The Gators are three-point favorites heading into Saturday’s showdown with the Hurricanes. It’s going to be a crazy and emotional atmosphere for the fans, who know this is probably the last time the teams will meet in the regular season. A look at who has the edge coming into the game.
WHEN THE HURRICANES RUN THE BALL
As dazzling and explosive as sophomore Duke Johnson has been since he arrived (he put up a career-high 186 yards last week against FAU), he has yet to have to shoulder a load bigger than 19 carries in a game, and he has yet to deliver against top-end opponents. Last season against Miami’s three ranked opponents (Notre Dame, Kansas State and Florida State) Johnson combined for 68 yards on 23 attempts (2.96 yards per carry) without a touchdown. Johnson said he trained all offseason, got bigger and stronger for a game like Saturday’s. Florida returns only three starters from last season’s top five scoring and run defense, but still has
15 players back from its two-deep roster at the end of the 2012 season. The Gators, whose longest run allowed in 2012 was
25 yards, held Toledo to only 50 yards total on the ground in their opener. Florida held seven teams to less than 100 yards rushing last season and are 17-2 under coach Will Muschamp when they outgain their opponents on the ground, but 2-6 when they lose the rushing battle. This is a huge test for Johnson and Miami’s formidable offensive line.
WHEN THE HURRICANES PASS THE BALL
As hot as Canes quarterback Stephen Morris finished last season, he really didn’t put up great performances against Miami’s toughest foes, throwing for only 639 combined yards, one touchdown and one interception against UM’s ranked opponents in 2012. He was also sacked nine times combined in those three games compared with seven the rest of the season. Florida’s pass defense ranked second nationally in efficiency in 2012, allowing a mere 5.63 yards per passing attempt (fourth best). Creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks is a big key to Florida’s defensive success. They racked up 30 sacks last year and forced 13 fumbles. They also picked off 20 passes (seventh nationally). Junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas) finished third in the Southeastern Conference with 14 pass breakups a year ago. He will be blanketing Miami’s 2012 leading receiver Phillip Dorsett, his former high school teammate at St. Thomas, a lot in one-on-one coverage. Whoever wins the battle probably leads their team to victory.
WHEN THE GATORS RUN THE BALL
Florida improved to 13-0 under Muschamp last week when rushing for 150 yards or more. When the Gators don’t run for 150 yards, they are 6-8 under Muschamp. Key to the game, anyone? Good starts (the Gators are 4-7 when they are tied or trail at the half under Muschamp) and time of possession are also important for Florida’s success. Playmaking sophomore tailback Matt Jones (6-2, 226 pounds) likely returns from a viral infection this week to start, but his backups did a fine job against Toledo last week as Mack Brown (5-11, 215), Valdez Showers (5-11, 190), Mark Herndon (5-9, 198) and freshman Kelvin Taylor (5-10, 214) combined for 218 of Florida’s 262 rushing yards. Although UF’s offensive line returns 89 career starts, right guard Jon Halapio (6-3, 320, 33 career starts) won’t play against the Hurricanes as he is still recovering from an injury. That’s good news considering UM had one of the worst run defenses in the country last year (217.92 yards per game). The Canes are supposed to be bigger, stronger, deeper and better up front. They held FAU to only