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Sunshine State rivalry pits Seminoles against Gators

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Updated: 11/27/2013 10:46 am

Gainesville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The second-ranked Florida State Seminoles seek regular-season perfection as they take on the Florida Gators in a Sunshine State showdown at the Swamp this weekend.

Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles have navigated their 2013 schedule unscathed to this point at 11-0 and have steam-rolled the competition for the most part. FSU kept that theme going last weekend in a record-setting performance against Idaho in an 80-14 romp. Florida State has already secured a spot in the Dec. 7 ACC Championship Game in Charlotte and with two more wins will secure much more, one of the two coveted spots in the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena on Jan. 6.

Standing in the Seminoles' way this week is a Florida team in desperate need of a statement victory to not only send the Gators into the offseason on a high note, but to also quiet a growing sentiment that head coach Will Muschamp's time in Gainesville is coming to an end. At 4-7 overall and just 3-5 in the SEC, Florida has languished this year in mediocrity. Things may have hit rock-bottom last week with a stunning 26-20 loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, the latest of six straight setbacks for the Gators.

Despite Florida losing to an FCS foe last week, Fisher is quick to point out that it won't change how FSU prepares for this rivalry.

"It's about us. We need to go play well. That's all we can control. I say that, that's all we can control is how we prepare and how we play and that's got to be our focus."

This marks the 58th all-time meeting between these two state rivals. Florida holds a 35-21-2 series advantage and is 20-9-1 in games played in Gainesville.

The offensive numbers are impressive for FSU this season with the team ranking second nationally in scoring (55.2 ppg) and sixth in total offense (532.5 ypg). With a talented offensive depth chart, slowing down the 'Noles has proved impossible. An offensive line chock-full of All-American talent throughout can certainly take a lot of the credit.

Despite a cloud looming over redshirt freshman Jameis Winston's future -- in the hear and now -- there isn't anyone in the country playing the quarterback position better.

Winston is on the short list of Heisman contenders, having completed just under 70 percent of his passes on the year, for 3,163 yards, with 32 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

A stable of quality receivers are at Winston's disposal down the field, headlined by wideouts Rashad Greene (57 catches, 889 yards, 9 TDs) and Kelvin Benjamin (36 catches, 626 yards, 9 TDs) and tight end Nick O'Leary (27 catches, 457 yards, 7 TDs).

The backfield is equally stocked with Devonta Freeman (808 yards, 11 TDs), Karlos Williams (636 yards, 10 TDs) and James Wilder Jr. (454 yards, 8 TDs) all contributing to the team's 211.6 yards rushing per game.

FSU is the only team in the country that ranks in the top five nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Seminoles are second in the nation in both scoring defense (11.4 ppg) and pass defense (156.5 ypg) and fifth in total defense (278.1 ypg). Big plays are the norm in Tallahassee this year, with 30 sacks and 29 takeaways, including an FBS best 23 interceptions.

Playmakers abound on the FSU defense, headlined by linebacker Telvin Smith (team-high 54 tackles, 7.5 TFL, two INTs, one fumble recovery) and star cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (55 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, one INT and three forced fumbles).

Keeping quarterbacks vertical has been quite the challenge in Gainesville this season. The team lost Jeff Driskel early on, and then recently lost Trent Murphy. That leaves the signal calling duties to redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg, who hasn't exactly flourished in the last two games. He has completed 63.2 percent of his passes, but has only thrown for 229 yards and two scores.

Compounding the problem for the Florida offense is a lack of game-changers at the skill positions. No one has stood up to carry the offensive load, whether it be in the backfield or on the outside. Florida ranks an unbelievable 110th nationally in scoring (19.9 ppg), doing so on a mere 327.9 yards per game (111th nationally).

Senior wideout Solomon Patton caught two TD passes last week against Georgia Southern and leads the team in several receiving categories (39 catches, 554 yards, 6 TDs).

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease has taken criticism in stride.

"Sometimes in a year like this, when you're in this kind of situation, you've got to do the best you can and continue to grow and get better and understand what you can't do," Pease said. "The thing you never want to do is look into a finger-pointing situation, and I don't look at it that way. I still always look at it as we're a staff, we're a team. If it's coming my way, then it's coming my way. You've just got to kind of take the blows."

Although it hasn't really helped in the win/loss column, Florida's defensive numbers tell a much different tale. The Gators rank 16th nationally in scoring defense (19.6 ppg), third in pass defense (157.7 ypg) and seventh in total defense (301.4 ypg).

The real problem has been a lack of big plays, with UF only recording 17 sacks and 17 takeaways on the year. Junior linebacker Mike Taylor paces the squad in total tackles (62) and fumble recoveries (3). Sophomore Dante Fowler Jr. (47 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks) and junior Robert Powell (24 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) are the most active defenders up the field. Pro prospect Loucheiz Purifoy (2 tackles, two sacks, one INT) has had a quiet season in the UF secondary.

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