After pretty solid performances by each team in Week 1, the No. 12 Florida Gators and No. 24 Miami Hurricanes have much more on the line Saturday. This is the last scheduled edition of this Sunshine State rivalry and you can bet neither team wants to be remembered for losing it. Emotions will be running high and Sun Life Stadium will be consumed by a “White Out” when these two proud programs strap it up one last time (for now).
But what strengths and weaknesses do the Gators and Canes bring to the field on Saturday? Here’s a full breakdown of how the teams compare.
Offensive line: The Gators absolutely dominated Toledo up front last week, opening huge holes that allowed Florida to rush for 262 yards. Miami’s offensive line is also a strength and deserves plenty of credit for the Canes’ offensive success, including the 303 rushing yards it racked up last week. These two groups really are too close to assign an advantage either way.
Quarterback: Jeff Driskel has been a good game manager for Florida and looks much more polished in his second season as the starter. But Miami’s Stephen Morris is a potential future NFL franchise QB, so he gets the nod as the better of the two.
Running back: Both teams have potential game breakers in the backfield. The Gators have Matt Jones and Mack Brown. The Canes have Duke Johnson, the 2012 ACC Rookie of the Year. Because Miami only has one proven threat in the backfield, the advantage here, although a slight one, goes to the Gators.
Wide receiver: Both teams are still searching for guys to step up and make an impact on the perimeter. Florida’s Trey Burton has been a perennial playmaker since stepping foot in Gainesville, but he can’t run all the routes and catch all the balls. The Gators will need a few other guys to start getting open consistently. Miami’s receivers looked pretty shaky in Week 1, especially Stacy Coley who dropped two sure touchdown passes. Because neither group is a strength and both need to improve, no advantage is awarded here.
Defensive line: Here’s where Florida has a decided advantage. Dominique Easley, Ronald Powell and the rest of the Gators’ D-line are the anchor of this defense. They set the tone with power and strength in the middle, complemented by speed on the ends. Miami’s DL was a liability last season. And although the Canes have added some size and depth, this unit just can’t stand up to its SEC counterpart.
Linebackers: Middle backer Antonio Morrison rejoins Florida’s starting lineup after a one-game suspension. He should improve a group that already looked pretty darn good last week. There is a lot of upside to this bunch. A lot of the Canes’ ineffectiveness in stopping the run last season stemmed from bad gap assignments by linebackers. If that trend resurfaces on Saturday, Florida will have a field day running the football.
Secondary: Here’s another area in which one team is miles ahead of the other. Florida has arguably the nation’s best duo at cornerback in Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. While Miami seems to be improved from last season (102nd in pass D), its secondary just isn’t in the same league as Florida’s.
Special teams: Despite having young kickers, both teams are pretty solid on special teams. Florida’s punter, Kyle Christy, could be the nation’s best, while Miami’s graduate transfer punter, Pat O’Donnell, earned All Big East honors at Cincinnati last season. Each team also has world-class athletes returning kicks.
Coaching: Though Al Golden and company have done a pretty good job keeping Miami competitive despite the cloud of NCAA violations, Florida clearly has the better staff. Head coach Will Muschamp and his coordinators, Brent Pease (offense) and Joker Phillips (defense), are some of the best in the college game.
Prediction: This game has a low-scoring feel to it, especially if things go Florida’s way. These teams are pretty even offensively at this point, but Florida has a clear advantage on defense, which will be the difference in the game. If Driskel and company take care of the ball, Florida will move to 2-0.
Score: Florida 23, Miami 13