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FSU football ready Florida Gators (even if Seminoles aren’t saying the name)

The Seminoles will be one of the hottest teams in the country going into next week’s showdown with Florida.
Florida State receiver Malik McClain and the Seminoles are rolling into the rivalry game with the Gators after crushing Louisiana.
Florida State receiver Malik McClain and the Seminoles are rolling into the rivalry game with the Gators after crushing Louisiana. [ GARY MCCULLOUGH | AP ]
Published Nov. 19|Updated Nov. 20

TALLAHASSEE — Everything Florida State coach Mike Norvell gears his No. 20 Seminoles toward is centered on beating two teams. Though he brings them up constantly, he never mentions them by name.

“You already know who they are,” offensive lineman Robert Scott said.

One is Miami, whom FSU crushed earlier this month. The other is Florida, whom the Seminoles host Friday night.

That’s why the celebration from Saturday’s 49-17 rout of Louisiana was a little less jubilant and much, much shorter than usual.

Related: Florida Gators, FSU set for biggest showdown since 2016. It’s a start

“I’ll be watching film here in a very short period of time,” Norvell said.

When he reviews his squad’s film, he’ll love what he sees from an FSU (8-3) team that’s as hot as any in the country. The ’Noles needed only two quarters to rack up 200 rushing yards for the sixth consecutive game — their longest stretch since 1995. They scored touchdowns on seven of their first eight drives, on series led by three different quarterbacks (Jordan Travis, Tate Rodemaker and blue-chip freshman AJ Duffy, who threw his first career touchdown pass).

Florida State running back Treshaun Ward, a Tampa Bay Tech alumnus, scored two touchdowns Saturday.
Florida State running back Treshaun Ward, a Tampa Bay Tech alumnus, scored two touchdowns Saturday. [ GARY MCCULLOUGH | AP ]

The defense held the Ragin’ Cajuns (5-6) to 53 yards through five possessions. Though a garbage-time catch was the first touchdown FSU had allowed in 32 drives, the starters still haven’t surrendered one since the Clemson loss on Oct. 15.

It’s easy to look at the opponent — a mediocre Sun Belt team that’s rebuilding after Billy Napier left for Florida — and expect a blowout. But take a moment to appreciate it.

The last time FSU faced a lower-level Louisiana team was in 2019, when the ‘Noles hosted Louisiana Monroe in Week 2. Only a shanked extra point in overtime saved the Seminoles from one of their worst losses of the modern era.

And absorb what happened elsewhere during Saturday’s sleepy early slate. No. 17 UCF lost at home to a bad Navy team. The Gators fell at Vanderbilt for the first time since 1988. Even Texas A&M was tied with lowly UMass early in the second quarter before Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies pulled away.

The Seminoles, meanwhile, earned their fourth consecutive victory by at least 25 points. That’s the program’s most dominant stretch since the 2013 national championship run and the longest active streak in the nation. It has answered any doubts about Norvell’s future — except, perhaps, whether he deserves another contract extension to keep this turnaround going.

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“They’re taking care of the business that’s at hand,” Norvell said.

Starting in a victorious locker room, the business at hand is beating Florida for the first time since Fisher’s awkward finale in 2017.

Florida State's first-team defense dominated the Ragin' Cajuns on Saturday.
Florida State's first-team defense dominated the Ragin' Cajuns on Saturday. [ GARY MCCULLOUGH | AP ]

“It’ll be a big statement,” running back Treshaun Ward said.

It’s one FSU looks poised to make. Though the Gators are better than they looked in this weekend’s stunning loss, their rebuilding process is a stage or two behind FSU. Norvell has had two more seasons than Napier to install his system, build his roster and install his culture. It took longer than FSU fans wanted, but things have finally clicked.

Related: Vanderbilt ends eight-game skid against Florida Gators

The Seminoles have an experienced, consistent star at quarterback (Travis) and will be playing in front of what should be a dynamic, sold-out crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium. Their run game sets up well against a porous Florida defense. An FSU defense that held Louisiana to 19-of-36 passing will challenge up-and-down quarterback Anthony Richardson.

FSU even got a break when Florida’s Ventrell Miller was ejected for targeting, depriving the Gators of arguably their top defensive player for next week’s first half. If Norvell’s streaking ‘Noles can’t beat this Florida team this year, then when?

“Everything you do — every practice, every rep, every game, every lesson — it prepares you for this one,” Norvell said.

Norvell stressed that message to his players immediately after trouncing Napier’s former team. Everything leading up to kickoff, he told them, will either help you or hold you back against the other big opponent. He didn’t mention the Gators by name then, either.

“Nobody says the name,” Scott said. “I ain’t heard it yet.”

He will Friday. After three consecutive failures, will he and his teammates finally know how to respond?

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