'Noles, Gators feature 2 of nation's top defenses


'Noles, Gators feature 2 of nation's top defenses

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Two of the nation's best team, with national championship hopes on the line. Now this feels like one of those classic Florida-Florida State.

In recent years, the rivalry hasn't been quite what it used to be when Bobby Bowden was coaching the Seminoles and Steve Spurrier was leading the Gators back in the 1990s.

For the first time since 2000, both the Gators and `Noles are ranked in the top 10 for their regular-season finale.

Defense is each team's signature, so expect points and yards to be tough to come by.

The Seminoles (10-1, 7-1) lead the nation in total defense and rank among the top five in four other defensive categories.

Florida (10-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) isn't far behind, sitting fourth nationally in total defense.

Both will need the help of at least an upset or two this weekend, but it's certainly possible that the winner could play in the BCS championship game.

Florida's only loss was to third-ranked Georgia. Florida State, which plays Georgia Tech week in the ACC title game, was upset at North Carolina State.

Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease is well aware the Seminole defense has held Florida to a single touchdown in each of the last two years.

``They've got all the ingredients to be what they want to be,'' Pease said. ``They've got it all in place.''

Florida State is giving up 13.1 points and 236.3 yards a game this season and has 28 sacks with defensive ends Cornellius ``Tank'' Carradine and Bjoern Werner combining for 20 of those.

``They're going to win some battles,'' Pease said. ``You've got to have some man beaters and got to hold up in protection.''

The Gator front will need to keep the Seminole rush away from quarterback Jeff Driskel, who returns Saturday after missing last week's game with a sprained ankle. Driskel, who didn't play in last year's loss, has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,324 yards and 10 TDs and is a threat running the ball with 424 rushing yards.

Gators running back Mike Gillislee is just 36 yards shy of 1,000 yards this season.

``Containing him will be a key factor,'' Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.

Containing the other team hasn't been a problem for either defense this season.

Florida kept LSU, Kentucky, South Carolina and Jacksonville State out of its zone and limited Missouri to a lone score.

But the Gators have had to rely on that defense more with an offense that had had plenty of issues.

Florida State has had those problems this year, with quarterback EJ Manuel leading the way.

Manuel will be making his 29th career start Saturday, though he had perhaps his poorest performance last year at Florida. Manuel was sacked four times and passed for just 65 of his team's 95 (not a misprint) total yards in the game and if not for punter Shawn Powell kicking his team out of trouble, the outcome - 21-7 Florida State - could have been different.

``We didn't do our part on offense,'' Manuel said this week. ``We have to do our part this year.''

Manuel, 23-5 as a starter, may also find himself in the shotgun formation more often where he has seemed to be more comfortable and productive as he winds down a sterling final season. Manuel has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 2,785 yards and 21 touchdowns with five interceptions.

The Florida defense that has allowed 11.8 points and 328.8 yards a game is easily the best Manuel has faced this year.

``We will have to be ready to go,'' Manuel said. ``Getting scores on the board and not three and outs.''

A bit of turnabout from last year's Florida State win comes in the punting game, which could be especially important if offense is sparse.

The Seminoles had the edge a year ago with Powell. This year the Gators have it with Kyle Christy, who leads the SEC an average of over 46.3 yards a punt.

Florida State has gone with freshman Cason Beatty, who has struggled some at times. Beatty averages 37.6 yards a punt.

Both teams also have outstanding field goal kickers.

Florida State's Dustin Hopkins is already the most prolific kick scorer in NCAA history with 448 career points and two field goals shy of the NCAA mark of 87.

Florida's Caleb Sturgis has 66 field goals and is just one shy of the school record. Both are finalists for the Lou Groza award, symbolic of the nation's top placekicker.

Fisher hasn't lost yet to any Florida schools, standing 3-0 against Miami, 2-0 against the Gators and 1-0 over South Florida. And he says there's no way his players are looking ahead to their Dec. 1 game against Georgia Tech for the ACC championship.

``It's Florida,'' Fisher emphasized. ``We know them very well and they know us. It's just about that game.

Quick Links

Wizards host students from Stoneman Douglas High School ahead of 'March For Our Lives'

USA Today Sports Images

Wizards host students from Stoneman Douglas High School ahead of 'March For Our Lives'

With a march on Washington planned for this weekend following the mass shooting in Parkland, FL, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were invited by the Wizards to attend their Friday morning practice at Capital One Arena.

About 20 of the kids showed up to watch the Wizards practice, took pictures with players, got a tour of the facilities and walked away with Wizards hats and gear. It was a small break away from what has been a tumultous time ever since the massacre at their school on Feb. 14.

Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis was on hand to speak with the students, who are set to lead the 'March For Our Lives' through downtown Washington on Saturday.


Wizards guard Bradley Beal met with the media after taking photos with the students.

"For us to be able to take their mind off of it for just a few minutes is always a great feeling," Beal said. "At the end of the day, we're all human beings regardless of our careers are and what our jobs are. A lot of us have families, kids, brothers and sisters. The last thing that you want to happen is what happened to several of those families. You can never imagine."

Beal went to college in Florida and has participated in his own forms of activism. He has found inspiration in the efforts by Stoneman Douglas students. They have taken what happened to their school as a catalyst for what they hope produces change in the ability to protect similar attacks from happening again.


Beal, 24, finds that admirable.

"It's amazing sometimes to learn from the youth on how to do things," Beal said. "It's a testament to where our world needs to lead to, to where we need to get to and to come together as a society. It starts with us as the younger generation. We've gotta come together with love and do things like this. I think what they're doing is awesome. It's spreading positive vibes and it's true humanitarian work that they're doing."

The Stoneman Douglas students are expected to attend Friday night's Wizards-Nuggets game as well.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Bradley Beal sees Phil Chenier's jersey retirement as something to strive for

Bradley Beal sees Phil Chenier's jersey retirement as something to strive for

The relationship between Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal and Bullets legend Phil Chenier goes beyond your average friendship between a current and former player, or a current player and team broadcaster.

Beal and Chenier are close to the point Chenier often offers advice as a fellow shooting guard who helped lead the organization to some of their most important accomplishments.

Beal is always open ears when Chenier is talking and took great honor in being the one to tell Chenier personally that his jersey would be retired by the Wizards.

The day has come for Chenier's No. 45 to be raised to the rafters and Beal feels a unique sense of pride in seeing a man he reveres to the highest degree finally have his day in the sun.

"It's unbelievable. It's more than deserving," Beal said. "I was happy to be the one who told him about it. It's a special night for him. He's been a mentor to a lot of us for many years."


Chenier was a three-time All-Star for the Washington Bullets back in the 1970s. Following his playing career, he became a legendary broadcaster calling Bullets and then Wizards games for over 30 years.

Beal is now an NBA All-Star himself, having earned the honor for the first time this season. He is a shooting guard, just like Chenier.

Chenier was the color analyst for Wizards games for the first five years of Beal's career and Beal has always seen Chenier as a model to follow both on and off the court.

"It's always motivation for me to get better and I feel like this is the final touch of it, having your jersey retired by the franchise that you played a part in their success," Beal said.


The honor Chenier is about to receive is another goal to strive for. Beal wants to achieve a lot of what Chenier has accomplished in his life from winning a championship to making All-NBA to now having his jersey hang in the rafters at Capital One Arena.

"It definitely motivates me for that to be a goal of mine. Especially with the fact we both play the same position," Beal said.


NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

For more on Chenier's jersey retirement, check out our in-depth interview with him on the Wizards Tipoff podcast: