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Why Odell Haggins is a semi-secret weapon against Florida

Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen is trying to see how FSU has changed under its interim coach.
Florida State interim head coach Odell Haggins leads his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against Alabama State on Nov. 16.
Florida State interim head coach Odell Haggins leads his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against Alabama State on Nov. 16. [ MARK WALLHEISER | AP ]
Published Nov. 25, 2019
Updated Nov. 25, 2019

GAINESVILLE — Although No. 8 Florida is favored to win Saturday’s regular-season finale against Florida State by three scores, the Seminoles have one notable advantage: interim coach Odell Haggins.

Haggins is 4-0 in two stints as an interim coach (2-0 this year and 2-0 in 2017). That gives Gators coaches a limited sample size to figure out what he has done differently than Willie Taggart and what he might do differently this weekend at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The fact that one of Haggins’ two victories this season was against Division I-AA Alabama State complicates Florida’s preparation even more.

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“You try to find just — what is the different personality?” Gators coach Dan Mullen said. “What are they going to do differently? What’s the scheme that’s different? Are there different guys playing? Are they running a different rotation?”

For FSU, there are some clear answers.

Change-of-pace quarterback Jordan Travis didn’t appear in a game under Taggart but has three plays of at least 60 yards under Haggins. Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook started the final two games of the Taggart era but hasn’t played since.

Mullen doesn’t plan to go back to Haggins’ 2017 interim stint to identify any tendencies because the coaching staffs and personnel have changed drastically since then. But Mullen did watch that 38-22 FSU win from Starkville as the Gators were pursuing him to replace Jim McElwain.

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One-dimensional UF

Mullen knows his Gators haven’t been able to run consistently, so he cracked a couple jokes about those struggles Monday. How hard is it to call plays when your run game isn’t working?

“It’s very easy,” Mullen said. “Call other plays.”

But don’t most teams and coaches like to have offensive balance?

“Well, when you look at us I think we have unbelievable balance,” Mullen said. “We throw it equally to all the different receivers.”

Florida’s rushing offense is No. 83 nationally (4.03 yards per carry), but its passing attack is ranked in the top 20 in yards per attempt and efficiency.

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Injury updates

FSU expects star running back Cam Akers to return after missing the Alabama State game with an injury. Akers is seven carries away from moving past Dalvin Cook for the fifth-most carries in program history and is 182 yards away from breaking into the top five in career rushing yards, too. Haggins also expects offensive lineman Andrew Boselli (ankle) back for the Seminoles.

UF linebacker Amari Burney (Calvary Christian) is ahead of schedule with his recovery from a knee injury and has a chance to play this week, Mullen said. Defensive end Jabari Zuniga “has been cleared to go” after missing most of the last eight games with an ankle injury.