Gainesville, FL – In year one of Dan Mullen’s tenure as the head coach of the Gators, Florida ended a five-game skid to their hated rivals from the panhandle. In year two, the Gators have the opportunity to finish getting that monkey off of their backs. Although the streak of losses came to an end in Tallahassee, Florida still has not beaten the Seminoles in The Swamp since 2009.
A win on Saturday night would snap that streak, establish a streak of their own, and be an improvement over last season’s regular season mark of 9-3. On paper, Florida looks to be an easy bet to win this game and is favored by 17.5 points. In reality, these are two programs that are headed in opposite directions.
The Gators have a shot at a second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl game under Mullen. Meanwhile, FSU is a program searching for answers and a new head coach. Since the firing of Willie Taggart, the Seminoles have won each of their games under the direction of interim head coach, Odell Haggins.
Although Haggins has his team on the right side of the win/loss column, getting wins over teams like Boston College and Alabama State are much easier than doing so against a team like the Gators. Florida has allowed just sixteen points and a single touchdown through five games in The Swamp this season. It will be a tall task for the Noles to put up enough points to win in such an environment, especially with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Saturday’s Sunshine Showdown will be the first and only night game inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and emotions will be running high as it is the final time for the Gators’ seniors to play in front of the home crowd. As if that weren’t enough of an uphill climb for the Noles, they enter the game with some uncertainty at the quarterback position.
Redshirt sophomore, James Blackman and fifth-year senior, Alex Hornibrook are both expected to be healthy and available on Saturday night. Blackman has started and won each of the last two games for Florida State and has completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,945 yards, 16 touchdowns, and seven interceptions on the season.
Hornibrook hasn’t seen as much action but has filled in nicely while Blackman recovered from a knee injury. Odell Haggins suggested that the starting job was up for grabs this week saying, “We’re going to find out who’s playing the best in practice. That’s who is going to play, Kendal (Briles) and myself, we get together and talk about the situations on offense that we need to talk about.”
Regardless of who starts for the Seminoles, they will be facing a powerful pass rush led by Jonathan Greenard. On the opposite side, Jabari Zuniga is expected to be back, although his impact has been greatly diminished because of a nagging ankle injury. With the subpar performance of Florida State’s offensive line up to this point in the season, I expect to see the Gators’ defensive front living in the backfield.
Both teams have lived and died by the passing game this season with the Gators ranking 19th (292.3 YPG) and FSU 30th (277.5 YPG). This plays into Florida’s hands as they have been much better at defending the pass this season. The Gators are ranked twelfth overall and 23rd against the pass this season, allowing just 193 yards per game. Meanwhile, FSU has been effectively ineffective, allowing opposing quarterbacks to carve them up to an average of 273.8 yards per game.
In the end, the advantage is just too far in Florida’s favor to think that this will be a real contest. Kyle Trask and the talented corps of Florida receivers will take advantage of every miscue and opportunity that the Seminoles afford them. The Gators’ defense is too stingy to allow FSU to generate enough points to keep this one competitive. I like Florida to cover the spread and win big, 38-6.