By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida State defense in recent weeks has contended with power-running offenses from Virginia, Miami and Boston College.
The Seminoles will be in for Round 4 on Saturday.
The Florida Gators are coming to town and, with them, an offense that takes a remarkably similar approach to what FSU saw last week.
Florida runs the ball an average of 44 times per game and ranks 38th in the country in rushing offense. BC ran 51 times against FSU and ranks 11th nationally.
“You definitely take it as a challenge,” Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards said. “You’ve got to come up and strike the blockers and be physical.
“It’s going to be a slugfest out there come Saturday.”
Florida’s running production has spiked considerably over the last five games, when the Gators have averaged 238.5 yards per contest. That includes a 418-yard outburst in a surprise, 38-20 romp over Georgia last month.
UF employs a three-pronged rushing attack: running backs Matt Jones (6-2, 235) and Kelvin Taylor (5-10, 210) have combined for 1,316 yards and 12 touchdowns. Quarterback Treon Harris has added another 250 yards and three scores on the ground.
“They’ve got big linemen, they’ve got big backs,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “And their quarterbacks are dual-threat, so they can run the ball.”
Boston College came up short, but the Eagles might have provided something of a blueprint for FSU’s upset-minded opponents: run the ball, control the clock and limit possessions for Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense.
BC held nearly a seven-minute advantage in time of possession last week, and FSU’s offense touched the ball only nine times.
The Eagles ran the ball 14 straight times in a fourth-quarter drive that drained nearly nine minutes off the clock. BC’s go-ahead field goal attempt missed and FSU escaped with a 20-17 victory, but the Seminoles’ defenders expect Florida to follow a similar script on Saturday.
“That’s pretty much how teams feel like they can beat us, is to run the ball,” junior linebacker Terrance Smith said. “So that’s what we’re focusing on a lot this week, being gap-sound and having everyone where they’re supposed to be.”
Discipline will be at the forefront this weekend. FSU linebacker Reggie Northrup said that the Gators like to use a lot of pre-snap motion and misdirection in hopes of luring defenders out of position and creating running lanes.
“They’re similar (to Boston College), but the way they line up is different,” Northrup said. “But a lot of it is run-oriented. They like to do all these motions to get us out of the box and get openings.”
And, like Boston College, the Gators seem to pass only when absolutely necessary.
Harris has boosted UF to a 4-2 record since taking over midway through the Tennessee game on Oct. 4. (Harris didn’t play in UF’s loss to LSU the next week.) But he has served to mostly facilitate Florida’s rushing attack, having thrown just 68 passes in his seven games.
All that running, though, can set up some big plays in the passing game, as BC showed with a 49-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter.
Harris, who has six touchdown passes against just one interception this season, has already thrown for completions of 78, 70 and 60 yards.
“Treon can throw the football now,” Fisher said. “We recruited him. I thought he was pretty good. I thought he was real good.”
Fisher and his staff were in on Harris, a Miami native, until the very end of the 2014 recruiting cycle. Harris had verbally committed to FSU for more than a year before flipping to the Gators on National Signing Day in February.
Fisher insisted that Harris’ switch didn’t breed any hard feelings.
“I think he’s a tremendous person,” Fisher said. “I enjoyed recruiting him, getting to know him. I thought he had a great family and was always very personable. Nice guy, bright guy.”