Florida fans should be terrified of the looming matchup against Florida State, but not because of anything that happened on Saturday.
In fact, Saturday should be encouraging. No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon both fell, vaulting Florida to No. 4 in the BCS and putting UF in a position to play for the crystal football with a win and a Notre Dame loss.
Sure, UF also notched a lackluster win against a lousy opponent for the third consecutive week on Saturday, but what did a 23-0 victory against Jacksonville State tell us that we didn’t already know?
The Gators amassed only 154 passing yards, but is that really all that shocking? While this was the weakest competition to date, we don’t even have evidence UF can successfully pass the ball down the field in practice. And how much does Saturday’s game really mean going forward?
Coach Will Muschamp told offensive coordinator Brent Pease to run the ball as often as possible in an effort to counteract Jacksonville State’s overload blitzes.
“We could’ve done some more things offensively, but I just told Brent, ‘Let’s go win the game,’” Muschamp said.
On Saturday that meant the same thing it has all season — run, run and run some more.
Why bother to break from the formula? Significantly changing the offense this late in the season is impossible. Even if Jacoby Brissett had racked up 400 yards through the air, he’d be benched for Jeff Driskel regardless, provided all goes well in the training room this week.
So run it at Jacksonville State, take your 202 yards at 5.6 yards per carry and get ready for next week.
The Gators shouldn’t try to be something they aren’t.
“Don’t ask them to do things they can’t do,” Muschamp said. “We were going to be a team that was going to have to grind it out a little bit offensively.”
But grinding out a win will be more difficult than ever on Saturday. The Seminoles lead the nation with 7.27 yards gained per offensive play and 3.67 yards allowed per defensive play.
Think about how nuts that is for a second. Per play, they are the nation’s No. 1 team on both sides of the ball.
Turning this into one number, Florida State’s composite 2 (No. 1 on offense plus No. 1 on defense) is on pace to be by far the best among big-six teams in the past six seasons — the farthest back I could find usable statistics.
Alabama has a 9 (No. 7 on offense, No. 2 on defense) this year, and the next closest is 2009 Florida, which put up a 10 (No. 3 on offense, No. 7 on defense).
But UF’s answer to solving FSU’s dominance is not, “Air it out, or else.”
Florida needs to get locked in a defensive struggle by exposing a young and inconsistent FSU offensive line.
Make this game the ugliest of all the ugly games.
Win the battle of field position.
Make sure the gap between your No. 3-ranked 41.6 net yards per punt and FSU’s 101st-ranked 34.5 net yards per punt is critical.
Be thankful there’s only one Xavier Rhodes, and FSU’s other options in the secondary have looked beatable.
Pray that some act of God gives whoever is healthy enough to play tackle the power to block Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine.
Wait for E.J. Manuel to make a decision he shouldn’t, then capitalize.
Take care of the ball.
Pound that vaunted rushing defense over and over again until somebody slips and Mike Gillislee finds a crease.
Most importantly, just keep it close. In a tight game, a broken tackle or a lucky bounce can be the difference between winning and losing.
If Florida gets that bounce and a beatable Notre Dame team stumbles on the road against a talented USC squad, the Gators could be playing for the national title.
Contact Greg Luca at [email protected].