After a 0-4 start, Florida State (5-6) has won five of its last seven games to crawl back into the race for bowl eligibility. Behind quarterback Jordan Travis (1337 passing yards, 428 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns), the ‘Noles offense has gained 799 total yards in their past two games. Head coach Mike Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham utilize several wide receivers, but Ontaria Wilson (20 receptions, 332 yards and four touchdowns) could be tabbed as the top target. Defensive linemen Jermaine Johnson II and Keir Thomas are the stalwarts of the FSU defense. In the 26-23 win over Boston College on Nov. 20, the two combined for ten tackles, eight quarterback hurries, and two sacks.
A week ago, Dan Mullen was the head coach of Florida (5-6). However, after losing four of his last five following a 24-23 (OT) loss to Missouri on Nov. 20, Mullen was fired. Starting quarterback Emory Jones will be sidelined for the matchup after suffering an injury in practice earlier this week. Therefore, quarterback Anthony Richardson will likely draw the start, to the delight of many Gators fans. At 6’4, 236 lbs, Richardson possesses the natural size and speed to terrorize opponents with his scrambling ability. The Gators don’t have playmakers as they did a year ago in Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney, but running back Dameon Pierce (11 touchdowns) and wide receiver Jacob Copeland (four touchdowns) could be productive. Defensively, Florida allows 27.1 points per game. Ironically, the Gators are in the same predicament as the Noles – a win gets them bowl eligible.
The game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 27. Kickoff is noon on ESPN.
A win gets FSU bowl eligible
With Mullen gone, it's clear Norvell has the most momentum in the state currently. Both on the field and recruiting trail, Norvell has the ‘Noles looking as good as they have in years. The future seemed bleak after the Jacksonville State loss, but FSU has turned it around and improved drastically throughout the season. A win Saturday would not just give FSU bragging rights in the state, but it would be the program's first bowl appearance since 2019.
State championship and bragging rights on the line
As I alluded to above, a win over the Gators would give the ‘Noles their first state championship (wins over Miami and Florida in the same season) since 2016. Until the Gators name a head coach, the ‘Noles should use their program stability (and a possible win) as an edge in recruiting.
Can the FSU defense match up with Richardson?
Richardson hasn’t played since his first career start against Georgia on Oct. 30. In the 34-7 loss, Richardson completed 12-of-20 passes for 82 yards and two interceptions.
If Johnson II and Thomas can continuously beat the Gators offensive lineman, Richardson will look to scramble more times than not. He’s found success on the ground, tallying 374 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries. If he breaks away from the first level, the linebacking core of Amari Gainer, Kalen DeLoach and DJ Lundy will be responsible for stopping Richardson in his tracks. It's imperative for defensive coordinator Adam Fuller to keep a spy on Richardson because if he breaks free, the ‘Noles could be in trouble.
Can the ‘Noles rushing attack produce enough to earn a 1,000 yard rusher?
The Gators defense allows 154.4 rushing yards per game. Missouri ran for just 121 yards last week, but the ‘Noles have much more talent in their backfield than the Tigers. Whether it be Cam Akers in 2017 or Dalvin Cook from 2014-16, the ‘Noles relied heavily on a productive ground game in their victories over the Gators during the five-game winning streak from 2013-17.
In addition to Travis, Florida State has a running back duo of Jashuan Corbin (877 yards) and Treshuan Ward (490 yards). Corbin needs 123 yards to become the first 1,000 rushing yard rusher for the ‘Noles since Cam Akers in 2019. Against Boston College, FSU also welcomed back running back Lawrance Toafili. Although he might receive fewer touches, he has the explosiveness to take any carry to the house.
One team is trending upward, while the other is trending down. Even though the game is in Gainesville, I don’t think the atmosphere will cause much of an issue for Norvell and company. In his first career game coaching against the Gators, I believe Norvell has the Seminoles prepared from the jump. Florida will have its handful of big plays, especially with Richardson at the helm, but the ‘Noles defense plays with more physicality for the entire game. The Seminoles complete the sweep of the state and capture the elusive sixth win.
Florida State 31, Florida 27