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Florida’s offense, FSU’s defense face challenges in rivalry game

How in the world can Florida score enough points to beat FSU?

And how in the world can FSU play enough defense to beat Florida?

It’s the old movable object-resistible force debate. The poor Gators struggled mightily on offense — this is hardly fun nor a gun. The Seminoles play chase on defense.

So how can either team win?

You have to give credit to Gators’ coach Jim McElwain, who has found a way to win eight games with the nation’s 102nd ranked offense. Florida is 97th in American in running the ball and 81st in passing yards. Eighty-eight teams have scored more points.

But Florida’s defense (ranked fifth) has given the Gators wiggle-room. So far, Florida has won games with 13 points (Vandy), 16 points (LSU) and 20 points (South Carolina). LSU, for instance, outgained the Gators by 153 yards — but Florida found a way to win.

That will be the test again Saturday as the Gators try to slow running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Deondre Francois.

FSU has played better defense lately, possibly because the quarterbacks haven’t been the challenge that LaMar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubinsky, Brad Kaaya and Quinton Flowers were. Of course, Gators’ quarterback Austin Appleby doesn’t figure to pose a pass-them-silly challenge, either.

Like always, Florida will play defense, field position and wait for a break. It’s worked so far.

FSU will push the play a little more with its weapons, but ball control will be vital.

Game time Saturday is 8 p.m.

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FSU’s Dalvin Cook still should emulate ex-Nole Warrick Dunn

A little advice for Dalvin Cook.

When it comes to Warrick Dunn, perhaps he should keep chasing.

Cook surpassed Dunn’s school record at Florida State for rushing Saturday – shattered the record, he did – in a victory over Syracuse. It was even more impressive that it took him less than three seasons to break the marks that Dunn set in four. Cook now has 4,166 yards to Dunn’s 3,959 yards. (Cook has carried the ball 38 more times than Dunn did.

“Anyone who has seen me play knows I am competitive,” Dunn told the Tallahassee Democrat. “Honestly, I just think it’s the different eras. Of course, I am going to say I am the greatest, I am not going to deny that. But I like his style. I like the way he runs, how determined he is. He’s is so powerful. He’s a lot bigger than I am.

“He’s an exceptional talent and deserving of all the praise. To me, Dalvin’s the best running back in college football and he’s going to be a great pro.”

But there are other parts of Dunn that you wish that Cook would reach for.

For instance, Cook is a semifinalist this year for the Walter Camp Award, which symbolizes the best player in the country. Dunn, however, just won the Walter Camp “Man of the Year” award, an award, an award previously won by Roger Staubach (Navy), Gale Sayers (Kansas), Dick Butkus (Illinois), John Elway (Stanford) and Jerome Bettis (Notre Dame).

Then, there is Dunn’s charity work. Dunn just purchased his 150th home for single-parent families.

Of course, there is also his pro career. Playing for Tampa Bay and Atlanta, Dunn rushed for 10,967 yards in the NFL.

Of course, Cook hasn’t had that kind of time yet. But as far as career aspirations, Cook could do a lot worse as far as a role model.

“It has been 20 years, it’s time,” Dunn said. “It was a good run. It is surprising, shocking because there have been so many great runners at Florida State. Dalvin came at a good time in his career and he has been able to shatter all that.”

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FSU swarms Syracuse behind huge afternoon by Dalvin Cook

FSU running back Dalvin Cook appears intent on finishing out his junior season with style.

Cook rushed for 225 yards and four touchdowns Saturday in a 45-14 victory over Syracuse. FSU, ranked 17th in the nation, improved its record to 8-3.

Cook shattered Warrick Dunn’s school rushing record and became the fourth ACC player to rush for 4,000 yards. He was the first to do it in three seasons. It was the fourth time that Cook had rushed for more than 200 yards in a game.

For the year, Cook has 1,467 yards.

“To say you’re the leading rusher at a school that’s not a bad football school is pretty dad gum good,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “To be in the same sentence with some of the guys that have played here, it’s a great honor.

“But he definitely is deserving.”

The Seminoles jumped to a 14-0 lead on two touchdown passes by Deondre Francois, who threw for 315 yards. In all, FSU finished with 654 yards of offense. Defensively, the Seminoles had eight sacks.

Syracuse played without starting quarterback Eric Dungey. The Orangemen had only 37 yards rushing.

FSU is home next week against Florida.

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The Predictions: LSU’s running game aims at Florida’s defense

Most of the time, Florida’s defense has been excellent.

Most of the time, they’ve swarmed runners and draped receivers and put the heat on quarterbacks. Most of the time, they’ve led the way to victory.

Most of the time. But not always.

Florida’s defense was exploited in the second half of the Tennessee game, and throughout the game against Arkansas. That’s enough for questions as the Gators travel to LSU for their rescheduled game Saturday. The Gators are third nationally, and 12th against the run.

The running game, in particular, will post a challenge for Florida with Darren Guice and Leonard Fournette both closing in on 1,000-yard seasons. Guise needs 119 yards and Fournette needs 197.

Florida, again, will struggle with field position and the attempt to make big plays with the 95th-best offense in the nation.

Prediction: LSU 20, Florida 16

FSU at Syracuse

The Seminoles have all the advantages in this one against an outmanned Syracuse team that will probably be missing its best player in quarterback Eric Dungey.

FSU has played better defense lately, a streak they should continue against Syracuse’s backup quarterbacks. Between Deondre Francois, Dalvin Cook, and an emerging group of young receivers, FSU should win a comfortable game. Look for DeMarcus Ware to pad his sack totals (third in the country).

Prediction: FSU 40, Syracuse 14

Miami at N.C. State

When you’re talking about the nation’s teams that are better than their record, you might want to start with the Wolfpack, the hard-luck team of the ACC. This year, North Carolina State has lost by three points in overtime to Clemson, by four points to FSU and by seven points to Boston College.

Now comes Miami, which won last week to stop a four-game losing streak. For the Wolfpack, the key will be keeping the pass rush away from quarterback Ryan Finley. For Miami, it’s getting its offensive weapons free so quarterback Brad Kaaya, finally healthy, can be the difference.

Prediction: Miami 30, N.C. State 28.

USC at SMU

The Mustangs are a trap for the USF Bulls, who face rival UCF next week. If Quinton Flowers can be bottled up, and if SMU forces him to pitch, it could be a closer game than you’d think. Don’t forget: SMU beat Houston earlier this season.

Last week, SMU put up 55 points at East Carolina, a number that should make the shaky USF defense a bit nervous. Look out for Ke’Mon Freeman and Braeden West, who both went over 100 yards last year.

Prediction: USF 31, SMU 30

UCF at Tulsa

Few teams in the nation have had the turnaround that UCF has had this season. Still, taking on Tulsa is a tough task. Tulsa is eighth in the nation on offense.

In a year, UCF may be up for the task. Not this year, though.

Tulsa 30, UCF 17

Old Dominion at FAU

ODU is one of those schools that sounds smaller than it is. In actuality, the Monarchs have won three straight and hung up 51 on Southern Miss last week. They’re a tougher opponent than some might think.

FAU’s hope is that quarterback Jason Driskel stays hot. He’s thrown for 550 yards the last two weeks.

Prediction: Old Dominion 27, FAU 20

Marshall at FIU

The Panthers will try to catch the eye of incoming coach Butch Davis in this one, but it won’t be easy.

Quarterback Chase Litton of Marshall threw for four touchdowns last week, showing there is a little danger to the Thundering Herd despite a 3-7 record. Still, there should be a new energy to FIU. Look for quarterback Alex McGough to have a good night.

Prediction: FIU 21, Marshall 17

THE PROS

Tampa Bay at Kansas City

The Bucs won last week by taking the ball away from Chicago several times, but no one’s better at that than the Chiefs, who have won 17 of their last 19 at home. One of the league’s best secondaries awaits for quarterback Jameis Winston.

Prediction: Kansas City 24, Tampa Bay 13

Jacksonville at Detroit

In a year after Calvin Johnson left, the Lions were supposed to return to the basement. Instead, Matt Harrington has led Detroit to a share of the NFC Central lead. Jacksonville has played better that you’d think, though, and a good secondary gives the Jags a chance.

Prediction: Jacksonville 21, Detroit 20 (upset)

Miami at L.A. Rams

The Dolphins aren’t very good, but they have a defense capable of giving rookie quarterback Jared Cook a hard time in his first game. As always, Miami’s chances depend on whether it can spring running back Jay Ajayi.

Prediction: Los Angeles 20, Miami 16

 

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Five things to wonder about in the FSU-Syracuse game

Five things to wonder about the FSU-Syracuse game on Sunday:

Does Syracuse stand a chance?

It wouldn’t appear so. The Orangemen have struggled defensively all season, and with Deondre Francois and Dalvin Cook coming to town, things don’t get easier. Cook is the seventh-leading rusher in the nation. Francois is the 25th-ranked passer, and the top-rated freshman passer, in the country. Syracuse has stayed even with some teams on its way to a 4-6 record, but quarterback Eric Dungey (the 14th-rated passer in America) is likely out injured. If FSU can keep from beating itself, it should win comfortably.

Could Dungey give Syracuse a chance?

Not with that defense. Other quarterbacks ranked in Dungey’s area have given the Seminoles fits, but overall, Syracuse doesn’t have the staying power.

Can Dalvin Cook get to 1,500 yards again?

Sure, if he has a good game Saturday. Syracuse has the 116th-rated defense in America (86th against the run). Cook is seventh in the league. He needs 258 yards. But a tough Florida defense awaits in the finale. The Gators rank ninth in the country against the run, giving up 111 yards per game. To be safe, Cook needs 175-200 yards against Syracuse.

Is the FSU defense cured?

It’s played better lately, especially in a 45-7 victory over Boston College last week. But the Seminoles have played a lot of great quarterbacks this season. Dungey was supposed to be another, but with his injury, it’s hard to see Syracuse mounting a major threat.

Besides Cook, who of the Seminoles is finishing off a terrific season?

How about defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who is third in the nation with 11 sacks? Tavarius McFadden continues to lead the nation in interceptions with seven. Francoise is 325 yards away from 3,000. Travis Rudolph is 320 yards away from 1,000, which would be a stretch to achieve.

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Bowl projections: Could Miami play Florida in the post-season?

The latest bowl projections have most of Florida’s teams facing the possibility of staying in-state for the post season.

With none of the schools figuring in the playoffs, most of ESPN’s latest projections still have some intriguing match-ups.

Start with UCF, which will play in Orlando’s Cure Bowl against Appalachian State on Dec. 17 (according to Mark Schlabach) or the Miami Beach Bowl (Dec. 19) against Ohio (according to Brett McMurphy).

USF is projected to play against Boston College in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26 (Schlabach) or in the Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 29) against Ole Miss.

Miami could play either Minnesota (Dec. 28) in the Pinstripe Bowl or face Florida in Jacksonville’s Taxslayer Bowl on Dec. 31.

If Florida doesn’t play Miami, it is projected to play against Nebraska in Tampa’s Outback Bowl on Jan. 2.

FSU is projected to play either Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 or Tennessee in the Orlando Citrus Bowl on Dec. 31.

Again, the predictions are subject to change by the week.

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Is it time for Jimbo Fisher to slam the door on LSU rumors?

The rumors are buzzing again. This guy heard from a guy who knows a guy who used to work with a source that Jimbo Fisher is still interested in the LSU job.

The whispers will not go away. The latest reports come from the New Orleans Times-Picayne, who quote anonymous (of course) sources suggesting Fisher, the FSU coach, is ready to take the job if his financial demands are met.

So why doesn’t Fisher just say no? Once and for all, no. He has a job. When you consider how well he has done in recruiting, he has a better job than the one LSU has open. No. Nyet. Never.

Oh, earlier in the season, Fisher said he planned to be at FSU for a long time. But planning is a different animal than pledging, isn’t it? It is time for Fisher to slam the door shut.

Maybe, then, it’s time for the fist-on-the-table, once-and-for-all statement that Fisher isn’t interested in LSU. And furthermore, got it?

Instead, the reports persist. The latest one says that Fisher is “the guy” of LSU athletic director Joe Alleva.

“Jimbo was Joe’s guy from the beginning, and I just don’t see him passing on hiring him,” a source told the newspaper. Fisher was the offensive coordinator at LSU in 2003, when the team won the national title.

What does Fisher, who has a $5-million-a-year buyout, need with the LSU pressure? What does he need with the SEC West and Nick Saban? And when is the last time a coach of a Top 20 program jumped to another Top 20 program?

At FSU, Fisher has a young program. He has recruited well — again. The ACC is tougher these days, but it isn’t Mount Saban.

If I were a coach who was interested, frankly, I think FSU’s situation is better. Unless Fisher is weary of the same scenery, I’d stay put. It’s possible to see Fisher chasing the NFL some day, but not a lateral move.

Will Fisher stay?

We’ll see. Again.

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FSU takes big win over Boston College with five touchdown passes

It was supposed to be this easy all along.

By design, FSU was supposed to blow opponents away … the way they did Boston College Friday night in a 45-7 victory. They were supposed roll up 416 yards offensively … the way they did against the Eagles. Their defense was supposed to stifle the opposition … as they did when they held Boston College to 146 yards of offense.

The Seminoles had their way with the Eagles Sunday night, holding Boston College to one of 12 third down attempts. FSU led 21-0 at the half and 45-0 until a late touchdown by the Eagles.

“It felt weird,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We used to do that a lot.”

Dalvin Cook had 108 yards rushing. Deondre Francois had only 183 yards passing before leaving with a injury (not thought to be serious), but he threw for three touchdowns. Backup Sean Maguire threw for two more. Auden Tate caught six passes for 101 yards.

“That was my Friday talk — learning about getting ahead and staying ahead,” Fisher said. “We need to play from ahead and finish, and we did all of those things.”

Cook had been chasing former FSU legend Warrick Dunn‘s record for yardage at the school. Fisher talked about a late-game conversation with Cook.

“I went over to him,” Fisher said, “and said I’d have never forgiven myself if he went out there in the fourth quarter — with what this team can still achieve and the year it can still have — and for him to get injured at the end of the football game. …

“And he said, ‘Coach, we won the game. That’s what I’m here for.’ (That’s) another sign of why he’s Dalvin.”

Most impressive for the Seminoles, however, was a defense that came into the game ranked 72nd in the nation. The Seminoles gave up only 50 yards passing and only 96 rushing.

The victory improves FSU’s record to 7-3. The Seminoles play at Syracuse next week.

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The Predictions: Florida might get a glimpse at future QBs

This time, the noise isn’t about the coach who is coming back.

It’s about the quarterbacks who are here.

Yeah, yeah. So Will Muschamp is coming back to Gainesville. Big deal. Muschamp wasn’t especially popular when he worked here.

For Florida, the bigger question is about quarterback Luke Del Rio, who will miss Saturday’s game against South Carolina. In his place is backup Austin Appleby. But what has the Gator faithful interested is the possibility of freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, considered the future of the program. The Gators are coming off their worst offensive performance of the season.

Florida is still leading in the SEC East, but the South Carolina and LSU games will determine their fate.

South Carolina has won three straight games with freshman quarterback Jake Bentley. For a change, Muschamp might not be coaching the lesser offense on the field. Still, the Gators are at home, and their defense (now third in the nation) should have success against a freshman.

Prediction: Florida 17, South Carolina 13

Boston College at FSU (Friday)

By now, wouldn’t you have thought there would be more interest in FSU’s season? But the Seminoles were trounced by Louisville, edged by North Carolina and beaten by Clemson. FSU still can win 10 games this season, but it doesn’t bear the mark of anything special.

The Eagles struggle mightily on offense, which should help a defense that has given up too many big plays. Eventually, either Dalvin Cook or Deondre Francois should make enough plays for a comfortable win.

Prediction: FSU 24, Boston College 10

Miami at Virginia

The Hurricanes seem in position for a late-season run that will allow them to feel good about the first year of coach Mark Richt. They still need more talent before they can regain their lost swagger, but you won’t be able to tell against Virginia.

Miami should win handily and become bowl eligible.

Prediction: Miami 30, Virginia 13

USF at Memphis

It’s a trap game for the Bulls. Memphis is much better than you might expect.

The reason? Despite USF’s dazzling offense, the Bulls have to play defense, too. And they do, but not very well. They’re 114th in the nation, and they’ve allowed more than 30 points per game. Quinton Flowers will have to have one of his better games throwing the ball for the Bulls to pull it out in the fourth quarter.

Prediction: USF 28, Memphis 27

Cincinnati at UCF

Everyone agrees with the job that UCF coach Scott Frost has done. But Cincinnati beat the Knights 52-7 last year. That’s a lot of ground to make up.

This year, the UCF secondary is much better. But if Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville can stop cursing out his fans, the Bearcats should win. A warning: It’ll be closer this time.

Prediction: Cincinnati 27, UCF 24

UTEP at FAU

The Owls are coming off a huge victory over Rice. Running back Devin Singletary rushed for 252 yards and quarterback Jeff Driskell threw for 217. Alas, it was against Rice.

FAU lost to UTEP by 10 last year, so the Owls should pay attention. But after 657 yards last week, you’d think that FAU had enough momentum to win this one at home.

Prediction: FAU 20, UTEP 14

The Pros

Chicago at Tampa Bay

Neither team has been very good this season, but the Bears are coming off a big win against Minnesota. Quarterback Jay Cutler has played well agaist the Bucs through the years. Cutler’s performance will be a big one; the Bucs have struggled against top-flight quarterbacks this year.

For Tampa Bay to win, it has to hope that Doug Martin or Jacquizz Rodgers can play enough to give the Bucs some balance on offense.

Prediction: Bears 21, Bucs 20

Houston at Jacksonville

The Jags played better last week in a loss to Kansas City, but this continues to be one of the biggest disappointment seasons in Jacksonville history. Quarterback Blake Bortles, in particular, has struggled for Jacksonville.

Houston’s Brock Osweiler hasn’t been much better, but he does have the Texans leading the AFC South. That should still be true after Sunday.

Prediction: Houston 23, Jacksonville 17

San Diego at Miami

No, it won’t be a rematch of the classic 1982 game between the teams (the Kellen Winslow game), but it should be entertaining.

The Chargers have played well in spots this year behind quarterback Philip Rivers. Look for a matchup between two excellent backs in San Diego’s Melvin Gordon and Miami’s Jay Ajayi. In the end, however, Rivers should outplay Ryan Tannehill for the win

Prediction: San Diego 27, Miami 20

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Miami’s Brad Kaaya breaks slump in big win over Pittsburgh

Brad Kaaya, like his team, was in a slump.

For four straight games, the Miami Hurricanes had lost. And for four straight games, Kaaya’s quarterback rating was less than a 66. For a quarterback expected to go in the first round of next season’s draft, that was frightfully low.

Then came Pitt. And Kaaya was a hit.

Kaaya won the Sunshine State Award this week for his performance against the Panthers. He hit 32 of 45 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns as the Hurricanes returned to their winning ways.

Also considered for the award were Florida Atlantic running back Devin Singletary, who rushed for 252 yards and three scores against Rice; FSU quarterback Deondre Francois, who threw for 330 yards in a win over N.C. State; FSU’s Nyqwan Murray, who caught nine passes for 153 yards; FSU defensive end Demarcus Walker, who had 10 tackles, two sacks, and two tackles for losses; Florida defensive back Marcus Moye, who had 11 tackles in a loss to Arkansas; Miami’s Mark Walton, who rushed for 125 yards; Central Florida’s Drico Johnson, who returned a fumble and an interception for scores; and FAU’s Jason Driskel, who threw for 317 yards.

The Sunshine State award is given weekly by SaintPetersBlog.

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