There is a battle for bowl eligibility today in The Swamp.
Before the year started, the two squads which will take the field at Ben Hill Griffin at noon were pointed in opposite directions.
One has suffered the agony of a downward spiral since 2017, while the other exploded back into national relevance since then.
The question in August was: How many points will Florida beat Florida State by on the last weekend of November? In four months, the question has been altered drastically. It now reads: Can the Gators beat the Seminoles at all?
That’s a direct reflection of the Gators falling short of expectations in 2021. Instead of UF trending upward and FSU trending downward, it’s quite the opposite.
The Seminoles, after starting 0-4, come into the contest at 5-2 in their last seven games. Led by running backs Jashaun Corbin and Treshaun Ward, the Noles have found their groove on the ground, utilizing various ball carriers to show vast improvement in their offensive production from previous years.
Accounting for 1,367 yards and ten between the two main backs on the ground, Florida’s run defense will be pressured from start to finish in an attempt to contain the two-headed monster.
Florida State’s quarterback, Jordan Travis, also presents a threat on the ground, fitting the mold of playmakers the Gators have struggled mightily against in recent memory. He’s recorded 428 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Luckily for UF, they’re coming off a game against Missouri where stopping the run was a top priority.
Last weekend, the Gators saw linebacker Ty'Ron Hopper emerge — tallying a career-high 12 tackles — to halt one of the nation’s leading rushers in Tyler Badie for most of the contest.
Defensive coordinator Christian Robinson, in his third game with that title, will have to put his group of linebackers in position to make plays downhill to give Florida the upper hand.
Offensively for the Gators, redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Richardson is reportedly expected to make his second career start, both of which will have come against Florida’s biggest rivals.
Richardson enters the fire yet again in his first action since Oct. 30 versus, this time with a new head coach at the helm in interim Greg Knox and a new play-caller in his quarterbacks coach, Garrick McGee, as well.
As a result, the run game of Florida’s will be leaned on heavily to accommodate for the inexperience across the board. Richardson’s explosiveness on the ground will be a large component in that game plan, especially with edge rusher Jermaine Johnson looking to wreak havoc early and often when he drops back to pass in the pocket.
The most reliable and explosive of all the backs, Dameon Pierce, will possibly play the most significant role in how much success Florida has.
If he continues to receive an insufficient amount of carries, the Gators’ offense could prove stagnant as they have at multiple points this season. On the other side of the coin, if Knox entrusts his senior — who averages over six yards per carry with a heavier workload — the Gators are in a great position to build and keep a lead.
The Gators are looking to end their season on a high note. Their goal is to send the players who will lose eligibility after the year out on top with a senior night victory.
It’s a feat easier said than done.
Despite the preseason assumptions of another easy victory for Florida over Florida State in the regular-season finale, the 65th rendition of the battle for the Sunshine State will bring anticipation and drama for the first time in quite some time.
Unfortunately, it’s not the kind both fan bases are accustomed to historically. But, considerable implications loom as a year of bragging rights and postseason berth are on the table.
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