Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Planning for success: Florida
By Jeff Barlis
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida hit rock bottom last Saturday when it lost to a mediocre FCS team inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Or did it?
Don't look now, but there could still be a new low to come. The Gators' arch-rivals to the west are visiting this week to put an end to UF's season of misery, and the Seminoles have just the unbeaten juggernaut to inflict something even more painful than last week's loss.
"Very big game," said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher on Monday. "Always a very difficult place to play there in Gainesville, one of the most difficult in the country. They’ll be ready to play. I know they will bring their 'A' game and we’ll have to bring ours."
It's been a tough year for Will Muschamp and the Gators, but a win over the No. 2 FSU could salvage a losing season.
On paper, Florida (4-7, 3-5 in the SEC) has plenty to play for when it hosts No. 2 Florida State (11-0, 8-0 ACC) Saturday at noon. There are the 15 seniors who will be honored in a pre-game ceremony. There's basic pride. There's an opportunity to wipe away the bitter taste of a season gone wrong. And there's the chance -- however faint -- to ruin FSU's season and end the Noles' hopes of playing for the national championship.
The problem is this game will be played on turf, not paper, and the matchup tilts clearly in the Seminoles' favor. Florida State averages 55.2 points a game, while Florida averages 19.9. FSU allows 11.4 PPG. UF allows 19.6, which highlights the Gators' minuscule margin of error.
"Last one. Our bowl game," Florida senior guard Jon Halapio said. "We have a chance to go out there and resolve our whole season playing against the No. 2 team in the nation, and they’re a very good team.
"With everything we’ve had this year, I feel like a win against this group of guys would uplift our spirits as a football program."
Although it will be facing Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston and the Noles' high-powered offense, the Gator defense still provides a source of hope. Despite the team's struggles, Florida still ranks No. 7 in the nation in total defense and No. 3 in pass defense.
"Fifty-five points is a lot," said Florida senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, who was once an FSU signee before enrolling in junior college. "I honestly think they haven’t seen our type of defense all year in their league. We’ll be able to cut that down."
Florida may be down this year, but the Gators can expect no mercy from Florida State.
"If we let up they might hit us in the mouth, but we ain't letting up," Florida State running back Devonta Freeman said. "I know for a fact we ain't going to let up."
Led by their seniors, the Gators know they don't have a prayer of winning if they don't first believe it can be done.
"I think we have a chance," Halapio said. "If we go out there and play like we're capable of playing, I think we still have a good chance of playing a good game and possibly beating them. We've just got to execute."
Therein lies Florida's challenge -- execute or be executed.