TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — In a rivalry that features six Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks, the signal callers for Saturday’s matchup between Florida and Florida State aren’t commanding the spotlight.
It has been the play, however, of No. 13 Florida’s Austin Appleby and 15th-ranked Florida State’s Deondre Francois that has allowed both teams to gain momentum late in the season.
Appleby, who is a graduate transfer from Purdue, threw for 144 yards and a touchdown in the Gators win at LSU last Saturday. That win allowed Florida (8-2) to clinch the SEC East Division and a spot in the conference championship game.
In five starts at Florida, Appleby has completed of his passes with six touchdowns against two interceptions. He had a 98-yard touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland that is the second-longest pass play in school history.
“For him to be able to do what he’s doing, guys around him believe in him. And that has to do more so because they see the work that he puts in studying, playing and affecting the people around him in a positive way,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said of Appleby,
Francois leads all freshmen QBs nationally in passing yards per game (271.8). He threw for 315 yards at Syracuse last week which marked his fifth 300-yard game.
One thing that Francois is also doing a good job of is taking care of the football. He has only five interceptions, which is the fewest among freshmen QBs, and 17 touchdowns, which is third.
“I think his understanding of all the little details and why they are so important to create the inches to win,” Fisher said of how Francois has matured this season. “I see his understanding why things are done now and the urgency to want to do them right even if he messes them up, to turn around and want to go get them again.”
Florida State (8-3) is looking for its fourth straight win over Florida, which would mark only the third time in series history — and first since 1990 — that happened.
Some other things to watch as the Seminoles are 5-1 over the Gators with Fisher as coach:
COOK REMAINS HOT: Dalvin Cook became Florida State’s career rushing leader last week. The junior is averaging 163.5 rushing yards in two meetings against Florida and has 10 straight 100-yard games at home against FBS teams.
TOUGH ON DEFENSE: Florida comes into the game ranked in the top five in six defensive categories including third in scoring (13 points per game) and fourth in passing yards allowed (160 per game).
DEJA VU? Florida comes into the game in the same situation as last year but it dropped games to FSU, Alabama (SEC championship) and Michigan (Citrus Bowl) by an average of 24.3 points. The Gators are hoping for a stronger finish this time.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who is second in the nation in sacks with 13. In last year’s game against Florida, Walker had 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and blocked a field goal. In five games ranked teams this season, he has 31 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a blocked extra point.
SEEING RED: Florida State comes into the game with the nation’s top red zone offense, scoring on all but two of its 51 possessions inside the opponents’ 20 (39 touchdowns, 10 field goals). The Seminoles have scored on 24 straight red zone trips and have a string of 14 straight touchdowns. Florida has the nation’s top red zone defense by not allowing a score on 9 of 26 possessions. One of those was a goal-line stand on the final series against LSU last Saturday.