Come Saturday, No. 12 Florida will meet the Miami Hurricanes for the first time since 2008, resuming a rivalry that is about dead-even as it gets -- Miami has 28 wins to Florida's 26. Our SB Nation team blogs have been covering and breaking down the game, so let's take a look at the keys to this one.
Florida's keys to the game
1. The Gators will come into this in-state showdown with three more players than they did against Toledo, returning linebacker Antonio Morrison and cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy from suspension and running back Matt Jones from a viral infection. How much Jones will play is to be determined, but at the very least, he will provide another set of legs for the Gator offense. Florida ran the ball 48 times against Toledo and held possession for nearly 40 minutes, following their similar run-heavy approach last season.
Saturday's gameplan [against Toledo] was textbook for this offense: Few risks were taken, and those that were carried minimal risk. This sits poorly with Florida fans, who will take risks and picks over game management, shootouts over shutdowns, and Rex Grossmans over A.J. McCarrons, but that discontent unfairly colors the facts - which look good even without nuanced perspective.
Yes, Florida's coaching staff likes scoring points, but it knows it needs only one more than the other team scores. Yes, Pease wants to be creative, but he is being creative on the ground, and his comments about not needing to do flashy things to earn his "guru card" wash with his willingness to build a strong, steady offense. Yes, Florida's firepower isn't quite at the peaks of the past 20 years, but it's far closer than last year.
2. Expect their offensive philosophy against Miami to be very much the same, although they'll have to face a potent rushing attack of their own. Headed by sophomore Duke Johnson, the Hurricanes made the rushing yardage rain all over Florida Atlantic last weekend, ending up with more than 300 in total.
Miami's line is good, old, and huge, and played very well last weekend in steamrolling Florida Atlantic for more than 300 rushing yards. Some of those came from Duke Johnson's genius in space, of course, but Ereck Flowers, Seantrel Henderson, Brandon Linder, and Shane McDermott had a lot to do with the Hurricanes' big day.
If Easley, Orr, Fowler, and Jonathan Bullard can win battles up front and force Miami to run to the outside, that may swing this game by itself: Johnson's a celestial talent, especially when heading for the edge, but Florida's excellent at setting the edge in run defense, and Antonio Morrison's return will only make the Gators better. And Florida getting a pass rush on Stephen Morris would likely do plenty to stop Miami's bomb-happy passing game.
Without having watching Miami's game, I think Florida has a very slight edge up front, but I could be swayed a little either way, to a solid Florida edge or a slight Miami edge, depending on what I see.
Miami's keys to the game
1. The Hurricanes will be primarily concerned with stopping that aforementioned Gator rushing attack, trying to keep the ball in Jeff Driskel's hands instead. Hear from State of the U:
QB Jeff Driskel only threw for 153 yards last week, but he was 17 of 22, and the game was never in question. Hopefully we get to find out how good or bad he is. Last season teams really didn't have to go through the trouble of passing, with Miami giving up 200-plus yards on the ground. If Miami cannot keep the Gators run game in check, it's going to be a rough game.
For Florida [the players to stop will be]: Matt Jones and Mack Brown. The two running backs will be the key to the game in my opinion. If they get rolling it won't matter Driskel cannot throw it. We've all seen that movie before, so no need to rehash what happens when we cannot stop the run.
2. Matching up against Jones and Brown all afternoon will be a pair of Hurricane linemen. State of the U believes that Curtis Porter and Olsen Pierre will have to come up huge for a Miami W - er, double U?
You may have picked up on my concern for Miami stopping the run; well, it starts with the men in the middle. If they keep the middle clogged it will allow a few things to happen; let the playmakers around them work the way the defense was drawn up and force Florida out of their comfort zone. If Driskel is forced into a lot of third and longs his short comings should really shine.
3. Because this matchup pairs a stout Florida defense against a very talented Duke Johnson, wide receiver Herb Waters will need to make some plays of his own -- any contributions from him would help pull some attention out of the backfield and clear the box a bit.
The running game may or may not show up Saturday (consistent positive gains - not just two 40 yard Duke big plays), which means the passing game will need to be on point. We need a WR that will catch the long third down conversions and make tough catches in the redzone. Herb seems to be growing into a big-time receiver, and with the position losing players by the week, we need him to show up big this weekend.
4. Defensively, the Hurricanes will worry about Gator defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who dominated Toledo's line and could cause serious headaches of his own. Here's State of the U again on Easley:
On defense, Dominique Easley will be a problem for our offensive line to deal with. Getting the proper push to create lanes for Duke and company to exploit is a must and Easley is going to try and collapse those lanes any chance he gets.