Florida State vs. Florida: Complete Game Preview
Florida State's focus is on Florida, and a win over the rival Gators will give the Seminoles something rare in college football: a perfect regular season.
FSU is the last unbeaten team in a power-five conference in 2014, and the Seminoles are closing in on a 12-0 regular season. While they did it last year en route to a 14-0 national title run, FSU has enjoyed four other unbeaten regular seasons.
Until the 1990s, FSU had only done it twice. In their fourth year of football (1950), the Seminoles went 8-0. And legendary coach Bobby Bowden did it in 1979 as FSU opened 11-0 before falling to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
The Seminoles went 11-0 in 1996 before losing to Florida in a rematch in the Sugar Bowl, and they did it again in 1999 with a perfect 11-0 run during a national title season (capped by a win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl).
Can FSU finish off Florida and go unbeaten in the 2014 regular season? Let's take a look at Saturday's game (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).
FSU's Keys to Victory
Minimize Florida's Ground Attack
Florida doesn't pass much. Treon Harris has had just two 100-yard passing days in his last five games. The Gators run and run effectively for nearly 200 yards per game.
FSU knows what is coming, but the Seminoles must improve at stopping the run. Boston College ran for 240 yards on 51 carries, nearly upsetting FSU by grinding out 19 first downs and stretching out long drives.
Opposing coaches with a great running game also have the benefit of knowing that they are able to keep Jameis Winston and Co. on the sideline.
Make the Most of Each Drive
FSU had just eight drives on Saturday vs. Boston College, a number that amounts to just two opportunities per quarter. The expectation may be that FSU will put up points with Winston and playmakers like Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and the running backs, but the Seminoles simply didn't have that many chances against the Eagles.
Yes, part of this is the defense needs to get more stops (or ideally three-and-outs), but FSU needs to get points out of drives or at the minimum sustain a drive and then punt and pin Florida deep.
Florida's Keys to Victory
Don't Stop Running
Matt Jones (768 yards, six touchdowns) and Kelvin Taylor (528 yards, six touchdowns) lead a Florida ground attack that averages 197 yards per game. The Gators have made defenses miserable this year, carrying the ball on average 44 times per game.
And Florida has made the most of those carries. The Gators have scored 38 points vs. Georgia and 34 vs. Vanderbilt, and they even put up 27 in a loss to LSU. It's a one-dimensional offense, but Florida has run well against some very good SEC defenses.
Use Play Action to Set Up Passing Game
Treon Harris is a true freshman and hasn't thrown the ball much. He completed just five of 11 passes in the overtime loss to South Carolina and four of 12 passes in the win over Eastern Kentucky.
But FSU's secondary has fallen asleep at times this year. Safeties will no doubt creep up to help in run support, so a few well-timed play-action fakes by Harris could catch FSU's defensive backs off guard.
FSU Players to Watch
QB Jameis Winston
Winston was on the mark Saturday, completing 22 of 32 passes. But the numbers would have been far better if not for "four big drops," Fisher said, and a pass that was high but went through Rashad Greene's hands and was intercepted. Still, Winston is averaging 312 passing yards in 10 games this season.
The redshirt sophomore passed for 281 yards on Saturday vs. Boston College, giving him 3,125 passing yards in 10 games. He now has back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons, just the second FSU quarterback to do that (Chris Weinke was the other in 1999-2000).
LBs Terrance Smith/Reggie Northrup
FSU's starting linebackers must be at their best when they try to minimize Florida's running game on Saturday. Smith and Northrup should be frustrated by allowing Boston College to run for 240 yards and will want to make up for that performance.
Northrup (90 tackles) and Smith (80 tackles) must be aware of Florida's backfield duo of Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor but also the potential for quarterback Treon Harris to tuck it and run.
Florida Players to Watch
DE Dante Fowler
An FSU verbal commitment until he flipped to Florida on national signing day in 2012, Fowler has been a force off the edge for the Gators. The junior, who has announced that he will leave school early, has 53 tackles and 11 tackles for loss.
Fowler will be a tough one-on-one matchup for true freshman left tackle Roderick Johnson, who will be making his third start after Cameron Erving moved to center.
Matt Jones/Kelvin Taylor
Florida has a tough 1-2 punch at running back with Jones and Taylor. Both are good enough to be the No. 1 tailback—and workhorse—at other schools but have shared the opportunities well in 2014.
Jones and Taylor have combined for 1,316 yards and 12 touchdowns. While Florida is just 6-4, the Gators have been able to run well the past three SEC games (183 yards vs. South Carolina, 215 yards against Vanderbilt and 418 yards vs. Georgia).
What They're Saying
FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher
On Jameis Winston vs. Boston College: "He may have graded, as far as decision-making and reads, coverage, as well as he may have played all year. He was 22-of-32 with four big drops. ... I thought he played extremely well in the game."
On Florida: "They have tons of good players on defense."
On Will Muschamp: "Will is a super human being. He'll have a tremendous future in this business."
On Florida QB Treon Harris, who was verbally committed to FSU before signing with the Gators: "Treon can throw the ball. I thought he was pretty good."
Florida Coach Will Muschamp
On QB Treon Harris' injury: "He had a contusion on the lower part of his kneecap there and it just got a little tight in the game and we felt like we didn't want to risk any further injury with his situation there. He’ll be fine. He'll start the game and be ready to go."
About the Gators' win over Eastern Kentucky on Senior Day: "Really happy for our 24 seniors. The guys came out and to get that win and to be able to enjoy that locker room as seniors, really proud of them."
On FSU and coach Jimbo Fisher: "Got a really good football team. Got tremendous respect for Jimbo and the job he's done, and his staff deserves a lot of credit for the games they've won. They won a bunch of games in a row. Last time they lost was when the Gators were up there. They've done an outstanding job. They've got a very good team in all three phases."
FSU may fall behind early and rally. Maybe the Seminoles will look bad in the first half, make adjustments and put things together in the fourth quarter. Don't expect anything different from what's happened in the first 11 games.
The blueprint is there for how to beat FSU. Run the ball often and effectively. Play well on defense. Hope that FSU commits a few penalties. And don't let the Seminoles score late (opponents have forgotten that last part).
FSU can expect to again have few possessions, especially if the defense struggles to stop Florida's run. The Seminoles have shown an improved running game since Cameron Erving moved from left tackle to center, and this would be a good game to run well.
If FSU can mix in a consistent running game, as well as force Florida's running game to stall out a few times, the Seminoles should complete a 12-0 regular season.
FSU 23, Florida 17
Bob Ferrante is the lead FSU writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats are courtesy of seminoles.com and gatorzone.com. Follow Bob on Twitter. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.