Florida has lost 12 games over the past two seasons, seen Will Muschamp get fired and is barely bowl-eligible, yet the Gators (6-4) aren’t shy about their chances Saturday in Tallahassee.
Florida, a 7.5-point underdog, seriously believes it’s the team that will end No. 1 Florida State’s 27-game winning streak (3:30 p.m., ESPN).
“We want to end it. Every team that faces them wants to end that streak,” sophomore safety Keanu Neal said, emphatically. “[They’re] beatable. No team is unbeatable.”
The Gators are the last team to trump the Seminoles, a 37-26 win at Doak Campbell Stadium in 2012. In fact, UF has won four of the past five meetings in Tallahassee.
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“It’s a big rivalry. You have to have confidence going into the game,” Neal said. “You can’t go into the game second-guessing yourself because that’s when you start hesitating and not really reacting like you should. Confidence is huge going in the game.”
Although Florida possesses confidence, FSU knows how to play with fire and still win.
The Seminoles (11-0), while exhibiting vulnerability, have displayed a propensity to avoid upsets all season. Quarterback Jameis Winston has piloted four fourth-quarter comebacks in the past month, with more than half of his touchdown passes (10 of 19) coming after halftime.
“He’s right up there with the best of them,” UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “He’s put that team on his back a couple of times this year and just found a way to get a win. That’s probably the best compliment you can give someone in a competitive sport like this. They find a way to will a team to victory.”
FSU surrounds Winston with a loaded supporting cast, but the Gators are focused on pressuring the 2013 Heisman winner and physically frustrating him.
“Hit him early,” Neal said. “Hit him high and early.”
Florida will utilize a formula – aggressive defense, solid special teams and ground-and-pound attack – that led to Muschamp’s firing, but also ignited upset wins against No. 4 LSU in 2012 and No. 9 Georgia this season.
“Our guys definitely have confidence and belief that they can go do it, and I think they’re excited to go play this game,” said Durkin, who will be UF’s interim coach for the bowl game. “All these guys know each other, played against each other in high school and what not, so it makes for a great rivalry and an exciting game.”
Muschamp’s final game on the sideline will stir emotions, but the Gators know they’re playing with house money.
Florida quarterback Treon Harris – an FSU commit who flipped to UF on National Signing Day – aims to rebound from nagging hand and knee injuries to spur an upset that would change Muschamp’s legacy and kick-start the coaching transition with plenty of momentum.
“We want to go in and try to knock them off,” junior tackle Jon Bullard said. “We’re going to give it our all, go in and try to win this and have a good taste in our mouth at the end.”