Florida State-Florida: Nine Ways for the 'Noles to Hang With the Gators

Eric FisherCorrespondent INovember 27, 2008

You're a fly on the wall watching Florida State's coaching brain-trust bust out the game tape of the University of Florida's Juggernaut Gators. If you don't hear these points come up, bet on Florida to cover the spread, because they're the only way the 'Noles can stay with the Dynamic Gators, who come in riding a seven-game win streak, including six victories by 30 or more points. 


Step 1: Fast Start

The double-digit leads Florida State has spotted to teams like NC State and Virginia Tech in victories won't suffice. Tebow and company cash every check and know how to go for the throat early.

If the 'Noles spot Florida a two-score lead early, the run game won't be as viable (which will be addressed later), and the Gators' athletic pass rushers like Carlos Dunlap will be pinning their ears back and going after Christian Ponder.

In Florida's last three contests against ranked opponents, against then-No. 4 LSU, then-No. 6 Georgia, and then-No. 25 South Carolina, the Gators had first-half leads of 17, 14, and 28 points, respectively. If Florida State joins this list, they're likely to suffer a margin of defeat similar to LSU, Georgia, and South Carolina's stompings of 30, 39, and 50 points.

Florida State can use this to their advantage though. The Gators haven't hit a team who has shown the capacity to hit them back early since September, while the Seminoles have fought hard for the majority of their victories.

If the Gators are suddenly confronted with a challenge early, they will have to summon up the emotion to answer the bell in the clutch, something they failed to do at home against Mississippi.

Florida State can ignite the crowd and let the Gators know they are in for a battle with a fast start, but a stumble out of the gate will largely negate any legitimate chance to pull a massive upset.


Step 2: T.O.P.

What's that? Time of Possession, the stat that Florida State needs an edge in to have a chance on Saturday. The Gators don't need much time to score, and the best way to stop an Offense with a talent and tactical edge is to keep them on the sidelines.

But want to know how scary Tebow and company are? In their 50-point drubbing of the Gamecocks, they held the ball only 20 seconds longer than South Carolina, a 30:10 to 29:50 edge. That's 20 seconds, 50 points. Florida's dominance in all three phases helped pad that lead, but to unload that kind of beatdown and have the ball for a paltry 20 more seconds is scary.

Florida State is going to have to run the football. Be it Antone Smith, Jermaine Thomas, Christian Ponder, or the WRs like Reed and Easterling, the Seminoles will need to move the chains early and often to keep Florida's offense from obtaining its rhythm.

The Gators' three units of Offense, Defense, and Special Teams are feeding off each other. If the Seminoles come out and quickly go three-and-out often, the momentum and possible field position advantages would leave Florida in excellent shape.

Holding on to the football will be paramount. If the 'Noles fail to sustain drives, they shouldn't count on having much of a chance.

Step 3: Front-Four Pressure

Florida State isn't going to slow down Florida trying to blitz multiple linebackers or defensive backs all afternoon, because if you give players like Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, and Chris Rainey man coverage, they are going to beat it.

Could Florida State get pressure doing so? Sure. But Tebow would convert more big plays against such looks than the blitzes themselves would make for the 'Noles.

The key will be the front four's ability to create pressure. Everette Brown and Markus White will need to become well acquainted with the UF backfield. If they are able to hassle and pressure Tebow in passing situations, which would allow FSU's secondary to remain in more favorable packages for coverage, the 'Noles will have a puncher's chance to create some big plays defensively and stay in the game.

However, if they are forced to blitz often to create any pressure, it could be a long day of more explosive Gator plays.


Step 4: Turnover Margin

Annually the top teams in the country have an extremely favorable turnover margin, and on Saturday, if Florida State's is negative, they probably will be another victim of the high-powered Gators.

The Gators defense, led by linebacker Brandon Spikes, has been very active forcing turnovers during their incredible run of seven straight wins. The Gators, on the season, have a +18 turnover margin. If Florida State hopes to compete with the Gators, they will have to avoid adding to that margin.

Conversely, a victory in turnover margin would presumably mean the crowd being kept involved, momentum being created, and success of the 'Noles offense and defense. If Ponder and the offense can play a mistake-free game and hold on to the ball while the defense creates a turnover or two, the game could be competitive to the wire.


Step 5: Special Teams

If at some point during Saturday's game, Brandon James of the Gators is seen streaking down the sideline with a kickoff or punt in his hands, then it's unlikely Florida State will be celebrating a victory anytime on Saturday. The 'Noles will have to cover kicks well and prevent huge plays by the Gators' excellent return units.

Also key will be the field position battle. Florida will be able to cope with a long field better than Florida State, so for the Seminoles, good punts and punt coverage will be essential. Giving the offense short fields and keeping the Gators' explosive playmakers in check with special teams could go a long way towards an upset.


Step 6: The Red Zone

A repeat performance of last year's matchup, in which Florida State settled for four first-half field goals, will earn the Seminoles another sound defeat. When they move the football and enter the red zone, they must finish drives with touchdowns, because their opponent will.

The Gators have scored on just over 92 percent of their red zone possessions, so Florida State can't afford to leave any points on the field. The deflating effect of red zone failure can sink a team, and to keep the game within reach, the 'Noles must finish drives in the end zone.

Step 7: Smart Emotion

Florida State needs to take the field with passion and fire, but not at the expense of smart football. Florida's explosive playmakers make defensive discipline a key. The defense needs to bring intensity, but over-pursuit and similar mistakes will leave them vulnerable to big plays.

Dumb penalties can take Florida State out of the game too. They will have to avoid flags in key situations. When you play an opponent of this quality, you can't give them any help.


Step 8: Seize the Opportunity

Florida State will welcome a Florida team deemed virtually unbeatable into Doak on Saturday. Expectations are low, with the Gators a 14-point favorite. The 'Noles have an opportunity to show the Gators and the Nation how far they have come, as well as ruin Florida's opportunity to have a National Championship season.

Essentially, they stand everything to gain, and virtually nothing to lose. If they lose it, will only be expected. They should play with this in mind. They can feel loose knowing that the game offers nothing but an opportunity to seize national relevance and reignite a rivalry that has been lacking the games of national magnitude that defined it in the '90s.

Florida State is a team full of talented players, and a motivated and passionate performance could give the Gators a lot to deal with.


Step 9: It's a Rivalry

Bobby Bowden will have to summon up some of his old magic on Saturday for the underdog Seminoles to pull the shocker. But the key to an upset won't be any motivational speech or ploy. It will be smart football with a low number of mistakes and a positive turnover margin.

The 'Noles will have to keep the ball out of Tebow's hands and in Ponder's, and the Seminoles' defensive line will have to be hassling the Gator backfield all afternoon.

Also, don't overlook the fact that this is a rivalry game. Sometimes the records can be thrown out for one afternoon.

Finally, among other keys, the Seminoles will have to hope the rock they throw at Urban's Goliath catches it right between the eyes.