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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Eligi-bowl: Gators battle rival Seminoles for bowl eligibility

Florida hosts Florida State in a noon showdown for state superiority

Florida's Anthony Richardson scrambles during an Oct. 30 game against Georgia
Florida's Anthony Richardson scrambles during an Oct. 30 game against Georgia

Running back Nay’Quan Wright took a draw from quarterback Emory Jones, looking for space up the middle. Instead, he ran directly into a heap of Missouri defenders for a loss of three yards. 

With a minute remaining in a tie game, head coach Dan Mullen decided to run the clock out and play for overtime, where he and the Gators would lose. Mullen was fired a day later.

Now a week removed from the collapse in Columbia, the Florida Gators (5-6, 2-6), led by interim coach Greg Knox, finish their regular season against the Florida State Seminoles (5-6, 4-4) as both teams attempt to gain bowl eligibility.

The Seminoles followed a very different path than the Gators to reach the same record. FSU dropped its first four games of the season, including a stunning last-second loss to Jacksonville State. After stumbling out of the gates, though, Florida State has won five of its last seven games, including big wins over North Carolina and Boston College.

Statistically, the Seminoles sit in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic Coastal Conference in points per game (28.2) and points allowed per game (26.7). However, even average offenses put up numbers against Florida’s defense (see: LSU, Samford, South Carolina). 

The ‘Noles are led by Jordan Travis at quarterback. FSU dealt with its own quarterback controversy early in the year, as UCF transfer McKenzie Milton fought his way into the starting lineup for a period of time. Travis took the job back from Milton in October and has been solid since: He’s thrown 10 touchdowns to just one interception over the last six games. 

Travis also adds an extra dimension with his legs, rushing for 428 yards on 117 carries so far this season. His dual-threat ability was on full display in the team’s upset win over UNC: The sophomore tallied 14 carries for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-25 victory.

Florida State is dangerous on the ground. It ranks fifth in the ACC with 180.8 rushing yards per game, and running back Jashaun Corbin is sixth in the conference with 877 yards on the ground. Corbin averages 6.4 yards per carry, as does backup running back Treshaun Ward. It could be a fruitful day for the Seminoles’ ground attack, as the Gators allow 154.4 rushing yards per game, including 146 to Mizzou running back Tyler Badie last week and 287 to LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price in October. 

Now, the Florida defense looked better than it had for most of the season against the Tigers, for the most part: It held Mizzou under 300 yards and allowed just 121 total rushing yards. After the firing of Todd Grantham, interim defensive coordinator Christian Robinson seems to have the Gators on the right track on that side of the ball.

Offensively, Florida battles an average Florida State defense. The ‘Noles allow 379.6 yards per game, good for seventh in the ACC, but they have a knack for getting after the quarterback, tallying 32 sacks on the year (fourth in the ACC). 

Eleven of those sacks have been supplied by defensive end Jermaine Johnson. The senior leads the ACC in sacks and draws a matchup with a Florida offensive line that’s allowed just 11 sacks in 11 games this season. Florida’s tackles against Johnson will be one of the more intriguing in-game matchups to watch.

The Gators could also be without their starting quarterback, as Jones is dealing with an ankle injury he reportedly suffered Monday during practice. If Jones can’t go, freshman phenom Anthony Richardson would receive his second career start. After a forgettable debut against the historic Georgia defense (82 yards, two interceptions), Richardson should be able to find more success against an FSU defense that allows 234.5 passing yards per game. The Gainesville native showed flashes of greatness against weaker defenses, including a four-touchdown performance against LSU in relief of Jones. 

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The winner of Saturday’s matinee will become bowl eligible, gaining weeks of valuable practice time for younger players. It’s a big matchup for both school’s progression, as FSU head coach Mike Norvell looks to continue to build up the Seminoles, and Florida looks for a glimmer of hope in an otherwise hopeless year. 

If Florida loses, it will be the first time the Gators miss a bowl game since 2017. FSU would be ineligible for a bowl for the second straight year with a loss.

The showdown in the Sunshine State will kickoff at noon eastern time and will broadcast live on ESPN.

Contact Michael Hull at mhull@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33.

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Michael Hull

Michael Hull is a third-year journalism major with a specialization in sports & media. He has a minor in business and leadership and is a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars fan.


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