'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.

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Austin Rivers getting cut by Suns may change perception of Trevor Ariza trade to Wizards

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Austin Rivers getting cut by Suns may change perception of Trevor Ariza trade to Wizards

When the Suns traded Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers, the thought by most was that Rivers, though not a perfect fit, would slide in at point guard to fill their biggest need. Instead, on the day the trade became official, Phoenix opted to waive Rivers and make him a free agent.

The Suns will pay about $8 million to let Rivers go, according to ESPN. He is now free to sign with any team except for the Wizards. That means he can return to the L.A. Clippers, where he played last season, if he wants.

Rivers, 26, has had a dramatic fall in a matter of months. In July, the Wizards sent starting center Marcin Gortat to the Clippers to acquire Rivers, who was coming off a career year. They believed he could solidify their backup shooting guard position and become an asset off the bench.

Rivers, though, proved a poor fit. He struggled with fewer shots and fewer minutes, averaging only 7.2 points while shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from three. 

Rivers arrived in Washington with numbers that suggested he could score efficiently. But his stint with the Wizards showed he may need more volume to sustain a rhythm.

The Suns cutting Rivers makes the trade between the teams from a Suns perspective essentially an Ariza-for-Oubre swap. Phoenix wanted to clear some money and part with Ariza, who was wasting away on their last-place roster. Now they can see what they have in Oubre over the course of the rest of this season before he hits restricted free agency.

From the Wizards' side, this move shows how far Rivers' trade value had dropped, as one of the league's worst teams has cut him loose. That they were able to unload Rivers' salary while prying away Ariza may change slightly how the trade is viewed.


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With Trevor Ariza now in store, Wizards begin new phase against Hawks

With Trevor Ariza now in store, Wizards begin new phase against Hawks

The Wizards have undergone a midseason roster renovation over the past week-plus, culminating with a trade over the weekend to acquire Trevor Ariza. On Tuesday in Atlanta, a new phase will begin for the Wizards as they take on the Hawks at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

Ariza has joined the team on the road in anticipation of his debut. With Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers now out the door, the team brought back guard Chasson Randle. Those two will help make up a new-look rotation for Washington, as they try to recover from a 12-18 start to this season.

Ariza will likely slide into the starting lineup, certainly in the short-term as Otto Porter Jr. recovers from a minor knee injury. The changes should also present opportunities for a few players who otherwise may not have played.

Sam Dekker, for one, will clearly be in the mix. He has averaged 13.5 minutes per game since coming over in a three-team trade last week. On Sunday against the Lakers, he put up a season-high 20 points. Even when Porter returns, he should have a role, as his path to play was carved by Oubre's departure.

The adjustments should, in theory, also clear the runway for rookie Troy Brown Jr. The 2018 first round pick has only appeared in 13 of the Wizards' 30 games this season because of a logjam at his position. 

But on Sunday, the first game since Oubre and Rivers were dealt, he played 15:21 against the Lakers. It wasn't in garbage time, either. He entered in the first half and made an instant impact with three steals and two rebounds.

Though Tomas Satoransky has played an important role this season as a backup guard and temporary starter, his standing was made even more secure when the Wizards traded Rivers. They have Randle and two-way player Jordan McRae, but Satoransky is now their primary backup guard. Barring a trade or another signing, they have no choice but to rely heavily on him to spell John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Speaking of Wall and Beal, they will bear watching despite nothing changing in their roles with the Wizards. They, along with Markieff Morris and Porter, have been the core of this team throughout the tumultuous last two years. The Wizards brought in Ariza to help compensate for their shortcomings in defending the perimeter, rebounding and - this year, at least - three-point shooting. 

If Ariza's arrival has a domino effect on teammates, if it lights a spark and brings the best out of the Wizards, those are the guys to watch. The Wizards want consistency from them, more of what they saw against the Lakers. And Ariza's commitment on the defensive end, the team hopes, can rub off on others.

The Wizards have already played one game since trading Oubre and Rivers, but now that Ariza is in store and ready to debut, the Wizards can officially hit the restart button. Will this trade prove the catalyst and help get them back on track? Tuesday night will give the first answers to that question.