November 24, 2015

(AP) - As Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher prepares for Saturday night's game against No. 10 Florida, he sees a mirror image of his own squad.

''It's funny how that evolves. That wasn't planned, I promise you, by either one of us,'' Fisher said. ''One of the key roles as a coach is identifying who you are and what each team is. And (Florida coach Jim McElwain has) done a great job of that.

''It's ironic that we are very similar, we really are.''

The 14th-ranked Seminoles (9-2) and Gators (10-1) have been successful with strong defenses and power running games. Both are also young on offense and have used multiple quarterbacks. That is quite a change in a rivalry that has been dominated by quarterbacks and strong passing games.

Saturday's game marks the 16th time in the regular season that both teams have met and been ranked in the top 15, but it's only the third since 2001. Florida has a 4-3-1 edge when it has been the higher-ranked squad.

The Gators have a four-game winning streak but have often failed to impress as they've pulled out some close wins over inferior opponents, leaving them as a slight underdog at home.

''We're a 10-win football team that's still got a long ways to go in a lot of areas,'' McElwain said. ''You guys know. You guys watch. But here's the key: Part of the key is figuring out how you get wins even through deficiencies.''

McElwain points to games against East Carolina in early September and Florida Atlantic last week as ones his team didn't deserve to win. Throw in nail-biters against Vanderbilt and South Carolina this month, and Florida's offense has looked like something from the Will Muschamp era - maybe even worse.

The Gators rank 100th in the nation in total offense and 80th in scoring.

"Our guys have won a bunch of games, whether you say they deserve it or not," said McElwain, who like Fisher is a former offensive coordinator under Nick Saban. ''But whether we deserved it or not, we figured out a way to do it. There's something to feel happy about that, but satisfied?"

Fisher has said his team has learned a lot about itself since a 23-13 loss at Clemson on Nov. 7, but the biggest indicator will be against Florida. The Seminoles have been a different team on the road. They are 2-2 away from Doak Campbell Stadium while averaging 16.8 points, third-worst in the ACC.

Florida State posted a 14-0 win at Boston College on Sept. 18 and beat Wake Forest 24-16 on Oct. 3. But it had its 28-game ACC win streak end at Georgia Tech on Oct. 24 and fell at Clemson two weeks later.

One difference is the offensive consistency under Sean Maguire.

The junior has started at quarterback three of the past four games and took over the job for good after Everett Golson committed three turnovers during the first half of the Nov. 14 game against North Carolina State. Maguire has directed scoring drives on 11 of 15 series the past two weeks.

Fisher said Maguire's performance in last Saturday's 52-13 win over Chattanooga was "outstanding."

Maguire's first road start came against Clemson, but he thinks that now having the experience of playing in adverse surroundings will make him less tentative this week.

''I just think everyone getting that big game out of the way, not just my first experience on the road but there were a lot of guys who haven't played in such a hostile environment,'' Maguire said. ''People will be a little more relaxed and just go play.''

Another area that should benefit from the game at Death Valley is the offensive line, which had three false starts and three delay of games. With playing the same five linemen the past two weeks, the penalties have been reduced.

The Gators' shaky offensive line has been getting worked on a weekly basis. Quarterback Treon Harris, who took over the starting role after Will Grier was suspended a year for using performance-enhancing drugs, has been indecisive and inaccurate.

He has seven turnovers in his last four games and seemingly has lost confidence. Equally troubling for Florida, the 5-foot-11 Harris is missing open receivers.

''We've got to complete passes when guys are open and create some explosive plays and consistency,'' McElwain said.

Fortunately for Florida, the defense has been downright dominant.

The Gators rank third in the nation in scoring defense and sixth in total defense. The defense ranks first or second in the SEC in yards, points allowed, sacks, interceptions and fumbles.

It's unlikely Florida can change its identity at this point. The Gators are ugly on the field - the margin for error is even smaller considering they've missed seven field goals and five extra points - but getting it done in the end.

''Pretty much just keep finding ways to win,'' defensive back Brian Poole said. ''At the end of the day, that's really all that matters. They ain't always going to be blowouts. There's going to be some close games. In the end, we just got to find a way to win.''

As for the Seminoles, since falling out of contention for the ACC title, Fisher has placed more importance on beating Florida and winning the "state title." In a state where beating the rivals carries major recruiting implications, Fisher is 10-1 against Miami and the Gators.

The Seminoles have won four of the past five. A win Saturday would mark only the third time that they've beaten the Gators three straight years or more.

Besides state bragging rights, the Seminoles need a win to keep their hopes of making a New Year's six bowl intact. Florida's College Football Playoff hopes are still very much alive as it will face Alabama in the SEC championship Dec. 5.

''We want to be the best team in the state. That's definitely important to us,'' Poole said. ''A lot of us play with those guys and did camps with those guys, so it's like we're playing against our friends and stuff like that.''

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