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Seminoles are superior, but Gators have fighting chance

Former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit, now ESPN college football analyst and co-host of College Game Day, spoke to Times staff writer Bruce Lowitt about today's Florida-Florida State game.

By KIRK HERBSTREIT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000


Florida State, with Chris Weinke at quarterback, gets the ball downfield better than any team in the country. It's amazing, considering FSU lost Ron Dugans and, of course, Peter Warrick. But Snoop Minnis has picked up the slack. The whole group of receivers -- Atrews Bell, Anquan Boldin, Javon Walker -- is able to make big plays.

For Florida to have any chance of slowing down Weinke, it's all about pressure -- coming up with creative blitzes and disguising coverages, somehow getting to him. Nobody all year has been able to rattle Weinke or put consistent pressure on him.

Guys like Alex Brown, coming from the end, Gerard Warren coming up the middle, linebackers blitzing, maybe bringing corners off the edge -- Florida has to do some things to disrupt the timing of FSU's passing game to have any chance at all.

What is interesting about the 'Noles running game is that it gives them great balance. Travis Minor is going to have to carry the load because of injuries, and even he is not 100 percent. Nick Maddox will have to step up, and Greg Jones as well, even though he's a little bit nicked up.

I wouldn't be surprised to see both Florida quarterbacks in this game.

Rex Grossman has been the pure passer all year and has been very accurate. But because he's a freshman in a game like this with so much on the line, and playing in Tallahassee, you have to wonder how much we'll see him.

Any time it's been crunch time for UF this year, Steve Spurrier hasn't hesitated to go to Jesse Palmer. He's a senior and he's been out there against Florida State. I believe that at some point you're going to see Palmer -- maybe even for the whole game. His leadership will be needed in a game like this.

Actually, Florida is similar to Florida State -- an offense that likes to throw the football to big-play receivers like Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell. UF has got to get the ball into their hands.

That means protecting the quarterback. FSU, with Jamal Reynolds and David Warren on the outside of the line, Tommy Polley and Brian Allen blitzing up the middle, is as good as anybody in pressuring a quarterback. And Florida's offensive line is second-worst in the SEC in allowing sacks, and it's a bit banged up. It has to keep the pressure off Palmer or Grossman, giving him time to throw. If the Gators can do that, I think they like the matchups of their receivers against FSU's cornerbacks.

If anyone in FSU's defensive backfield is going to make the play that turns the game around, it's probably Tay Cody. He will be isolated a lot in man-to-man situations against the Florida receivers, and he has improved so much this year. It will be interesting to see how he will deal with that pressure. The last two or three years he was guilty of gambling, taking chances. This year he's been able to make a lot more big plays.

The Gators have gone away from running the football. That's uncharacteristic of Spurrier's teams. But it hasn't hurt them. They are using the passing game to compensate for the lack of a running game, not only throwing deep but showing short passes to allow them to run the ball that way. Still, I wouldn't be shocked to see Robert Gillespie and Earnest Graham gain some yardage this time.

Florida is going to have to come up with some things to slow down the FSU defense, and running the football may be one of the ways to keep it honest.

The Seminoles are playing at home with a chance to avenge what happened to them in Miami. I think they were embarrassed and took that loss really hard. This is their game nationally, to get back on the map and maybe get into the Orange Bowl for the BCS title. There's a lot on the line.

The Gators are playing for a lot, too. I just have a hard time seeing Florida State lose this game because it is playing at home, because Weinke is such a great leader and because this might be the best group of defenders Bobby Bowden has ever had -- not only athletically but cerebrally, too. These guys play intelligently and make great decisions.

Everything is going to have to go right for UF for the Gators to win this game.

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