Florida tries to salvage season against No. 2 FSU
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)
After all the injuries, the program's longest losing streak in 34 years, the shocker against lower-division Georgia Southern and the disappointment of missing a bowl, woeful Florida has a chance to salvage one gratifying memory from an otherwise forgettable season.
It's a very, very slim chance, according to odds-makers.
The Gators (4-7) are four-touchdown underdogs heading into Saturday's annual rivalry game against second-ranked Florida State (11-0).
The Seminoles, meanwhile, can move on step closer to the Bowl Championship Series national title game with a victory.
''It's hard to believe the gap is so huge between us two,'' Gators guard Jon Halapio said.
Just a year ago, Florida ran roughshod over FSU, pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 37-26 victory in Tallahassee that propelled the Gators into the Sugar Bowl.
Coach Will Muschamp's team has dropped eight of 12 games since.
The Seminoles haven't lost since, reeling off 13 in a row.
''It's something that has driven us this whole season, something that we fed off of going into the summer,'' FSU linebacker Telvin Smith said. ''We've been using it as drive, but we've got to understand this is a new team and we've got our own purpose, our own life to live.
''At the same time, a lot of us players were on that field. We feel that pain. We definitely are going to tote that with us, but we're not going to shape this game around'' that.
Florida has been decimated by injuries, losing quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones, receiver Andre Debose, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, three offensive tackles and several others for the season. Backup quarterback Tyler Murphy also missed the last two games because of a sprained throwing shoulder, leaving third-stringer Skyler Mornhinweg to start.
With Mornhinweg under center, the Gators were mostly one-dimensional against South Carolina and Georgia Southern. Still, Florida was in both games.
That might not be the case against the Seminoles, who rank second in the nation in scoring offense (55.2 points a game) and scoring defense (11.4 points).
With Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston at quarterback, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. in the backfield and a number of talents targets on the outside, the Seminoles have scored at least 50 points seven times in 2013. Throw in a defense that has found the end zone eight times, and it's no wonder FSU hasn't really played a close game.
Still, the Gators believe anything can happen, especially at home and in a rivalry game.
''This is the season for us. This is our bowl game,'' Florida offensive lineman Kyle Koehne said. ''This is our big game of the year. We want to end it on a good note.''
Here are five things to know about Florida State and Florida heading into Saturday's game.
KEY MATCHUP: Florida State receivers Rashad Green, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin have been a big reason for Winston's success this season. They have combined to catch 140 passes for 2,343 yards and 23 touchdowns. They could face their toughest test, though, going against Florida's talented cornerback trio of Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Vernon Hargreaves III. ''Where we do have the upper hand is that we go against a better defense every day,'' Shaw said. ''I like the challenge.''
MORE INJURIES: As if Florida's injury list wasn't long enough, the Gators will be without two more linebackers against FSU. Mike Taylor (knee) and Alex Anzalone (shoulder) will miss the season finale after sustaining injuries against Georgia Southern. Antonio Morrison and Matt Rolin already are out for the season. The injuries thrust freshman Jarrad Davis and Neiron Ball into the starting lineup and leave Florida with just two healthy backups, one of them being walk-on David Campbell.
MARGIN WATCH: Florida State's most lopsided win in the series came in 1988, a 52-17 drubbing in Tallahassee. The Seminoles have since notched three wins over Florida by at least 20 points - 1992, 2000 and 2010.
FAREWELL? Offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis could be coaching their final game at Florida. Although Muschamp has made no announcement about their future, he has hinted that offensive changes are coming. Pease and Davis seem like obvious choices since the offense ranks 111th in the country and the line has been the team's biggest disappointment.
SENIOR DAY: Florida will honor 17 seniors before its finale. The list includes Easley, Halapio, Koehne, center Jon Harrison, receiver Solomon Patton, safety Jaylen Watkins and receiver Trey Burton. ''It's bittersweet for everybody and you don't ever want it to come,'' Burton said. ''I'm going to try not to cry.''