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Thursday, November 22, 2012
Five storylines: Florida vs. Florida State

By Michael DiRocco

Jeff Driskel, Garrison Smith
Jeff Driskel will start for Florida on Saturday at Florida State, but his ankle is a question mark.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 4 Florida plays at No. 10 Florida State on Saturday, with a BCS bowl (and possibly a shot at the national championship) on the line. If the Gators beat the Seminoles they’re likely headed to the Sugar Bowl. If they beat the Seminoles and No. 1 Notre Dame loses to Southern California, the Gators could end up in the national title game.

Here's five storylines for the game:

1. How effective will Jeff Driskel be? Driskel will start against Florida State and UF coach Will Muschamp said the sophomore looked fine during practices, but that could be a little gamesmanship. Driskel’s sprained right ankle might not be 100 percent and that would have a huge impact on how effective he can be against the Seminoles. His mobility is a key part of the offense, and not just because of the designed quarterback runs or the read option. The pass protection has been inconsistent and Driskel has been able to keep plays alive by scrambling, either to run or to pass. If he’s got limited mobility, that pretty much paints a target on his back for FSU’s pass rushers -- and makes it almost impossible for the Gators to win the game.

2. Regardless of which QB plays, can the OTs keep him upright? LT Xavier Nixon and RT Chaz Green have a tough job on Saturday. They’ve got to deal with FSU DEs Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine, who have combined for 20 sacks this season. Nixon (knee) and Green (ankle) have missed time recently but both are supposed to be completely healthy. They need to be because Werner (9.5 sacks) and Carradine (10.5 sacks) might be the best pair of ends in the country. Both OTs have struggled in pass protection this season, and the Gators will certainly help out by chipping with a back or double-teaming with a tight end. The problem, however, is you can’t do that to both sides at the same time because then you end up limiting yourself in the passing game. There will be plays where Nixon and Green will have to handle those guys one-on-one. Werner and Carradine will win some of those battles, but the key is to keep them from doing too much damage.

3. Win the field-position battle: This game could very well hinge on how well P Kyle Christy performs. Because of the offensive limitations, the Gators will be content to play for field position: That means on third and 8, they’ll run it and punt and try and pin the Seminoles deep inside their own territory and let the defense take over. It’s a sound strategy since Christy, who was named a Ray Guy Award finalist this week, is fourth in the nation in punting (46.3-yard average). Nearly half of his 58 punts have been 50 yards or longer and he has put 25 punts inside the 20-yard line. He needs to deliver a performance similar to what he did against South Carolina: He averaged 54.3 yards on seven punts and didn’t have one shorter than 51 yards.

4. Get pressure on E.J. Manuel: The FSU quarterback has been sacked only 21 times this season, but nine of those came against N.C. State (four) and Virginia Tech (five). Those were also two of the three times he completed less than 60 percent of his passes and he also threw an interception in each game. The Noles lost to the Wolfpack and needed a late touchdown to beat the Hokies. Notice the trend? UF hasn’t been particularly effective rushing the passer (23 sacks), but they have been good in spots. Whether it’s with a four-man rush, a corner blitz, a delayed blitz, or an all-out jailbreak, the Gators have got to get to Manuel. Even if they don’t sack him, they at least have to affect him and force him to throw before he’s ready or to make bad decisions.

5. Somebody make a play in the passing game: There’s no question that the Gators will get a significant contribution out of TE Jordan Reed, who leads the team with 40 catches for 498 yards. But they’ll need more than just Reed to beat the Seminoles. FSU’s defensive game plan will be to stack the box to stop RB Mike Gillislee and force Driskel Jacoby Brissett to beat them in the passing game. Screen passes won’t be enough. Some receiver -- whether it’s Frankie Hammond (17 catches) or Quinton Dunbar (27 catches) -- has to deliver a big play in the passing game. That might be just catching a couple of third-down passes to keep a drive alive, or it could be breaking a tackle and gaining big yards. RBs Trey Burton and Omarius Hines could be factors, too, but the Gators need an edge player to make something happen.