Florida ends it’s 2019 regular season with its annual rivalry game against Florida $t. in the Swamp. The Gators ended a painful 5-year losing streak in the series last year in Taliban City, and look to build on that by extending its own streak.
F$U has had a miserable season and (unfortunately) did the right thing by blowing out Slick Willie Taggart 3 weeks ago. Odell Haggins has taken over in the interim, and the players actually respect him and have played harder recently. It’s just a shame that they are already bowl-eligible, as the Gators would have loved to prevent the Criminoles from going bowling a second consecutive year. F$U’s identity this season has been to start fast on offense, then do little to nothing in the second half while the defense collapses.
F$U’s offense has been wildly inconsistent all season, partly due to the uneven play of starting QB James Blackman backup Alex Hornibrook, but moreso by a weak O-line that has performed even worse than Florida’s. The Criminoles have racked up some big numbers against weaker competition, but have struggled against decent or good opponents. RB Cam Akers is the best player on the entire roster, and the sole hope they have to be competitive in this game. He is an excellent runner and also a consistent threat as a receiver out of the backfield. The only real receiving threat is WR Tamorrion Terry, who has size and deep speed. The Gator front seven need to remain disciplined and not get fooled by the motion and quick pace of OC Kendal Briles’ offense, which he brought from Baylor. If the Florida DTs can at a minimum get a stalemate at the LOS or get occasional penetration in the gaps, it could be a long night for F$U’s offense. The DEs, led by Jonathan Greenard, should be able to disrupt the pocket consistently against the poor OTs, and need to get either QB off their spot and first read. Jeremiah Moon is out with a foot injury, but it appears that Jabari Zuniga will get at least limited snaps. The secondary should match up well against any spread sets, especially now that Marco Wilson has moved to the Star position and can slow down the slot receivers and help control the middle of the field. F$U has enough talent at the skill positions overall to make some plays, but if the LBs and safeties can tackle well in space and force the Criminoles into long drives, that should be enough to disrupt their offense, as it thrives on big plays and isn’t built for long, ball-control drives. The tackling against Missouri was as good as it’s been all year, and that offense with a mobile QB could help as a preview for what to expect Saturday night.
On offense, Florida’s passing game matches up well against F$U’s pass defense, which has struggled all season both in coverage and open-field tackling. The Gator WR corps has a decided advantage in size, speed, and depth. As always, as long as the O-line can keep Trask clean and relatively upright, he and the receivers should be effective most of the night moving the ball. It remains to be seen if Mullen can somehow coax any semblance of a running game, which could hit some big plays if the passing game is clicking early. I have a feeling that Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce may be able to break free for a few chunk plays. F$U’s defense has been hurt by season-ending injuries to DT Marvin Wilson (a future high draft pick) and LB/safety Jaiden Woodbey, but there’s no sympathy felt here – go after their replacements and keep the pressure on all game long.
Florida’s special teams have a decided advantage. PK Evan McPherson and P Tommy Townsend have excelled all season, and the coverage units have been some of the best in the nation. It’s a luxury and a real bonus to field position, and has been a huge help to both the offense and defense. These hidden yards can’t be underestimated in the Gators’ success this year.
It’s Senior Day, a chance for the first 10-win regular season since 2015, and the opportunity for Florida to set itself up for a New Year’s Six game. The bigger goals of winning the SEC East and playing in Atlanta weren’t achieved, but there are still some significant things to play for, and there should be plenty of motivation to put on a great performance. As always, in-state recruiting is impacted by this game, and Florida can continue to distance itself from scUM and F$U by winning the state title and closing the gap on the SEC schools it still trails in both talent and in the standings. The Swamp should be electric at night for this game, and Gator Nation is ready to see another winning performance against the Criminoles.
Prediction: Florida 34 Florida $t. 17