Florida vs Florida State: 10 Things We Learned from Gators' Win over Seminoles
The Florida Gators are 11-1. That is a statement that would have been impossible to believe a year ago, or even at the start of the season. The players have bought into the coaches' philosophies and become more than just a team, they have become a family.
Florida was able to overcome 12 penalties to beat its in-state rival 37-26. This game was for more than just bragging rights. This was about ending a two-year losing streak and getting payback on a team that beat you in such a way that your head coach called the team soft.
The season is not lost for the Seminoles. They will square off against Georgia Tech this week in the ACC Championship game, where a win would send them to a BCS bowl game. The Seminoles must pick up the pieces following this loss to Florida and realize that they still have a lot to play for.
Let's take a look at 10 things we learned about both teams on Saturday.
10. Dustin Hopkins and Caleb Sturgis Are the Best in the Country at What They Do
There is a reason that Dustin Hopkins and Caleb Sturgis are finalists for the Lou Groza award for the second straight season. These two are as good as they come.
Hopkins connected on both of his field-goal tries, one from 50 yards out and another from 53. Sturgis was a perfect 3-of-3, connecting from 39, 45 and 32 yards, respectively.
9. Turnovers Have Been Critical in Florida's Turnaround
In 2011, Florida finished with a minus-12 turnover margin. This season, Florida is plus-17.
If you don't think that Florida's plus-29 margin over last season has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest factor in its turnaround, then you don't know how much momentum effects games and how a turnover can effect a game.
The five turnovers that Florida created against FSU was the difference in the game. It prevented the Seminoles from getting into a rhythm on offense and gave the offense favorable field position all game.
8. EJ Manuel Lost Some NFL Money on Saturday
Coming into the game, EJ Manuel was having his best season in Tallahassee. Manuel appeared to have matured into the quarterback that Seminole fans thought he could be, but the Gator defense gave him fits all night long.
Manuel's four turnovers were a key reason that Florida was able to take a lead, stay in the game when they were down and re-take the lead in the fourth quarter.
In Florida State's first true test of the season, Manuel failed to live up to the standard he had set this season and will make NFL scouts wonder if Manuel can be successful against NFL defenses.
7. Jeff Driskel Is Playing with Confidence
Jeff Driskel played with more confidence than he had all season long, and he let you know how confident he was after the game.
Following a solid performance, Driskel was candid in his post-game interview. When asked about playing through an injury, Driskel responded:
In a game like this, the ankle injury can’t be an issue. You have to play through that. Everybody’s playing through injuries. The staff did a great job getting me healthy. A little ankle sprain isn’t gonna keep me out of a game like this.
When asked about playing on the road Driskel responded, “When we go on the road, our goal is to empty the stadium. That’s what we did.”
Driskel's throw in the second quarter where he rolled right, threw off of his back foot and across the field showed how confident the young signal-caller was against Florida State. It was a play that had Florida fans yelling at their televisions "No! No! No!", only to be left with their jaw open and cheering.
Driskel played with a different kind of swagger than we had seen all season, and if this is a sign of things to come, Gator Nation is in for a treat.
6. Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine Are the Real Deal
Seventeen tackles, four sacks, five tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery.
5. The SEC Is as Good as Advertised
Fans all across the country have had enough of the SEC and its fans.
Not only has an SEC team won the BCS National Championship six straight years, but fans of teams in the SEC make sure to let everyone know just how good the conference is.
Coming into rivalry week, the ACC and SEC had four matchups. Both teams that will play in the ACC Championship game (Florida State and Georgia Tech), along with Wake Forest and Clemson, would have a chance to put the SEC in its place.
How did that work out, you ask?
The ACC combined to go 0-4 and get outscored 163-74.
The SEC is the toughest conference to play in hands down, and I would take the conference against any other conference from top to bottom. Well, maybe not Tennessee and Kentucky.
4. Turnovers Plagued the Noles
Florida fans know the feeling all too well.
FSU's five turnovers were the difference in the game, and FSU fans can't help to feel like they gave the game away.
Somehow, the Noles have managed to go 10-2 despite having a minus-five turnover margin on the season. It is tough to win football games when you turn the ball over more times than you create turnovers, and that finally caught up to Florida State.
3. The Future Is Bright at Running Back for Florida
For as great as Mike Gillislee has been this season, Gator fans got a glimpse of what the future holds at running back, and they should love what they saw.
It took a while for Matt Jones to solidify the backup running back position, but since he has, Jones has looked like the bruising runner that Will Muschamp covets.
Jones carried the ball eight times for 81 yards and a touchdown against Florida State. On the season, Jones is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and shows the patience and decisiveness of a senior, not a freshman trying to run the ball against some of the best defenses in the country.
Be excited about adding Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane in the 2013 recruiting class, but don't sleep on Jones because he will be the favorite to earn the starting job next season and won't relinquish that without a fight.
2. Florida State Was Overrated
Everything was set up perfectly this season for Florida State. A fifth-year senior at quarterback, a defense that returned its biggest playmakers and a schedule softer than the Pillsbury Dough Boy all seemed to add up to Florida State being a front-runner to play for a national championship.
Their season hit a speed bump against N.C. State, and then Florida State's defense and EJ Manuel were exposed against the Gators.
Florida was able to run for 244 yards against a defense that was giving up just over 70 yards a game, Maunel was picked off three times after throwing just six interceptions all season, and Florida scored more points in the fourth quarter (24) than it had in five games this season.
Florida State played just two teams all season that were ranked and struggled in both contests, going 1-1 against those teams. Florida has played five teams that were ranked in the top 10 at kickoff and finished 4-1 in those games.
1. Florida Has the Best Defense in the Country
I've tiptoed around it all season long, but after this game, I will say it with confidence. The Florida Gators have the best defense in the country.
Florida is fifth in total defense (282.6 yards per game), third in scoring defense (12.9 points per game), sixth in run defense (96.58 yards per game) and have caused 29 turnovers, more than doubling their output from a season ago.
The defense has been able to do that while facing seven bowl eligible teams (only Notre Dame has played against more) and playing against five teams that were ranked in the top 10 at kickoff.
Florida's defense has played with a chip on its shoulder all season, and it has shown that it can play with any team in the country. If it needs to, it can carry the offense and win games on its own.
This defense has been fun to watch this season, and with just one more game, Gator fans should enjoy watching it while they can because the NFL will come calling very soon.