The Florida State Seminoles dominated their rivalry weekend showdown and capped its season on a high note with a 31-13 demolition of the Florida Gators on Saturday night.
The No. 14 Seminoles (9-3) sent out their seniors with a career sweep of their top rivals, beating Florida and Miami in each of the last four seasons. It wasn’t just a rivalry win for Jimbo Fisher’s squad either—with Louisville’s upset loss to Kentucky, it opened the door for Florida State to be invited to a New Year’s Six bowl game.
The Gators (8-3) limped into the game after an emotional and division-clinching win over LSU, and they looked gassed mentally and physically.
Here’s how each team graded out from Saturday’s action.
Florida’s offense came out and knocked the Seminoles defense off balance with a nice blend of running and passing plays, advancing the ball 73 yards to the 2-yard line. But after the Gators failed to punch it in on fourth down, they struggled through the same issues that have plagued the unit all season.
Three of their next four drives netted minus-10 yards, with the lone brightspot a 16-play, 54-yard drive that ended with their only points of the first half—a 38-yard field goal from Eddy Pineiro.
The second half didn’t yield better results, as the Gators gained just 83 yards after the break (and 207 for the entire game). Quarterback Austin Appleby completed just 19 of 35 passes for 149 yards, and runnning back Jordan Scarlett gained just 53 yards on 14 carries.
For the second consecutive year against the Seminoles, Florida didn’t score an offensive touchdown.
Florida State’s offense came into the game red hot after back-to-back 45-point performances against Boston College and Syracuse. The Seminoles had unleashed Dalvin Cook and averaged 535 total yards in routs of the Eagles and the Orange.
But that momentum was halted by a stingy Florida defense.
Cook got loose on a number of runs in the first quarter, gaining 89 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, but he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry in the final three quarters. Deondre Francois had one of his worst days throwing the ball, completing 15 of 26 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown (against one interception).
The Seminoles quarterback did make a number of big plays on the ground, running for 63 yards, and his late touchdown sealed the win for the Seminoles.
Florida’s beat-up defense looked tired and overmatched in the first quarter, when Cook marched his way for 89 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. But the unit settled down after Florida State extended its lead to 10 early in the second quarter, making things hard for Cook and Francois.
The Seminoles went into the break with just 162 yards of total offense.
The secondary did an excellent job of limiting Francois and snagged an interception in the third quarter that gave the Gators a swing of momentum, but a 46-yard touchdown dart to Travis Rudolph completely derailed Florida’s upset bid.
The unit did all it could, forcing two turnovers and three punts, but it got no help from the offense.
Florida’s offense came into the matchup as one of the worst in the country, ranking 103rd in yards gained and 89th in points scored. And after a physical matchup with LSU’s elite defense last week, it entered the game against Florida State with little in the tank.
The Seminoles were all over the Florida attack from the outset. After a few big plays set the Gators up inside the red zone on their first possession, DeMarcus Walker, Josh Sweat and Co. stiffened.
Florida State’s defense allowed just 207 total yards and turned the Gators away on all 12 of their third-down conversions. Walker and Sweat led the charge up front and helped register an incredible six sacks and nine tackles for loss.
With an appearance in the SEC Championship Game already in the bag, Jim McElwain approached this rivalry with reckless abandon.
It started right out of the gate, when a long drive stalled at Florida State’s 2-yard line to open the game. Instead of kicking the chip-shot field goal on fourth down, McElwain went for it—a decision that ultimately worked against the Gators.
That aggressiveness continued throughout the game. Down by 10 midway through the second, McElwain went for it twice on fourth down, converting both times, in a drive that ultimately ended with a field goal.
In the end, these were the decisions made by a coaching staff that knew it was outmanned. The injury-plagued Gators were on the road just a week removed from an emotionally draining win over another rival in LSU. It was a valiant effort, but it wasn’t enough.
Fisher’s brilliance against Florida continued on Saturday night when he improved to 6-1 against the Gators, and while this victory won’t launch his team into a national championship run, it proves he knows how to close.
Fisher knew he had the better team and didn’t overcomplicate his game plan. The Seminoles didn’t panic when the Gators defense adjusted to limit Cook’s production by putting the game in Francois’ young hands. They fed Cook and kept the ball away from Florida’s elite secondary, exposing the weakest part of Florida’s defense.
The Seminoles averaged 6.2 yards per carry and piled up 249 yards on the ground because Fisher knew that’s where his edge was.