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5 posts from November 24, 2012

November 24, 2012

Wrapping Up: UF 37 FSU 26

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I'm wrapping up here at Doak Campbell Stadium for the last time this year. How we've already made it through an entire college season escapes me, but time flies when it comes to football.

Tonight was senior day for Florida State and this group of seniors went out with a disappointing 37-26 loss to their rivals. It was the first loss to an in-state rival suffered under Jimbo Fisher and it was surely not the way this group wanted to leave.

EJ Manuel did not play the type of game he would have liked to have finished his career in Tallahassee with. Manuel was pressured by a very talented UF defensive front all night and he made a number of costly mistakes that factored heavily into the outcome. 

"Honestly, I can't say whether it was mental or if it was something they did," said Manuel. "The interceptions were very uncharacteristic, especially three."

Manuel finished 18-33 for 182 yards, a touchdown and the three interceptions. He also had a fumble on what was arguably the key play of the game. On a broken play, Antonio Morrison made the hit of the night early in the 4th quarter when he blew EJ Manuel up, forced a fumble and gave UF field position deep on the Seminole side of the 50.

There's going to be a lot of discussion about that hit in the coming days, here's why: FSU maintains it was a rib injury, at least per Jimbo Fisher. But both Kenny Shaw and EJ Manuel mentioned he got hit in the head and Manuel was being evaluated on the sideline like a player with a concussion not like a guy with a rib injury.

I'm not saying EJ Manuel had a concussion, I'm not saying he didn't. What I am saying is that Florida State will need to monitor its senior QB closely this week. 

As for the impact the play had on the game itself, you cannot understate how much the momentum changed in the ten seconds that play took. UF punched it in a play later for a touchdown to go back up by three, and then took their momentum into their next defensive drive where they forced FSU into a three and out and scored again on offense.

"They were good," said Manuel. "I thought we could have executed better but they did a great job on defense. They had a good pass rush, great DB's, good linebackers. I'm not going to take anything away from them. They did a good job, I just thought I could have executed better."

EJ Manuel is going to leave Florida State with a complicated legacy. In many ways he's a victim of the expectations he came in with, and there will be many Seminole fans who are unhappy with his career despite him being the quarterback who helped bring FSU back to relevence. Look at where FSU was when Manuel entered as a freshman and look where they ended up after his last home game. 

Bear in mind that EJ Manuel had to bail FSU out of a losing season in Bobby's first year when he was just a redshirt freshman. By the time he was done he had FSU at 10-2 and competitive on a national stage. I can't imagine EJ feels good mentally or physically tonight, but personally I hope fans look back at his time on Florida State favorably. He's had a solid career.

Werner is Coming

Bjoern Werner had himself a day and a half, even if the rest of the Florida State defense struggled at times. Werner recorded 3.5 sacks and recovered a fumble in what will, in all likelihood, be his last home game as a Seminole. Right now Mel Kiper has Werner rated 10th overall in his draft rankings. That was before Werner dominated an SEC offense unlike any other SEC defensive end has done to it all season. 

I'm pretty sure Jeff Driskel leaves Tallahassee with a Werner shaped imprint between his shoulder blades and a rudimentary knowledge of German based on the amount of interaction those two had on Saturday night. Werner is an absolute force to be reckoned with on the Florida State defensive line and he is going to make a ton of money playing on Sunday soon.

Tank Carradine, As Always

While Bjoern Werner was making the flashy plays, Tank Carradine was just making tons of them. Once again Carradine lead the Seminoles in tackles, finishing with 11 and a half sack, despite leaving the game early with an injury.

Like Werner, Carradine is a considered a sure-fire first round NFL prospect. On Saturday that was on display once again as Tank made plays against the pass and the run, while displaying the level of athleticism that Seminole fans have come to expect this season. Carradine, without a doubt, has been the biggest revelation on this Florida State team all year. Prior to the season Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner made it a point to give Carradine some hype. By the end of September it was clear they weren't kidding.

Carradine left the game with an injured leg. There's no word yet on his status, but Florida State could ill-afford to have him out for next weekend against Georgia Tech. 

Next Weekend

Next weekend I'll be in Charlotte as the Seminoles prepare to take on the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game. FSU can still go 12-2 with a BCS win and a conference title this year. While many fans wanted BCS title or bust, it would be hard to look at a 12-2 year with a conference championship (especially given the past decade) as anything but a resounding success. 

Of course, Florida State has to flush this loss and move on first. 

A loss next weekend and the season does become disappointing...

Rapid Reaction: UF 37 FSU 26

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It just wasn't in the cards for Florida State on Saturday night. The Gators managed to hold off a second-half rally and beat the Seminoles 37-26 after an exciting final 30 minutes.

Florida State fought their way back into the game in the third quarter before fatigue and miscues finally did them in. The Seminoles reeled off 20 unanswered points after going down 13-0 and actually lead 20-13 headed into the 4th quarter. But time of possession, turnovers and luck finally conspired to put the Seminoles away.

You just do not win a football game when the other team holds the ball for twice as long as you did. At the start of the 4th quarter UF already had over 30 minutes of possession and the over the last 15-minutes, fatigue finally started to work its way in.

For all intents and purposes, this game can be divided into two six and a half minute periods. 

After going down 13-0 in the first half, FSU reeled off 17 points in six and a half minutes to start the third quarter and go up 17-13. A Dustin Hopkins 53-yard field goal made it 20-13 as UF took over at the end of the third quarter.

Then started UF's six and a half minute response. Starting with a Caleb Sturgis field goal at the beginning of the 4th quarter, UF proceeded to put up two touchdowns of its own after an EJ Manuel fumble and a big punt return set the Gators up with excellent field position on two straight drives.

It took FSU six and a half minutes to come back on UF in the third quarter and it took UF just six and a half minutes to go back up on the 'Noles for good in the 4th.

Give Florida a lot of credit, they played a smart game and took what Florida State gave them. You could tell they were the more battle-tested of the two teams because they knew what to expect from FSU's defense and attacked it right from the outset.

That being said, Florida has arguably the best BCS-resume in the country, but they hardly looked like one of the top two teams in the nation tonight. UF tried their best to give this game away. They made more penalties than any team I've seen come through Doak in years, 11 for 90 yards and that was with a few waved off. If you hold the ball for twice as long as the other team and win the turnover battle 5:1, you shouldn't go into the 4th quarter trailing the ballgame.

Some late scoring will make UF look like they won this game a lot more handily than they really did. Florida State had the Gators on the ropes late and it took a lot for UF to pull this win out. 

That had a lot to do with the face that the Seminoles' backs broke in the 4th quarter defensively. After being on the field for most of the game UF scored three late touchdowns and put some distance between themselves and the 'Noles.

Florida may not have had an impressive offense, but they did have the better defensive front. And that made all the difference. Despite a 3.5 sack day from Bjoern Werner, Mike Gillislee ran all over the Seminoles and EJ Manuel was bullied all night. 

Now Florida State must turn its attention to Georgia Tech and winning the ACC for the first time in 2005. 12-2 with an Orange Bowl win is the best case scenario for the Seminoles now.

Statistical Leaders

Passing: Jeff Driskel (15/24, 147, TD)

Rushing: Mike Gillislee (24-140, 2TD)

Receiving: Rashad Greene (5-65)

I'm about to head down and talk to a few players and coaches, I'll be back up with the wrap-up later tonight...

Halftime: UF 13 FSU 3

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After writing all season that Florida State had the best defensive front in the state, the first 30 minutes of this football game have seriously thrown that assertion into question. 

There was domination in the first half of this game, it came from the Florida defensive front and it kept the Seminole offense from achieving much of anything outside of a long completion to Rashad Greene on the opening drive. 

Right now FSU has just 109 total yards and they haven't seriously threatened since their opening possession.

The Gators came out and scored on a couple of field goal drives to open things up, they held the ball around five minutes both times and methodically drove down the field against the vaunted Seminole defensive front. You can tell UF is game-tested because they know how to attack a defense like Florida State's. Plays don't take too long to develop, they use a lot of misdirection and they take just enough yardage per play to keep the 'Noles on their heels. FSU's defense needs to wrap up better, but give UF a lot of credit for knowing how to attack.

UF could have gone up 9-0 early but a 4th down play inside Florida State territory turned the ball over and kept them off the scoreboard on their second possession. All in all, the Gators have called an efficient first half on offense and they've got the lead to show for it.

Conversely, FSU hasn't called a good game in the first half. On the opening drive everything took too long to set up and EJ Manuel was pressured on every snap. That drive was arguably the 'Noles best scoring shot though as they took the ball into UF territory before an EJ Manuel pick ended the possession.

The wheels fell off in the last 6 minutes though. Karlos Williams fumbled a kickoff after running it out of his own endzone and the Gators scored a touchdown several plays later. Then EJ Manuel threw a particularly inexcusable ball that was picked off on the next drive and set the Gators up inside Seminole territory once again. 

Florida State's defense FINALLY stood up at that point. A couple penalties and a big sack put the Gators back out of field goal range and the Seminoles were able to avoid going down by 16 or 20.

A late Dustin Hopkins field goal made it a ten point game, but the Seminoles didn't really take much momentum with them into the tunnel. 

Right now Florida State needs to regroup and come out with some fire in the second half or they're not going to have a chance to get back into this. For Florida, the name of the game in the second half will be ball control and letting their defense dictate the tempo of the game like it did in the first half.

FSU has its work cut out for it in the second half...

Statistical Leaders

Passing: Jeff Driskel (10-15, 77)

Rushing: Mike Gilleslee (18-75, TD)

Receiving: Rashad Greene (2-34)

Pregame: UF at FSU

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We're just about two and a half hours out from the kickoff of UF and FSU. Tallahassee is loaded with people right now, tailgates are spilling out into the streets and all is right again with football in the state of Florida.

These are the circumstances this game should be played under, both teams are in the top ten looking to play for a BCS title and finish their season with a big win over a rival. For Florida State, it's senior day for a class of kids that have been absolutely essential in the Florida State turnaround. When this senior class arrived in Tallahasee the program was down, they leave today after helping Florida State back into the national picture and with a shot at beating UF three straight times.

For Florida, this game is about sneaking into the BCS Championship. A win and a Notre Dame loss should set UF up with enough of a push to get them into the title game even without winning the SEC. Florida State is relegated more to the spoiler role today, but they can still make a move with a resounding win and some help out front. 

Regardless of the ramifications of this game, when both teams are 10-1 and ranked highly this game is always good.

I'm looking forward to another classic today.

Here's your game capsule:

Game Preview

Three Things to Watch For...

Injury List

TV: ABC

Announcers: Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (color), Holly Rowe (sideline)

Three Things to Watch For: UF vs. FSU

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This is the biggest this rivalry has been in a decade. While the passion this game has been played with hasn't waned over the years, it's been a while since both of these teams were up. Today's game has national implications like a UF-FSU rivalry game should.

Florida, who boasts the best BCS computer average, could back into a BCS title shot with a win today and a Notre Dame loss. With either Georgia or Alabama set to knock the other out in the SEC championship game the Gators could sneak into a title shot without even winning their own conference.

Conversely, the BCS computers hate FSU like John James Fisher is really named John James Connor. The 'Noles actually out-rank the Gators in the coaches poll but an abysmal computer average has tanked their BCS ranking and kept them out of the national conversation. FSU needs a resounding win plus some help from the pollsters and other teams ahead of them losing to hope to neutralize their computer average.

That doesn't look likely for Florida State but it could also make them dangerous.

Florida has something to lose in this game, their shot is still quite strong. Florida State has nothing to lose. That could make this interesting...

Here are three things to watch for...

The Battle in the Trenches

Both Florida and Florida State boast two of the top defensive lines in the country. Last year, those units dominated the game in Gainesville, but that came with the caveat that the FSU line was held together by sinew and duct tape. Immediately following the game several players had season ending surgery and in the Champs Bowl a month later there were four new starters in front of EJ Manuel. 

This year, as Devonta Freeman and Rashad Greene have told us, the 'Noles are healthier. A lot of that comes with improved depth, but it also has to do with FSU being a bigger, stronger, more imposing offensive line this year. What gives the FSU line even more confidence is the fact that all season, they have squared off against their own defensive front in practice. As Tre Jackson said on Tuesday, they're yet to see a better defensive front than they practice against all week. That should pay huge dividends today. If FSU can establish themselves in the trenches on offense and establish the run game, I'm not sure the Gators will have an answer.

On the other side of the ball the Florida State defensive front is rated the best in the nation. FSU is number one against the run and their ends have combined for 20 sacks this season. That means that UF will need to work even harder to protect Jeff Driskel and that if they can't establish their own run game early, that they'll be forced into a one-dimension offensive look with two first-rounder picks pinning their ears back all day.

This game will be won or lost in the trenches.

The Emotion

The emotion of this rivalry is always huge. From the time the bands take the field and face off against one another an hour before gametime all the way to the final gun, this game is emotional for all parties involved. Which team settles down first and harnesses that emotion will be the one who gets the early edge.

EJ Manuel has to have a career-game today, not from a numbers standpoint but in terms of the leadership he offers. Outside of Rodney Smith and Lonnie Pryor, there's a lot of youth around EJ Manuel and he's going to need to make sure those guys are keeping their heads on level and staying in the moment. Florida's defense is going to send plenty of pressure, if EJ can keep a cool head, make his reads and get the ball out quickly then Florida State should find its typical Doak-based offensive rhythm. But it's going to be up to Manuel to keep their emotions in check, or else mistakes can (and will) happen.

On the other side of the ball, Florida State has a very experienced defense that should be poised to play in this kind of atmosphere. FSU's defense hasn't missed a game all season (unlike the offense), they should come out amped up and ready to play. But just like with the offense, guys like Karlos Williams, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith will need to dial it back and stay within themselves emotionally. All three are just a little over-excitement from a late hit and that's what FSU cannot afford today.

The team that keeps its head will have the edge...

Special Teams

If there's one phase of the game that Florida State could give things away in, it's special teams. Specifically in the punting phase. While FSU can ill-afford any special teams mistakes today, a shanked kickoff or a hold on a return wouldn't be nearly as detrimental as a miscue in the punting game.

Florida has snuck by with wins this year thanks to their special teams. If they have to line up on offense and outscore FSU the traditional way, I don't know if UF has the firepower. But if Florida State gives the Gators good field position and momentum with a punting miscue, that's all irrelevant.

UF is highly opportunistic, they'll take advantage of mistakes and penalties and Florida State has proven they'll make them.

This season FSU has let a couple punts get blocked and both Rashad Greene and Tyler Hunter have muffed returns. That absolutely cannot happen today and unfortunately for the Seminoles, that probably means sacraficing one of their most potent weapons– the return game. 

Unless the coverage team parts like the Red Sea, FSU needs to focus on fielding punts cleanly today (and not get caught looking downfield to set up the return). While it's true that anytime one of the Seminole returnmen touches the ball they could house it, there's about the same degree of probability they mishandle fielding the punt. You can play those odds against Wake Forest and BC, I wouldn't roll the dice with Florida...

I'll be back in a few hours with the pregame post...


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