As Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher prepares for Saturday’s game against No. 10 Florida, he sees a mirror image of his own squad.
“It’s funny how that evolves. That wasn’t planned, I promise you, by either one of us,” Fisher said on Monday. “One of the key roles as a coach is identifying who you are and what each team is. And (Florida coach Jim McElwain has) done a great job of that.
“It’s ironic that we are very similar, we really are.”
The 14th-ranked Seminoles (9-2) and Gators (10-1) have both been successful with strong defenses and power running games. Both are also young on offense and have used multiple quarterbacks. That is quite a change in a rivalry that has been dominated by quarterbacks and strong passing games.
Saturday’s game marks the 16th time in the regular season that both teams have met and been ranked in the top 15 but it’s only the third since 2001. Florida has a 4-3-1 edge when it has been the higher-ranked squad.
Fisher and McElwain both were offensive coordinators under Nick Saban — Fisher at LSU and McElwain at Alabama. Fisher said that his dealings with McElwain have been limited because he coached at Colorado State after leaving Alabama.
Fisher has said his team has learned a lot about itself since a 23-13 loss at Clemson on Nov. 7 but the biggest indicator will be against Florida. The Seminoles have been a different team on the road. They are 2-2 away from Doak Campbell Stadium and are averaging just 16.8 points, which is third worst in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Florida State posted a 14-0 win at Boston College on Sept. 18 and beat Wake Forest 24-16 on Oct. 3. But it saw its 28-game ACC win streak end at Georgia Tech on Oct. 24 and fell at Clemson two weeks later.
One difference is the offensive consistency under Sean Maguire.
The junior has started at quarterback three of the past four games and took over the job for good after Everett Golson committed three turnovers during the first half of the Nov. 14 game against North Carolina State. Maguire has directed scoring drives on 11 of 15 series the past two weeks.
Fisher said Maguire’s performance in last Saturday’s 52-13 win over Chattanooga was “outstanding”.
Maguire’s first road start came against Clemson but he thinks that now having the experience of playing in adverse surroundings will make him less tentative this week.
“I just think everyone getting that big game out of the way, not just my first experience on the road but there were a lot of guys who haven’t played in such a hostile environment,” Maguire said. “People will be a little more relaxed and just go play.”
Another area that should benefit from the game at Death Valley is the offensive line, which had six penalties (three false starts, three delay of games). With playing the same five linemen the past two weeks, the penalties have been reduced.
Since falling out of contention for the Atlantic Coast Conference title, Fisher has placed more of an importance on beating Florida and winning the “state title.” In a state where beating the rivals carries major recruiting implications, Fisher is 10-1 against Miami and the Gators.
The Seminoles have won four of the past five. A win though would mark only the third time in the series that the Seminoles have beaten the Gators three straight years or more.
Besides state bragging rights, the Seminoles needs a win to keep their hopes of making a New Year’s six bowl intact. They are 14th in the College Football Playoff rankings but North Carolina, which will face Clemson in the ACC championship game, is expected to climb up after beating Virginia Tech in overtime last Saturday. Florida’s CFP hopes are still very much alive as it will face Alabama in the SEC Championship on Dec. 5.
“We want to be the best team in the state. That’s definitely important to us,” Florida defensive back Brian Poole said. “A lot of us play with those guys and did camps with those guys, so it’s like we’re playing against our friends and stuff like that.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.