Florida vs. Florida State: Gators can prove their turnaround is real with a key rivalry win

By Adam Silverstein
November 22, 2018
Florida vs. Florida State: Gators can prove their turnaround is real with a key rivalry win

Image Credit: Jay Metz, UAA Communications

Six years. It will be six years to the day that the Florida Gators have not defeated the Florida State Seminoles on a football field by the time Saturday’s rivalry showdown kicks off at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. UF is 0-5 against FSU in that span.

Dan Mullen will be the third head coach to lead the Gators into this game since the end of the 2012 season, one in which his team has been outscored 157-63 by the in-state rival Noles in their last five meetings. Florida only crossed the end zone once in 2013. It didn’t score an offensive point in 2015. It has lost by double digits to Florida State in four of the five meetings, including twice with UF ranked as a top-15 team.

Saturday should be different. It should be an opportunity for the Gators to reassert their dominance in the Sunshine State (well, at least among Power Five teams). It should be the crown jewel in Mullen’s first year as Florida’s new head ball coach, one tasked with a turnaround even more difficult than the one achieved by his mentor, Urban Meyer.

The Gators opened as a three-point favorite against the Noles and have been bet up to a 6.5-point favorite. But forget the spread. Florida (8-3) has been far and away a better team than Florida State (5-6) this season. The Gators have a combined scoring differential of 20.9 over the Noles (12.9 to -8.0), achieving their half against much tougher competition. Florida is ranked better in total offense (56-102) and total defense (32-76), turnover margin (36-110), yards per play (42-106), passing offense (63-79), rushing offense (24-129), first downs (44-117), third-down conversions (52-122), red zone scoring (69-113), punting (18-50) and even field-goal kicking (11-103). There are plenty of other categories to mention, but you get the point.

By all accounts, the Gators should win this game.

And you know what? The Gators need to win this game.

If a Florida fan was told before the season that Florida could end the regular season at 9-3 with wins over three of its four annual rivals and a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game, they would have been thrilled with that possibility.

No, it has not been the road that UF expected. Home losses to Kentucky (ending a decades-long streak) and to Missouri (in a blowout on homecoming) were surely hard to stomach, but the Gators countered with wins over a top-five LSU at home and Mississippi State on the road, plus two thrilling comebacks from 17 points down (no matter who they were against).

If a Florida fan was told before the season that redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks would have 26 total touchdowns to six interceptions (respectively compared to nine and eight a year ago) to go along with more than 2,000 passing yards, they would have asked what player(s) Mullen would have to sacrifice to the college football gods for that to be possible.

It has not been a perfect year for the Gators — far from it. Despite Franks’s much-improved numbers, he has not performed consistently and still faces many of the same knocks he entered the season looking to overcome. Florida’s defense has taken steps forward — it would have been impossible for it to not — but it has been lackluster far too often, particularly during a two-game losing streak to Georgia and Mizzou that took the air out of an inflated set of performances to that point. Injuries and lack of depth deserve much of the blame, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham does not skate by without taking his share.

Still, that 9-3 mark and — more importantly — the uplifting feeling fans experience when they know their team is truly on the rise have not been achieved yet. Not without a win at Florida State.

A loss on Saturday and the Gators look much like the team they have been over the last five seasons — capable most of the time but listless when it truly counts. Florida is currently in its longest losing streak to Florida State all-time. The Gators have also lost seven of eight to the Noles dating back to 2010.

Being unable to snap this extended stretch of disastrous play against a team that is clearly the worst the program have fielded in decades would be a disastrous end to an uplifting year.

Especially when a win would be so sweet for Florida.

Not only would the Gators reach two of their primary goals this season in posting nine wins and getting into one of the top six bowl games, they would possibly be a top 10 team in the final College Football Playoff Rankings.

Oh, and there would be a cherry on top for Florida, too. It could keep Florida State from making a bowl game for the first time since the 1978 season. If all of that is not enough for Mullen to motivate UF, what will be?

Join The

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux