Florida State’s football team stands on the verge of sweeping both in-state rivals for the first time in five years if it can secure a win over the Florida Gators on Saturday at noon in Gainesville.
If the Seminoles (5-6) can get the job done, they will earn a bowl berth for the first time under coach Mike Norvell and keep alive their hopes of ending a three-year streak of losing seasons.
The Gators (5-6) are also playing for a bowl berth and undergoing major changes to their program having fired coach Dan Mullen this week after four seasons. How will Florida respond with interim coach Greg Knox at the helm?
FSU has won back-to-back games and is 2-2 on the road this season. The Seminoles have won five of their past seven games while the Gators have lost five of their past seven.
FSU-UF breakdown: Who has the edge? A breakdown of Florida State football vs. Florida
Here’s a look at three keys for FSU to end its regular season on a high note and send their biggest rival home early.
1. Bring the pressure as usual
Florida State’s best performances have stemmed from its running game on offense and its defensive line establishing pressure consistently. With Florida expected to start freshman quarterback Anthony Richardson in place of injured starter Emory Jones, it’s even more imperative for the Seminoles’ front to find its way into the backfield and disrupt Florida’s offensive rhythm.
Richardson, like Jones, presents a dangerous dual-threat quarterback option who can make plays to set up a potent running game. The speed and pursuit ability of Jermaine Johnson, who has had an All-American caliber season with 10.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss, and Keir Thomas (6.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss) on the opposite end of the line could prove crucial once again.
Richardson’s inexperience has made him mistake prone as he has five interceptions on only 57 attempts. Getting pressure on him early could prompt opportunities for turnovers for a Seminoles’ squad with 11 interceptions this season.
2. Big plays early, but stronger finish
After it wasn’t the case for most of the season, the Seminoles’ early offensive scripts the past two games have produced some of their best results of the season. FSU jumped out to a 17-0 lead against Miami and led Boston College 26-3 early in the second half.
But while starting fast helps, the Seminoles need to limit penalties and mistakes which allowed both teams to come back from big deficits and nearly turn victories into defeats.
Florida State has either finished even or won the turnover battle in each of its past six games and is plus-7 over that span – a trend that must continue against a turnover prone Florida team, which is minus-8 for the season (ranked 114th nationally.).
3. Solid linebacker play
FSU’s young linebackers, Kalen DeLoach and DJ Lundy in particular, have been a big reason for their defense’s improved play in recent weeks. While most of the credit has deservedly gone to an aggressive line making plays, Seminoles’ linebackers have shown more disciplined play, improved tackling and have made the clutch stops necessary to propel FSU to its key victories.
In a game where FSU will have to account for Florida’s deep rushing attack and a quarterback which can make big plays on the ground and in the passing game, it’s vital this trend continue for this unit of the Seminoles defense.
FSU’s run defense ranks 38th in the nation, allowing 3.7 rushing yards per attempt and in the upper half (58th) in rushing yards per game allowed (145.1).
Reach Andre Fernandez at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @FernandezAndreC.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: 3 keys: A look at what the FSU Seminoles must do to beat Florida