When the smoke clears

Sophomore RB Matt Jones is a key fixture in game

Florida and Miami continue the series between the two Sunshine State powers on Saturday and despite being an out of conference game, there is a lot riding on the outcome. Pride, bragging rights, a leg up on recruiting, conference pride, and more are at stake when Florida heads down to Miami for the big game. Here is our take on the action.

Who: #10 Florida vs. Miami
When: 12 noon Saturday Sept. 7, 2013
Where: Sun Life Stadium

THE MATCHUPS

FLORIDA DEFENSE vs MIAMI OFFENSE

Florida DBs vs Miami QBs, WRs, and TEs:Miami comes in feeling good about itself after a very good season throwing the ball in 2012. The Hurricanes finished 25th in passing offense last year throwing for over 295 yards per game behind the solid arm of senior Stephen Morris. Morris threw for 21 touchdowns and seven INT's on his way to 3,345 yards last year. He has three excellent receiving targets in senior Allen Hurns, junior Phillip Dorsett, and junior tight end Clive Wolford. The trio has a combined 2,420 career receiving yards.

The Gators counter with the best trio of cornerbacks in the country. Senior Jaylen Watkins will likely start on one side opposite junior Marcus Roberson. Both have tons of experience and can play at an elite level. All-American candidate junior Loucheiz Purifoy also returns at cornerback and could very well start the game. All three have size, speed, and instincts to be NFL players in due time. Freshman Vernon Hargreaves made his college debut last week with the only interception the Gators mustered in week one, he is a special one.

The Gators aren't as experienced at safety but have gotten stellar play from junior Cody Riggs and freshman Marcus Maye. Riggs had experience on the field at nickel and cornerback and has taken to the safety position rather nicely. Maye had a super spring and fall camp and has the Florida staff really excited. Brian Poole is a lock down at the nickel position and is a player there.

Edge: This will be a test, but this may very well be Florida's top strength and outside of going against anyone named Bridgewater, the secondary has been lights out over the last 14 games. Edge to Florida

Florida LBs vs Miami RBs: Duke Johnson is hailed as Miami's best player. He's an all-around back that finished with 947 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and 221 receiving yards and a touchdown in 2012. He is their main source on offense and by all means a special player. Behind him, not so much.

Florida counters with a talented linebacker corps that gets its leader back after a one game suspension. Florida did lose two linebackers to the top of the draft in 2013, but feels real good about a solid group that may actually run better than a year ago and is a little bigger as well. Junior Ronald Powell is the vocal leader while sophomore Antonio Morrison will see his first action of the 2013 season. Junior Neiron Ball is a very nice surprise at WILL linebacker with his speed, size, and athleticism. The Gators have experienced depth in junior Michael Taylor and senior Darrin Kitchens as well.

Edge: In most games the edge will go to this underappreciated linebacker group, but Johnson is the real deal at running back. Slight Edge to Miami.

Florida Defensive Line vs Miami Offensive Line: Miami enters the contest with four upperclassmen starting along the offensive line and it is a big group. Led by senior right guard Brandon Linder the Hurricane start four players on the line weighing at least 315 pounds. There is a distinct size advantage with the Florida defensive line.

However, Florida counters up front with two talented sophomore ends in Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard. Both are post season award candidates. Senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley is up for many post season awards as well and is coming off a very big game against Toledo. The Gators will start Leon Orr at the NOSE but will use a variety of defensive sets and move around the best players on the line, sometimes going with a 3-4 alignment.

Edge: This is another close one between two quality units. Miami only allowed 18 sacks a year ago but the Gator defense racked up 30. Something has to give here and so… Edge to Florida.

FLORIDA OFFENSE vs MIAMI DEFENSE

Florida QBs, WRs, TEs vs Miami DBs: This really weakness against weakness from last season. With neither team really tested in week one it is hard to tell how far either has come in the offseason.

Miami does return a lot of experience, but that experience was torched last year. In 2012 the pass defense was 102nd in the country giving up 268.5 yards a game along with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Gator recruitniks will remember Tracy Howard who starts at corner for Miami and Kacy Rodgers, a likely starter at safety. Both were heavily recruited by the Florida staff and have talent. It is a big unit that likes to play physical, but susceptible to the big play.

The Gators are hoping to improve a great deal on the 2012 passing game. Florida only threw for 146 yards a game with 13 touchdowns and five INT's. Quarterback Jeff Driskel and company seemed to hold back a little in week one, but it remains to be seen. Junior Quinton Dunbar is a reliable receiver and the Miami native is happy to be going home to play in front of family. Senior Solomon Patton was on the verge of having a big day last week but dropped a big pass that could have been a long touchdown. He is a speedster that still had his best day as a Gator receiver last week. Two freshmen in Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson look to make their mark on Saturday as well. The Gators are fishing at tight end right now and have established blockers but no real pass catchers. We can't forget senior Trey Burton who has established himself as a constant offensive threat for the Gators.

Edge: I am tempted to go with the Hurricanes because of the really low numbers Florida has put out, but only 11 interceptions in 11 games will not cut it in this contest. Miami has to take the ball away from Florida and they haven't shown the ability to do that, and Florida is very good at not letting that happen. Slight Edge to Florida.

Florida RBs vs Miami LBs: As bad as Miami was at pass defense in 2012, they were worse in rush defense finishing 112th in the country and allowing 219 yards per game and 29 touchdowns. Senior middle linebacker Jimmy Gaines returns with 14 starts to his name while junior Denzel Perryman is a very talented one with 12 starts. This group is lacking in depth.

What we will see with Florida at running back is also a bit of a mystery. Starter Matt Jones returns from an illness that kept him out all of fall camp and the opening game. He comes into the game with 275 yards in his freshman season. The staff loves his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and his ability to pass protect.

Junior Mack Brown was a bruiser last week running for 114 yards on 25 carries and doing everything he needed to do to secure the backup spot and spell Jones when he needs a breather. The Gators also used speedy Valdez Showers to attack the edges although they are expected to get that from Jones. They feel really comfortable with sophomore Mark Herndon and freshman Kelvin Taylor as well.

Florida can also counter with fullback play and Trey Burton. The senior Burton can line up anywhere on offense including in the backfield taking handoffs from Driskel. Juniors Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe have made the position a team strength and solid depth with both playing well.

Edge: This is another close one. On one side the Hurricanes come in with experience, but didn't play well last year at the position. On the other hand, Florida is inexperienced at running back but brings quality play and a great deal of depth. Florida has shown it can run on anyone since Will Muschamp arrived so… Slight Edge to Florida.

Florida Offensive Line vs Miami Defensive Line: The Hurricanes bring some punch in their starting unit up front. Junior defensive end Anthony Chickillo is a ball player and goes 6-4, 277. On the opposite side, Shayon Green stands 6-3 and is 264 pounds, both great size at the position. The Hurricanes got a needed boost from senior transfer David Gilbert from Wisconsin. Gilbert played well last week in the win over FAU. Inside the Canes are quite big. Senior defensive tackle Curtis Porter stands 6-1, 325, but has been bothered a great deal with back pain. Olsen Pierre is 6-4, 305.

Florida comes in a little banged up but very happy with the crew they have. Senior Jonotthan Harrison anchors the line at center and is in his third year starting at the position. He has had an outstanding fall camp and first game. Left tackle D.J. Humphries got a scare last week and sprained his MCL, but returned to practice on Wednesday and should be fine. Transfers Tyler Moore and Max Garcia from Nebraska and Maryland respectfully, bring a great deal of talent to the line and college experience. Do-everything Kyle Koehne is the fifth starter and is subbing at right guard for the injured Jon Halapio. The Gators have depth in Ian Siberman, Trip Thurman, and Trenton Brown. All are quality players but a notch below the starting five.

Edge: The bottom line is Florida is used to moving mass in the trenches. In many of their wins a year ago, the Gators hung their hats on an offensive line that just plowed the best of defenses over. Until Miami proves they can stop a running game that is worth anything… Edge goes to Florida.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Florida STs vs Miami STs Florida should have the slight edge in punting with junior all-American candidate Kyle Christy. He spent most of last week trying to stay away from Toledo's main return man, it could happen again, but probably not. Miami added transfer pat O-Donnell from Cincinnati who was an all-Big East selection in 2012.

Kicker Matt Goudis started off his career right last week going 4-4 on extra points and 2-2 on field goals. He is inexperienced outside of last weekend and deserves a slight edge over Florida's Austin Hardin who went 1-2 on field goals last week and 3-3 on extra points.

In the return game receiver Phillip Dorsett is a solid but not spectacular punt return guy. On the other hand, Florida's Marcus Roberson has shown he can be a dynamic play maker at the position. Dorsett and Duke Johnson form a formidable dup returning kickoffs and deserve the edge over Florida's Solomon Patton and Valdez Showers.

Edge: This one is close all the way around, but… Slight Edge to Miami.

The Bottom Line: Miami looks improved in their running game which is the only reason to give them the edge against the Florida linebackers. They may be slightly better than Florida on special teams, but it is really close. Florida is better almost everywhere else when they match up against each other. It is a game of matching strengths vs strengths and weaknesses vs weaknesses. Florida's depth in some places also helps add to the overall advantage. In the end I believe the Gators win and with a score like 24-13.

Here is the rest of our coverage from the week.

Showers with a quick transition
Jones expected back, injuries not a concern
Notebook: Gators healthy after season opener
A new rivalry for Driskel
Muschamp recaps Toledo, previews Miami
Pease stands up for the offense
Maye focused on winning the state
The irreplacable Slash Burton
Muschamp SEC Teleconference
Audio: Gators and more with Hollywood Bob
Video: Gators focused on improvement
Gators preparing for explosive offense
Florida @ Miami: In-depth Hurricane preview
Dunbar excited to return home
A man among men
Video: Koehne brings versatility to OL
Everything to know about the Hurricanes
Big game, not a rivalry for most Gators

Gators Recruiting

The latest on Florida recruiting
Momentum is the theme in Florida

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