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Gators and Noles Get Victories with Strong Defense

A year later and the numbers remain eye-popping. It was a Florida-Florida State game that seemed more 1961 -- a 3-3 tie at Florida Field -- than 2011.

The teams combined for 279 yards of total offense. They each finished 2 of 15 on third-down conversions. Florida averaged 3 yards per play, FSU 1.6.


It gets stranger.

The Seminoles managed only 95 yards and 27 inches per rush -- and still won by two touchdowns (21-7).

"I haven' forgotten about that,'' Seminoles quarterback E.J. Manuel said this week.

Few have. It was "Nightmare on Gale Lemerand Drive" for offensive coordinators everywhere.

Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn didn't sleep too well that night either despite the Gators sacking Manuel four times and limiting FSU to less than a football field of offense.

"You were busting your butt to get it and you didn't get it,'' Quinn said Tuesday. "That was hard."

The two teams meet again on Saturday in a game with possible national championship implications. Both teams are 10-1. Both are ranked in the top 10 -- Florida No. 6 and FSU No. 10 -- for the first time in 12 years in a head-to-head matchup.

And defense is expected to rule the day once again on Saturday afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium. Both teams still are in the national title hunt primarily for their stout-and-stingy defenses.

Gators coach Will Muschamp was reared on defense and has tried to establish a defensive identity with the Gators since the day he walked through the door. His former colleague and longtime friend, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, came up as an offensive coach.

Still, Fisher knows defense from his time on Nick Saban's staff at LSU with Muschamp.

"Jimbo is a guy who sees the big picture and understands that you better be good on defense,'' Muschamp said. "If you look at last year’s game, they played to their defense in our game because they didn’t feel like we could move the ball consistently so they played to their defense.

"They did what you’re supposed to do and what good coaches do.”

The Seminoles haven't let up since under third-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.

FSU is the nation's top-ranked overall defense, surrendering only 236.2 yards a game. The Seminoles are first against the run (70.6 ypg), fifth against the pass (165.6 ypg) and have 28 sacks, led by the defensive end combo of Bjoern Werner (9.5 sacks) and Tank Carradine (10.5 sacks).

Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease was still in charge of Boise State's high-flying offensive machine when the Gators and Seminoles last met.

Still, he doesn't need anyone to remind him about the challenge facing Florida's offense Saturday.

"They are built around speed. They've got all the ingredients to be what they want to be [defensively],'' Pease said. "With what they're doing, they've got it all in place.

"They are going to win some battles. They are not going to be shut down the whole game, that's why they are No. 1 in the nation."

What makes the Gators' task more daunting is the fact they haven't lit up too many scoreboards of late. Florida is currently ranked 104th among FBS teams in total offense (332.9 ypg), including 114th in passing (143.4 ypg).

The Gators do most of their work on the ground, averaging 189.5 yards rushing behind senior tailback Mike Gillislee.

Still, as good as FSU's defense is, the Gators match up as well as anyone in the country. Florida has a deep defensive line led by senior Omar Hunter and juniors Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley, a strong linebackers corps led by senior Jon Bostic, and a talented secondary with safeties Matt Elam and Josh Evans setting the tone.

The Gators rank fourth in the country in overall defense and third in scoring defense.

"Scheme-wise they do a great job and physically they are big, they're strong, they're athletic, they can cover, rush, play the run extremely well," Fisher said. "Great linebackers, great front guys. By far I would say [they are the best defense we have faced]."

At some point Saturday, one of the offenses is going to have to make a play.

Florida fans are anxious to see if the Gators can duplicate a performance such as the one against LSU's talented defense in October. The Gators took over the game in the second half as Gillislee rushed for 146 yards in a 14-6 victory that vaulted the Gators up the polls.

Muschamp said Monday that starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, who missed last week's 23-0 win over Jacksonville State with a sprained right ankle, would play Saturday.

Fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett started in place of Driskel last week.

Pease reiterated Driskel's role on Tuesday.

"It's just a matter of how he feels going into this,'' Pease said. "It's not like a controversy or battle again. That's not the issue."

Pease said the Gators took a conservative approach with Brissett last week, adding the Gators still had things in the game plan they didn't use.

Muschamp wanted it that way if the Gators could win conservatively. Mission accomplished.

"At the end of the day, the most important thing is winning the game and doing what it takes to win,'' Muschamp said. "You’ve got to do what it takes to win football games and that’s what we’re judged on at the end of that, not style points, not stats, none of those things matter to me."

Considering the talent on defense Saturday, style points will likely be difficult to come by again -- for both teams.

Scott Carter is a Columnist for the UAA and

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