Florida (8-3) vs. Florida State (5-6) Game Preview
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When Florida State hired coach Willie Taggart in December 2017, FSU’s rising seniors had decisions to make.
They could leave early and get a jump on their professional careers.
They could transfer to another school, one that they felt better suited their skill sets.
Or they could stay at Florida State and lay a new foundation with their new coaching staff, despite having only one year of eligibility remaining.
Some chose the first two options. The 17 that stayed will be honored Saturday in a ceremony before FSU’s regular-season finale against No. 13 Florida.
“I appreciate them all,” Taggart said. “Because they bought into the things we asked them to do.
“They didn’t ask for the change. They didn’t ask for any of those things. But they bought into what I’ve asked (them) to do and really helped me and our staff.”
That’s not to say it’s always been easy.
When FSU’s fifth-year seniors arrived in 2014, the Seminoles were just months removed from a national title, had a returning Heisman Trophy winner under center and had future NFL draft picks up and down the roster.
Maintained success and future championships seemed all but certain.
And make no mistake, there were bright spots. The fifth-year seniors were part of a 2014 ACC title and appearance in the College Football Playoff. The group that joined a year later contributed to back-to-back 10-win seasons and appearances in the Peach and Orange Bowls.
But there were also difficult stretches. Ones that led to Taggart’s hiring, and others that took place as he went about renovating the program.
Which is part of why Saturday’s game against Florida is so important. More important than usual, anyway.
A win would give the seniors a victory in their final home game, an undefeated record against the Gators and a 37th-consecutive bowl appearance for the program.
A loss would mean the end of their collegiate careers by about 3:30 p.m.
“It’s crazy,” said center Alec Eberle, a fifth-year senior. “I love this place. Everybody knows that. Definitely want to go out of here with a bang. Continue the bowl streak, continue the beating-Florida streak.
“It means a lot to me. It means a lot to my family. It just means a lot to this team.”
It means a lot to the coaches, too.
While this staff hasn’t known its seniors for years (there are, however, some preexisting relationships from recruiting), the Seminoles said this week that their new coaches offered the same level of commitment and buy-in that they asked for in return.
That, of course, applied on the field, where there are nine seniors on the most recent two-deep.
But it also extends beyond the field, to things like community outreach programs, professional development seminars and increased academic accountability.
Making that type of commitment to underclassmen who will be in the program for years to come is one thing. Making it to players who will only be around for one more season is something else.
And Florida State’s seniors took notice.
“A lot of times, when new coaches come to a school, they kind of overlook the seniors,” Eberle said. “These coaches didn’t do that at all. They took us in completely.”
“They gave all of us opportunities to be successful, especially off the field,” senior running back Jacques Patrick sad. “That’s what they really did for the seniors – they gave the seniors a position to be successful after football. Not everybody is going to go to the NFL, obviously, so they set a lot of guys up with different events and stuff to be successful after football.”
Still, “after football” can wait for at least one more afternoon and, if the Seminoles have their way against the Gators, it can wait another month.
Until then, Florida State’s seniors still have plenty left to do.
With impacts that will be felt both this weekend and in years to come.
“I will forever be in debt to them,” Taggart said, “for helping us set the foundation for what we want this program to be.”
Odds & Ends
- Florida leads the all-time series, 34-26-2. FSU however, has won five straight and seven of the last eight. And since coach Bobby Bowden took over in 1976, the Seminoles are 24-19-1 against UF.
- FSU and Florida are meeting with first-year head coaches for the first time since 1960, when Ray Graves’ Gators beat Bill Peterson’s Seminoles, 3-0, in Gainesville.
- Florida State on Saturday will honor 17 seniors before their final home game. They are: DT Walvenski Aimé, OL Andrew Basham, LS Ken Burnham, DT Demarcus Christmas, DB Array Culmer, OL Alec Eberle, DT Fredrick Jones, OL Derrick Kelly II, DB John Moschella III, WR Nyqwan Murray, RB Jacques Patrick, DB Izaiah Prouse-Lackey, DT Darvin Taylor II, DT Adam Torres, TE Johnathan Vickers, DB A.J. Westbrook and OL Arthur Williams.
- FSU has won 15 consecutive non-conference home games, a streak which dates back to their last loss to Florida, in 2012.
- Florida is one of three teams in the country to have won eight games after losing at least six games a year ago. (Syracuse and Pittsburgh are the others.)
- The Seminoles this season have won three games in which they trailed by at least 10 points. The Gators have won two games this season in which they trailed by at least 17 points (Vanderbilt, South Carolina).
Head coach Willie Taggart
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell
Quarterback Deondre Francois
One Reason Why Florida Will Win
Is Feleipe Franks good now?
The much-maligned Gator quarterback wasn’t consistent and couldn’t get the offense going in losses to Georgia and Missouri, and it looked like there was a disaster looming against South Carolina.
Franks helped lead the comeback, the Gators won 35-31, and he finished the game completing 71% of his passes and ran for two scores. Against Idaho, he got to sharpen up even more with a good 70% day with three scores and a rushing touchdown.
The Gator offensive line has been excellent – it leads the SEC in the fewest tackles for loss allowed – and the running game that was able to rip off 389 yards against South Carolina, and is averaging more than five yards per carry, should be able to pound away, and then if Franks is good … the O won’t have a problem.
One Reason Why Florida State Will Win
The Seminole secondary was able to come up with four interceptions over the last two games. It might be having its issues overall, but it’ll come up with a few big picks here and there. To win this game, though, FSU needs its offense to go off.
Deondre Francois is balling.
He missed the NC State game, and his accuracy isn’t there – he has missed more than half of his passes over the the last three games – but he’s putting up yards.
When he comes up with over 300 yards, Florida State is 4-0, including the 322-yard day in the thriller over Boston College last week. To get FSU bowl eligible, he has to start throwing, and keep bombing.
The Gator secondary is loaded with talent, but it gave up more than 200 yards and ten touchdowns in the four games before the blowout over Idaho.
What’s Going To Happen
Florida isn’t going to give up 300 passing yards.
FSU will play at another level in the rivalry game and with the bowl eligibility streak on the line, and the Florida defense will come up with a strong performance on road.
It’ll be a fun fight and look for another miraculous drive at the end for the Noles to pull off the upset and keep their bowl streak alive.
Our Fearless Prediction & Line
Florida State 31, Florida 27
Line: Florida -5, o/u: 53
Date: Saturday, November 24
Game Time: 12:00 ET
Venue: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, FL