GAINESVILLE, Fla. – It's a pretty simple story at the Florida/FSU game this year: Are the Gators as bad as they seem? Is FSU worthy of a shot at the National Championship? As usual, the answers fall somewhere between yes and no on both counts.
In front of a big home crowd, (90,454) Florida played a spirited first half against the ‘Noles, making some stops on defense and making Jameis Winston look ordinary. But on a couple of occasions, Winston looked extraordinary, firing passes for long 3rddown completions and TD's that added up to a 17-0 score at halftime.
While Florida's defense still has some bite, FSU's explosive play potential can be demoralizing because it can happen anywhere on the field. Winston is good, no question, but with three receivers, a tight end and a couple of backs to throw it to, he has a lot of options. He's pretty comfortable in the pocket as he surveys the field and is bigger than most opponents expect until they actually confront him face-to-face. He's had so much success and has put up such gaudy numbers that when things aren't going right you have to remind yourself that he's just a redshirt freshman. He is a little anxious for the big play but after all of the success he's had, that's understandable.
FSU is also big up front, with four juniors and a senior starting on the O-line. If they chose to just pound away at their opponents, no doubt they could wear opponents down and win games that way as well. It seemed as if they realized that about halfway through the first quarter, running the football at the Gators and taking some sting out of the Florida defensive charge.
Florida's problem is getting anything done on offense. Besides underestimating what having Jeff Driskelmeant at quarterback, the Gators offensive philosophy has plays that are slow to develop. No match for the ‘Noles speed on defense.
And that's the dilemma they'll face going forward.
Bringing Brent Pease in from Boise State came with great expectations of a "spread" offense that came at a defense from all kinds of directions. Instead, it's been an attempt at a plodding, power game that hasn't materialized. Did Will Muschamp overrule what Pease wanted to do? I guess we'll never know that.
If there's an advantage in the state of Florida when it comes to recruitinghome-grown players, speed is the difference between the Sunshine State and everywhere else. And for two decades, the Gators took advantage of that resource and won big. Now, the emphasis seems to be on time management and ball control over blinding speed. If you're a 5-star recruit as a QB, WR or RB are you going to go to Gainesville these days? Heck no. FSU, Miami and a half dozen other schools are throwing it around and look like they're having fun. Muschamp is going to have to decide whether he's willing to cede the control of the offense to somebody else and open it up, or continue to try and win low-scoring, defense-dominated games.
Against Florida State this year, that didn't get it done leaving the ‘Noles just one win away from a berth in the National Championship game and the Gators pondering a very uncertain future.