GAINESVILLE, Fla. (PBP) -- Imagine the life of the Florida Gators these days.
They have endured loss after aggravating loss the past two months. Never had a chance against Missouri. Blew a 22-year win streak against Vanderbilt. Suffered the mother of all humiliations with a home loss to Georgia Southern.
And every Saturday night they get home to the same infuriating sight: highlights of Florida State, the team they hate above all others, beating somebody by 50 on its trek toward the national championship game.
“You just get angry about it,” Florida right guard Jon Halapio said. “You know, that’s what’s going to make it a good game this Saturday.”
The combination of mutual disgust and enormous stakes for FSU will create a playoff feel at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium when the bitter rivals collide Saturday (12 p.m., ESPN).
No. 2 Florida State is wrecking everything in its path and would relish the opportunity to embarrass the Gators on their home field. Florida’s season is dead with even the meager goal of bowl eligibility out of reach, but it can knock the Seminoles out of the national title hunt with an upset.
Las Vegas is giving UF almost no shot of doing so and has Florida State as a staggering 27.5-point favorite.
FSU (11-0) seems unlikely to sleep on the struggling Gators (4-7). The Seminoles are at full throttle, thumping then-No. 7 Miami by 27 at the start of the month and dropping 59, 59 and 80 points the past three weeks.
There is no indication they will decelerate.
“If we let up, they might hit us in the mouth,” FSU running back Devonta Freeman said. “But we are not going to let them. I know for a fact we are not going to let up.”
The Seminoles have seen the numbers, but are ignoring them. They know Florida’s offense ranks 111th in the country and its past seven opponents averaged 195.1 rushing yards per game. The Gators will probably start third-string quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg and will be down at least nine starters due to injury.
Irrelevant. All of it.
“We know they’re going to give us their best game,” Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith said. “They can lose every game, but when they play us, they probably are gonna play their best game. And it’s in their house, so we’re playing the fans and the team. We’ve got to go over there and have a great game.”
That part about the fans might not be much of a concern.
Florida State sold out its allotment of 9,500 tickets and many of its fans snatched up seats on the open market, plus Gator Nation appears to be losing interest in a spiraling season. UF did not sell out either of its previous two home games this month. The Seminoles should be well represented in The Swamp.
On the field, hardly anything UF does will be problematic for Florida State. This is a matchup between the SEC’s weakest offense and the nation’s No. 5 defense. FSU also scores more points per game (55.2) than anybody but Baylor.
With Mornhinweg — a redshirt freshman with no experience prior to Tyler Murphy going down with a shoulder injury — at quarterback the past two games, the Gators have run the ball 67 percent of the time and gained 61 percent of their yardage on the ground. Even when they do take the risk of throwing, they are averaging just 5.9 yards per attempt.
Neither option looks promising against the Seminoles. They Seminoles are second in the country in fewest yards allowed per pass (5.1) and 12th in fewest per run (3.1). FSU leads the nation with 23 interceptions and has a program-record eight defensive touchdowns.
“They have great speed and those kids play fast, and they mix up enough coverages that cause confusion,” Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “You always want to put the quarterback in that situation where they’re guessing a lot. They’ve done that.”
When Florida State has the ball, Gators fans might want to change the channel. Led by quarterback Jameis Winston, a Heisman Trophy contender, the Seminoles have topped 480 yards in 10 games this year and surpassed 600 three times.
FSU runners Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder have combined for nearly 1,900 yards.
In the passing attack, Winston is among the country’s best in every meaningful category. He is 14th in yards per game (287.5), first in passer rating (194.5) and tied for third in touchdown passes (32).
The one area where the Gators might have an advantage is defending the pass. They have three cornerbacks who appear to have NFL-caliber talent, plus two quality safeties.
“Oh, they’ve got some really good players back there,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You can go down the list and all those guys are great players. Just what you’d expect.”
Florida’s pass coverage will take on four FSU targets that are better than anyone on the Gators’ roster. Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw are threatening the 1,000-yard mark, and former Glades Central High School star Kelvin Benjamin has 36 catches for 626 yards and nine touchdowns. Nick O’Leary, a tight end from Dwyer High School, has 457 yards and seven touchdowns on 27 receptions.