Florida Gators Football: Five Keys To Defeating Florida State Seminoles

The Florida Gators will continue the road trip from hell on Saturday, November 26. What must Florida do to defeat the Florida State Seminoles?


Nov 28, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) stops Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) on the one yard line during the second quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators are in the midst of the most challenging stretch that any team may face this season. It started with a road game against the LSU Tigers, will continue against the Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee, and will conclude with a game against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Before the Gators can think ahead to playing Alabama in Atlanta, Georgia, however, they must first get past an in-state rival.

Florida and Florida State will do battle in a game with significant long-term ramifications. The clash between the state’s most consistent programs will impact the recruiting trails, as well as the in-season hopes and aspirations.

For the Gators, that includes an outside chance at appearing in the College Football Playoff—a possibility that still exists.

If Florida manages to win out, it will have defeated LSU and Florida State in consecutive road games. It’d also have a massive upset of the Crimson Tide on its resume and the SEC Conference Championship.

Before the Gators can think about the SEC Championship Game and the impact of it, however, it has one of the best teams in the country remaining on the schedule: Florida State.

How can Jim McElwain outwit Jimbo Fisher?

Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Austin Appleby (12) sets the play against the LSU Tigers during the first quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

5. Austin Appleby

Austin Appleby has done an excellent job of taking care of the ball and limiting himself to the throws he knows he can make. One would like to see more diversity in Florida’s offense, but he’s done an admirable job to date.

Against Deondre Francois, Dalvin Cook, and the Florida State Seminoles’ explosive offense, being average won’t suffice.

Appleby threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns against the Tennessee Volunteers, which may be close to what Florida needs. The running backs will help alleviate pressure, but it’s Appleby who must be able to make the big throws.

Whether it’s a deep ball to go for six or an intermediate throw to keep the chains in motion, but Appleby must be able to go over the top of Florida State’s defense.

Florida State is No. 73 in the country at 232.9 passing yards allowed per game and No. 67 at 17 passing touchdowns allowed. It also has 14 interceptions, which is more than all but 14 teams have amassed in 2016.

The Seminoles have a number of ball hawks who are ready to make Appleby pay for any mistakes or mishaps. The test is massive, but Appleby must pass it.

Oct 8, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois (12) throws a pass during the first half against the Miami Hurricanes during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

4. Take Away The Deep Ball

Deondre Francois is on the right path to becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the country. The Florida State Seminoles freshman has amassed 2,990 passing yards and 17 touchdowns to just five interceptions during the 2016 season.

Though there are some areas of his game that are still a work in progress, there’s one phase in which Francois is already bordering on elite: the deep ball.

Francois has completed at least one throw for 30-plus yards in nine of Florida State’s first 11 games. He has at least one throw of 20-plus yards in all 11 games and has completions of 40, 41, 58, and 59 yards.

With one game above 400 passing yards and five above 300, Francois knows how to use the deep ball to his advantage.

Francois’ ability to spread the field vertically helps prevent teams from stacking the box against Dalvin Cook. Six different receivers have at least 300 receiving yards, including Travis Rudolph at 49 receptions for 744 yards and six touchdowns—15.2 yards per reception.

Throw in Auden Tate—16.8 yards per receptions and six touchdowns—and Florida is going to have a tough time committing all of its resources to stopping Cook.

Preventing the deep ball will be vital.

Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Florida Gators running back Jordan Scarlett (25) runs past LSU Tigers defensive end Lewis Neal (92) during the first quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

3. Establish The Run

The Florida State Seminoles have done a solid job of defending the run during the 2016 college football season. It’s No. 39 in the country at 3.9 yards allowed per carry and No. 37 in rushing yards allowed per game at 137.9.

With question marks understandably surrounding starting quarterback Austin Appleby, the Florida Gators must establish the run.

Jordan Scarlett has become a force to be reckoned with over the past five games. He was a non-factor against the Arkansas Razorbacks, but ran for ran for at least 90 yards against the Missouri Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, South Carolina Gamecocks, and LSU Tigers.

That includes his marks of 101 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries against Missouri, 134 yards on 20 carries against South Carolina, and 108 yards on 22 carries at LSU.

During the 16-10 victory over LSU, Scarlett consistently came up with the big play in clutch situations. He converted on third and fourth down, refused to be tackled on first contact, and helped drive the Gators down into the Tigers’ red zone.

If Scarlett and Lamical Perine can run and produce with the same passion and vigor against Florida State, the Gators’ offense can flourish.

Oct 29, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Florida Gators running back Lamical Perine (22) runs with the ball as Georgia Bulldogs safety Quincy Mauger (20) attempted to defend during the second half at EverBank Field. Florida Gators defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2. Win Third Down

The Florida State Seminoles have suffered three losses during the 2016 college football season. One of the common themes in all three of their losses was the Seminoles’ inability to consistently stop the opposition on third down.

The Florida Gators have been erratic on the offensive end of the ball, but they’ll need to step up on third down in Tallahassee.

During Florida State’s 37-35 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels, UNC was 9-of-13 on third downs. In the other two losses, the Clemson Tigers went 7-of-17 and the Louisville Cardinals were 5-of-10 in third down situations.

During those three games, the Seminoles went 4-of-13, 4-of-12, and 2-of-13 on third downs—a telling set of statistics.

The way to beat Florida State is in line with the way to beat most teams: stop them on third down and convert when it’s your turn to do so. Florida will need to do exactly that in Tallahassee, which may be tough considering it went 4-of-13 on third downs against LSU.

If the Gators can move the chains and keep its own defense on the sidelines, then victory will be a realistically attainable goal.

Nov 19, 2016; Syracuse, NY, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) carries the ball during the first quarter of a game against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

1. Contain Dalvin Cook

One week after going to war with Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice, the Florida Gators will face Dalvin Cook. There aren’t many back-to-back battles with running backs worse than what Florida is about to endure, if any.

For those who are somehow unfamiliar, Cook is the most productive running back in Florida State history—and he’s only getting better.

Cook has run for 1,467 yards and 17 touchdowns, and caught 27 receptions for 400 yards and a touchdown in 2016. He’s amassed 4,166 rushing yards, 44 rushing touchdowns, 73 receptions, 847 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns during this three-year career.

With upwards of 5,000 total yards from scrimmage, it’s become abundantly clear that Cook is one of the greatest running backs in college football history.

Gators head coach Jim McElwain called Cook the most explosive player in college football, Ryan Young of SEC Country. That’s high praise from a coach who has gone up against the likes of Fournette, Guice, Ralph Webb, and Boom Williams in 2016.

For what it’s worth, Cook ran for 144 yards against Florida in 2014 and 183 yards and two touchdowns against the Gators in 2015.

If Florida is to stand at any chance at defeating the Seminoles in Tallahassee, then it must be able to contain Cook as it did Guice and Fournette.

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