FSU (8-3) heads into the Sunshine Showdown against Florida (6-5) as a 9.5-point favorite and, at least on paper, a decided advantage when you look at the matchup between FSU’s offense and the Gators’ defense. Defensively, the task for the Seminoles will be to slow down the Florida running game and quarterback Anthony Richardson. The Gators have rushed for the 17th-most yards in FBS football this season. The Seminoles have momentum on their side. The Gators are coming off a lost to Vanderbilt while FSU is one of the hottest teams in all of college football, riding the wave of a four-game winning streak.
The Osceola staff offers their keys to FSU improving to 9-3 on the year.
Osceola Publisher Jerry Kutz
Ball Control: It’s tough to pick three keys in this one. The obvious tactical keys include winning the running game and corralling Anthony Richardson. The Seminoles have a decided advantage, on paper, against the Gator run defense. If that advantage plays out on grass, it will lead to FSU points and allow them to burn the clock, keeping Richardson on the sideline.
Wrangle Richardson: When Florida does have the ball, FSU’s defensive ends must keep Richardson contained and forced to throw from the pocket as he’s particularly dangerous when he breaks contain. The Seminoles have used Kalen DeLoach as a spy against four talented, dual-threat quarterbacks this year, so I see DeLoach serving an important role Friday.
Composure: My third key will be for Florida State to bring what I’ll call “canned heat,” for lack of a better term. Doak will be crazy Friday and the Gators will likely bring a lot of energy too. You want to see your team match that energy but not lose their composure in the process. The Seminoles lost by three in Gainesville last year in a game where they didn’t manage their energy well, but this is a more-seasoned Seminole team that has been very consistent with their emotion throughout the year.
Prediction: FSU is healthy and hungry. FSU 35, Florida 21
Osceola Managing Editor Bob Ferrante
Don’t back down: Florida’s only real chance to win this game is for Anthony Richardson to have a day where he passes and runs with a level of consistency, complementing a traditional run game with Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson. It’s the Gators’ top-20 rush offense vs. the Seminoles’ No. 53 rush defense. The Seminoles must win at the line of scrimmage and win on early downs to avoid third-and-short as well as fourth-and-1 situations. UF has converted on 14 of 27 fourth-down plays, so expect Billy Napier as the underdog to go for it and give the Gators confidence that they can pull of an upset.
Run down the dream: While balance has made FSU successful, the ability to run at will is what has made the Seminoles successful. FSU should serve up the run consistently and with tempo, grinding out long plays and not allowing Florida to substitute along the defensive front. If FSU can do it throughout the game, not only will a seventh straight 200-yard rushing game be in hand but a state title for the first time since 2016 will be, too.
Prediction: We’ve said it since the bye. The only team that can defeat the Seminoles is themselves. They have more talent and confidence, and Mike Norvell’s culture is firmly established — whereas Napier is still building one. Avoid the heartbreakers, a costly turnover and self-inflicted penalties, and FSU will prevail.
Prediction: FSU 34 Florida 20
Osceola Football Analyst Mark Salva
Mind Games: On offense, the Gators are committed to running the ball with inside/outside zone with the option for Anthony Richardson to pull the ball and run. The rest of their offense plays off of this with play-action passes and designed runs for the Richardson and the Gators will occasionally take shots over the top to try and take advantage of Richardson’s big arm. How FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller decides to play this is going to be a key I will be looking at as he has a lot of options and film to study. Vanderbilt took a huge risk last week by loading the box and playing a lot of man-to-man coverage, forcing Richardson to hand the ball instead of keeping it. Vanderbilt had to take the risk because they probably knew they were not going to be able to score a lot of points. I can’t believe that Florida was not able to take advantage of this as there was a lot of big-play potential in the passing game for the Gators and as a result lost the game due to their own ineptitude. But I liked what Kentucky did earlier in the year and it fits better with our scheme. Kentucky disguised coverages and who the extra run defender is very effectively, showing two deep safeties and showing late or reacting quickly to fit the run. They were able to bait Richardson into making poor decisions in the run and pass and make him feel uncomfortable. FSU likes to play a two-safety defense and can disguise coverages and who the extra defender in the box is using Jammie Robinson, Akeem Dent and Shyheim Brown. Florida will try to get FSU to declare their intentions by using shifts and motions so it will be an interesting chess match. FSU also likes to spy Kalen DeLoach on running quarterbacks. The results of this have been mixed. Against Louisville QB Malik Cunningham, DeLoach struggled with Cunningham’s acceleration, pace and quickness when spying him and resulted in Cunningham having 127 yds rushing and a 7.5 yards per carry average. Against others like Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei the results were better as DJU only averaged 1.9 yards per carry. I think Richardson is closer to Uiagalelei than Cunningham. He’s faster than Uiagalelei but not as shifty or quick as Cunningham. But it’s not just up to a spy. Getting an extra defender in position gang tackling Richardson is a key. This is a matchup that FSU needs to win in order to take away the weapon that UF seems to thrive on most, Richardson’s legs. Bottom line, Florida’s offense is dangerous. Inconsistent, but dangerous. Like any team that struggles if they start to have success and feel good, they can be a problem, especially Richardson. Keep him guessing, harass him, hit him early and often.
Controlled Aggression: I can’t help but feel that if FSU maintains the mindset that it’s about them and how they perform that they will continue to keep their current form. I loved the mindset that FSU showed against our other big in-state rival Miami. In a game with high stakes and high emotion, FSU showed a lot of maturity and emotional intelligence by not engaging in after-whistle shenanigans and staying focused on their performance. They have played at a high level and played winning football with minimal penalties, minimal turnovers, sound special teams, great situational awareness, and tremendous effort. Florida is coming in as 9.5-point underdog. They were embarrassed last week by their performance against Vanderbilt and have been hearing about it all week. They will come in determined to make it right, save their season, and show that they are not intimidated by the Noles and will try to engage FSU and get them off of their game. FSU can’t fall into that trap, and I have no indication that they will. For me, the only way FSU doesn’t win the game handily is if they start having silly penalties, get careless with the ball, and retaliate after the whistle and extend their drives when they have the ball or put us behind the chains when we do. Don’t engage in foolishness. In many a pre-game speech, coach Bobby Bowden always told us to play with total disregard for your own personal safety. Fly around, hit hard, knock ’em down. After the whistle blows then help ’em up. On second thought, I don’t recall him saying that last part when we played the Gators. Leave ’em down there.
Prediction: Lights Out! FSU 42, Florida 20
Osceola Senior Writer Curt Weiler
Wrangle Richardson Part Two: Florida’s best path to victory was always going to come on the ground. The Gators average 5.86 yards per carry, second-most nationally. The stable of UF running backs includes Montrell Johnson Jr., freshman Trevor Etienne and, perhaps most dangerously of all, quarterback Anthony Richardson. Richardson’s 6.59 yards per carry are the second most among quarterbacks and he’s tied for the team lead with nine rushing touchdowns. The mix of speed with a 6-foot-4, 232-pound frame can be a lethal combination. Especially with the news breaking Wednesday that a number of UF’s wide receivers are either questionable or out for the FSU game, the Seminoles will need to stop the run and should severely limit what UF’s offense is able to do if they do.
Third and Nole: FSU’s offense going against UF’s defense is a mismatch in one major area on paper. The Seminoles’ offense has converted 51.43% of its third downs this season, sixth-most nationally and the highest rate in the ACC. Contrasting that, UF’s defense has allowed opponents to pick up 48.3% of their first downs, 127th nationally and the worst rate among SEC teams. If FSU is able to flex that advantage and do what it does a lot of late, extending drives with third down success, it should find great offensive success and wear the Gators’ defense down. A bonus of this is that it keeps the talented Richardson off the field and watching from the sideline.
Prediction: FSU 38, Florida 21
Osceola Football Analyst Pat Burnham
Ground and Pound: FSU simply needs to do what has done for the last six games, run the ball. The Seminoles will likely find huge plays if it commits to the run game. The Gator defense has a propensity to give up big plays on the ground. They have given up 63 runs of 10 yards or more this season which ranks 108th in the FBS and rank 103rd in giving up runs of over 20 yards. FSU has produced these types of plays in bunches and against better run defenses. The Seminoles rank fifth in the nation in producing runs over 10 yards and 3rd in runs over 20 yards.
Front Runner: Florida State is hotter than hot; the Gators are not after their loss to Vanderbilt. Momentum and confidence are on the Seminoles’ side. Playing well early and taking an early lead would go a long way into making Florida start to question whether it is up to the challenge of beating FSU, especially considering they may be shorthanded at wide receiver on offense.