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For Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles, this year's football game could be settled in the first quarter

When Florida and Florida State meet in their annual showdown Saturday, the Gators and Seminoles will enter riding a first-quarter trend that could determine how this game plays out. Florida has outscored its opponents 122-0 in the first quarter of its past six games. Florida State has fallen behind in the opening quarter in four of its past six, usually by double digits. For the Seminoles, success might mean finding a way to get ahead early. The Gators need to continue their trend of taking charge immediately.

Florida

What has gone right?

The statistic is so stunning, it sometimes even surprises coach Urban Meyer when he sees or hears about it. In 11 games, the Gators have outscored opponents 146-7 in the first quarter.

"It's one of the most impressive stats I've ever seen," Meyer said. "Early in the game, we've got to get that momentum."

Since Florida's loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 27, by the time some fans get settled into their seats for a Gators game, the matchup is already out of hand.

"Sometimes it even shocks us," junior linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "But we know what we're capable of doing, and we work hard throughout the week in practice, and it shows. … Coach Meyer does a great job getting us ready to play the game. In the locker room, just the preparation that we go through … when the ball is kicked, we are ready to play. If you're not, we're going to get you."

How the Gators have done it

With what Meyer calls a total team effort. The Gators have capitalized on big-time offensive plays, special teams and defense to earn those early scores. Against Tennessee, the first touchdown was set up by Brandon James' 52-yard punt return. Against LSU, it was a 70-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow to Percy Harvin on the third play, which started a 17-0 first-quarter run. Florida had two first-half blocked punts in that game. Against Vanderbilt, it was a blocked punt in the first 1:44 that led to a 21-0 first-quarter lead.

How they keep it going

By staying true to what has gotten them to this point: team. James is No. 3 in the SEC in punt-return average and has set up numerous early scoring opportunities with 30-plus-yard returns. Against Kentucky, two blocked punts on back-to-back possessions led to scores for the Gators. Florida's plus-18 turnover margin includes interceptions that set up early scoring drives. And once inside the red zone, Florida's offense has scored 47 times in 51 chances.

Antonya English, Times staff writer

Florida State

What has gone wrong?

The Seminoles have fallen behind early in four of their past six games: 10-0 at North Carolina State 48 seconds into the second quarter, 10-0 to Virginia Tech after the opening quarter, 10-0 to Clemson midway through the first and 14-0 to Boston College after the first. That last game is the only one of the group they didn't win.

In all, the Seminoles have mustered just 62 points in the opening quarter, and 28 came against Division I-AA lightweights Western Carolina and Chattanooga.

"Coach (Bobby Bowden) has been saying, 'We've got to learn how to come out at the start. We've shown we can finish. We know how to come back and finish. But we have to learn how to start,' " receiver Preston Parker said. "We've got to show that we can do it, because we can't afford to get behind against Florida."

Why it's occurring

FSU's problems have run the gamut.

Against the Wolfpack, two holding calls on the offensive line derailed opening-quarter drives. A pair of sacks did the damage against Virginia Tech. In its opening drive against Clemson, FSU had a rare three-and-out (it averages fewer than two a game, eighth fewest in Division I-A), and the Tigers scored on their first two possessions against a reeling defense. Against Boston College, FSU had two three-and-outs, and a third series ended with an interception return for a touchdown.

"It's a mind-set," offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said, "being in the game from the beginning."

Reversing the trend

Although the Seminoles didn't score in the opening quarter last week at Maryland, they were 14 plays into what turned out to be a 16-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that used 7:02.

That confidence fueled a team that was more excited from the kickoff than it had been perhaps in any game other than the one at Miami.

"The biggest thing was, there was a lot of enthusiasm for this game," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "Once (we) start getting things going and get in a rhythm … it's hard to stop us. With how young we are, it takes a little time for us to get things going, get used to the game and get our feet wet, but once we do, once we get relaxed, we go hard."

Said Bowden of the slow starts: "It didn't happen last week. If we can prevent it again this week, we can get in the darn ball game. … The biggest scare you have is (Florida gets) so far ahead of you, you have to change your game plan" trying to catch up and "they end up thrashing you."

Brian Landman, Times staff writer

FAST FACTS

No. 23 FSU
vs. No. 2 UF

3:30 Saturday, Tallahassee
TV/radio: Ch. 28; 1040-AM, 620-AM

For Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles, this year's football game could be settled in the first quarter 11/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 28, 2008 7:36pm]
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