removed from playing in a difficult environment at Clemson, freshman quarterback James Blackman will get another taste in his first visit to the Swamp. How well Blackman learned from that experience could go a long way in determining how much success the FSU offense has this week.
In keeping with the freshman theme, receiver/return specialist D.J. Matthews heads to Gainesville looking to build on a breakout performance against Delaware State. Matthews returned five punts for a total of 138 yards last week, and he took two returns for more than 40 yards.
Total offense: FSU: 340.3 YPG (109th nationally); UF: 341.5 YPG (108th)
Scoring offense: FSU: 24.0 PPG (97th); UF: 22.1 PPG (108th)
Passing offense: FSU: 198.6 YPG (86th); UF: 179.1 YPG ( 102nd)
Rushing offense: FSU: 141.7 YPG (92nd); UF: 162.4 (69th)
Total defense: FSU: 346.4 YPG (30th); UF: 362.6 YPG (38th)
Scoring defense: FSU: 23.1 PPG (41st); UF: 26.2 PPG (63rd)
Passing defense: FSU: 196.6 YPG (32nd); UF: 202.1 YPG (36th)
Rushing defense: FSU: 149.8 YPG (47th); UF: 160.5 YPG (60th)
While Gator fans are celebrating the 20th anniversary of a certain game in this rivalry – the details of that one escape us, currently – here’s a happier memory for the Seminoles: Thirty years ago, in 1987, FSU arrived in Gainesville with a No. 3 ranking but also the weight of a six-game losing streak to the Gators.
Led by two touchdowns from Dayne Williams and three Derek Schmidt field goals, the Seminoles rallied from a 14-3 deficit and a big outing from UF freshman running back Emmitt Smith (20 carries, 100 yards) to top the Gators, 28-14, to snap their skid and pick up coach Bobby Bowden’s 100th victory as Florida State’s head coach.
The Seminoles went on to beat Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl and finish No. 2 in the nation – the first of 14 straight seasons of top-four finishes.
Call it a hunch, but the feeling here is that, despite the circumstances, FSU and Florida turn in a memorable game that comes down to the fourth quarter. The Seminoles have too much to play for – the history of a 35-year bowl streak and a 40-year winning-season streak – while the Gators will be extra motivated to be the ones who bring those streaks to an end.
This will also likely be the last game for UF interim coach Randy Shannon, who is popular in the locker room, especially among Gator defenders.
So if the Seminoles think they’ll find a downtrodden UF team ready to roll over, they’ll probably be in for a surprise.
That said, last week’s win over Delaware State seemed to light a spark under FSU. While DSU is hardly a juggernaut, it was the first time this season that the Seminoles played to their full potential – scoring from all over the field and exerting dominance in all three phases. That kind of performance can do a lot for a team’s confidence, particularly with a road game at a rival up next.
With the Seminoles riding that momentum and spurred by their place in program history, they’ll make just enough plays to pull out their fifth straight victory over the Gators.