Nov. 19, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- As the dust settles on Florida State's division-clinching win at Maryland and rivalry week comes into view, the magnitude of the challenge that FSU's offense faces against Florida at Doak Campbell Stadium Saturday is clear.
Despite their own shortcomings on the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Gators (10-1 overall and ranked No. 4 in the latest BCS standings) boast a defense itself that is ranked No. 4 in the nation with just 281 yards surrendered per ballgame. To put that number into perspective, FSU (also 10-1 overall, No. 10 in the BCS standings and headed to next week's ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C.) has faced 11 teams this season that currently rank Nos. 118, 110, 87, 69, 73, 83, 104, 112, 95, 33 and 15 in total defense.
While the 'Noles had no trouble dismantling and dispatching the opponent with that 15th-ranked defense last weekend, there is no comparison between the Terrapins' defense and the one FSU will see from UF this Saturday.
"Scheme-wise they do a great job and physically they are big, they're strong, they're athletic, they can cover, rush [and] play the run extremely well," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said Monday at his weekly press conference. "Great linebackers, great front guys. By far I would say [they are the best FSU has seen]. They are a really good defense."
Florida State, of course, will be the best defense that UF has seen all season, too.
In fact, the similarities between the state's two premier programs on the defensive side of the ball are striking. FSU is No. 1 in total defense while Florida is No. 4. The 'Noles are No. 1 in rush defense while the Gators are No. 6. UF is No. 1 pass efficiency defense and FSU is No. 3. Scoring-defense has the Gators at No. 3 and the 'Noles at No. 5.
FSU has Bjoern Werner, Cornellius Carradine, Christian Jones, Xavier Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner and many more. UF has Dominique Easley, Shariff Floyd, Josh Evans, Jon Bostic and Matt Elam and many more, too. The similarities go on and on.
"They both have dominating fronts; guys that control the line of scrimmage," Fisher said. "You go into all your great defenses, when you look at them they are dominating up front. The front guys are dominant. They've got linebackers that are long, athletic, can run, can cover and able to play man, able to play zone, mix coverages, safeties ... Elam is a great football player. Instinctive, very physical, plays the ball well. The corners ... they've got three or four guys back there."
The tall task of matching up against a defense the caliber of which you haven't seen through 11 games of the season can't be overstated. But those similarities can also be advantageous.
FSU quarterback EJ Manuel and the potent FSU offense has to match wits against the nation's best defense every day at practice. The game against the Gators will be much more pressure-packed and in front of the nation rather than a closed practice but there are benefits from the daily battles.
"It's definitely prepared me for Saturdays, not just me but my teammates," Manuel said. "The offensive line, they've gotten better [and] gotten stronger from it. You're going against the best d-line in the country or one of them so I think that's the best preparation we can get."
Manuel is hoping that his daily duels with Mark Stoops' defense will help the FSU offense perform better than it did a year ago in Gainesville.
In a 21-7 victory at The Swamp, FSU managed just seven first downs and 95 total yards. Florida has serious offensive issues this year (the Gators rank No. 104 in the nation in total yards in 2012) but that doesn't mean the 'Noles would feel comfortable gaining less than 100 yards for the second year in a row.
"I haven't forgotten about that," Manuel said. "I have to go out there and do my job throwing the ball, being aggressive [and] running the ball when it's there ... our defense did a great job, a tremendous job of getting turnovers, getting stops and things like that to put us in good field position where we could just run the ball into the endzone.
"But this year we want to take it in our own hands and allow us to have a good game on defense too but we want to do our part as an offense as well."