Commentary

Florida has tough matchup in Noles

Gators can't afford mistakes, penalties or turnovers against FSU's defense

Updated: November 25, 2011, 10:34 PM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There isn't much riding on Saturday night's Florida-Florida State game at Florida Field.

Not nationally, anyway.

This is the first time both teams are unranked heading into the game since 1986. The teams are a combined 13-9, which is the worst mark the teams have had since they came into the 1986 game a combined 11-8-1.

But it's still a rivalry game, which means there are some things at stake, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The players grew up competing with and against each other, so there's bragging rights for a year. Many are life-long UF or FSU fans, including some who signed with the school they used to hate. And there's the fact that a victory would take away some of the sting of a disappointing season.

"For us, it's always a big game. We always treat it like we're both undefeated teams," UF quarterback John Brantley said. "We're going to give them our best shot. They're going to give us their best shot.

"Having a win over FSU no matter what your record is, that's always huge."

Here's a preview of Saturday's matchup:

The storyline
Florida needs a victory to avoid its first non-winning regular season since 1979. The Gators are going to have to find some way to move the ball and score points against a Florida State defense that is giving up just 15.9 points, 84.4 yards rushing and 282.8 total yards per game. The Seminoles rank in the top seven nationally in those categories. Florida's offense hasn't scored more than 26 points against a Football Bowl Subdivision team since putting up 48 against Kentucky on Sept. 24. However, Brantley is coming off a career day (329 yards, four TDs) against Furman and receiver Andre Debose is emerging as one of the few weapons the Gators have at receiver.

On the spot
Florida's offensive line gave up 21 sacks in eight Southeastern Conference games, and FSU is a bad matchup. The Noles are sixth in the nation in sacks per game (3.09), led by defensive ends Brandon Jenkins (7.0 sacks) and Bjoern Werner (6.0). Florida should get guard/center Dan Wenger (ankle) and tackles Xavier Nixon (tackle) and Chaz Green (ankle) back this week. Green has missed the last four games since getting hurt against Auburn. His return would give the Gators their best chance of at least limiting the damage Werner could cause.

Greg Reid
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesFlorida State cornerback Greg Reid may not have an interception this season, but he'll draw Florida's best receiver on Saturday.
Matchup to watch
Florida WR Andre Debose vs. FSU CB Greg Reid: Debose, who has 15 catches for 423 yards and four touchdowns, is Florida's only deep threat and is the only receiver who has shown he is capable of making a play on the ball. He caught two long touchdown passes last week by simply out-fighting Furman cornerbacks for the ball. Reid doesn't have an interception this season, but he has broken up four passes. He has very good ball skills, so it'll be a good battle.

Gators win if ...
The offensive line plays its best football of the season and the Gators don't turn the ball over or go penalty-happy. It's not going to be easy to move the ball against Florida State, so UF can't afford any mistakes.

Gators lose if ...
They don't find a way to keep FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel from hurting them with his feet. They had trouble with South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw for a half, but Manuel is a much more dangerous runner.

Stats
Florida hasn't allowed a Florida State running back to rush for more than 65 yards since 2002, when Leon Washington gained 134 yards in FSU's 31-14 victory in Tallahassee. ... Florida's third-down conversion percentage of 32.6 ranks 111th out of 120 FBS teams. ... FSU has had five touchdown passes of at least 50 yards this season. That's as many as the Seminoles had in the previous five seasons.

Intangible
Florida State can win its second consecutive unofficial state championship by beating Florida. The Seminoles beat Miami earlier this season. The last time FSU won back-to-back unofficial state titles was 1998-99.

Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at espndirocco@gmail.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter