The end of Florida's successful 2019 regular season is on our doorstep, with in-state rival, the Florida State Seminoles, trekking to Gainesville on Saturday.
For Florida, a dominant win over the crippling Seminoles would be their last effort to secure a New Year's Six Bowl for the second year in a row. For Florida State, a surprise victory would give the Seminoles momentum heading into a small bowl game under interim head coach Odell Haggins.
You'd also have to imagine that a win on the road against No. 11 Florida would increase Haggins' shot at stripping the interim label, and land him the full-time head coaching position. It's probably not likely, but crazier things have happened.
But quite frankly, that doesn't seem likely. Florida State is a mess, and is far less talented across its roster than the Gators as a whole. However, the Seminoles will take three legitimate playmakers into Gainesville this Saturday, that Florida must prepare for diligently.
Let's take a look at the three key personnel matchups that could decide the game, using Pro Football Focus' in-depth stats for context.
Florida's front seven vs. Cam Akers
Arguably the biggest threat on either side of the ball for Florida State, Akers is an incredible back who specializes in making something out of nothing. And given the state of FSU's offensive line, the Seminoles rely on Akers to do just that.
This season, 819 of Akers' 1040 rushing yards have come after contact, about 79% of his rushing production. The junior back is averaging a whopping 3.83 yards after contact per rush, and has forced 70 missed tackles.
For reference, and not that this is a critique but simply for a better understanding, Gators running back Lamical Perine was averaging 3.67 yards per attempt - not after contact, just per rush - through the first five games of the season this year.
The Gators' defense has struggled with their tackling all season long, missing 118 as a unit. The run defense has improved significantly since Florida's outings vs. LSU and South Carolina, but they haven't faced a back like Akers since D'Andre Swift from Georgia. If Akers can get any type of flow going, he can single-handedly keep Florida State at least somewhat competitive.
Tamorrion Terry vs. C.J. Henderson
Talk about a deep threat.
Standing at 6-4, 203 lbs., Terry is capable of beating cornerbacks with his length to make contested catches and to beat press coverage. Lining up at almost exclusively at wide receiver on the right side of the formation (586 out of his 649 offensive snaps), Terry has hauled in 44 receptions for 887 yards and eight touchdowns. 33 of his 44 receptions have gone for a first down and/or a touchdown.
Much like Akers, Terry is polished at creating yards on his own, with 482 (54% of his production) coming after the catch. He's averaging 20.2 yards per catch on the season, making him a legitimate deep threat, but what's crazy is that he averages 11 of his yards per catch after he makes a reception and turns upfield.
While Gators cornerback C.J. Henderson often flips the field, expect him to primarily shadow Terry throughout the game. And as many know well, Henderson is posting another elite year in coverage, allowing only 15 receptions on 31 targets (48.4%), and breaking up 10 passes, which is tied for seventh-most in the nation despite missing three games this year.
An iron-sharpens-iron matchup, it will be interesting to see who prevails on Saturday.
Cory Durden vs. Florida's offensive line
With Marvin Wilson out for the year, Cory Durden is Florida State's most disruptive, and versatile, defensive lineman. At 6-5, 305 lbs., Durden packs excellent size and strength to beat up on offensive linemen, and he's been doing it all year.
The redshirt sophomore, who grew up in Newberry and went to high school less than 30 minutes from the University of Florida, has tallied 32 total tackles, including 20 "stops" - a tackle that constitutes a failure for the offense - 4.5 sacks, 39 quarterback pressures, two batted passes, and a forced fumble this season.
What makes Durden lethal is his ability to play everywhere on the line. He's played more snaps at defensive end, where he's seen 247 snaps split between left DE (169) and right (114), but he's also taken 212 snaps across the interior as both a 3-technique defensive tackle and at nose tackle.
While Florida has done a good job in pass protection this season, Durden is one of the better pass-rushing talents they've faced, and each member of the line must prepare to take him on. That's what makes him so unique - how many times has all five of Florida's offensive linemen had to gameplan for one player specifically this season?