Florida vs Miami football preview: Five things to watch in Sun Life Stadium

Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes are set to square off in Sun Life Stadium in what is easily one of the biggest games of the second week of the 2013 college football season. The game will serve as the first time these two rivals have met since 2008, but also the last time for the foreseeable future.

For the sake of bragging rights alone, this game carries massive implications. Both of these programs harbor BCS aspirations and a 2-0 start to the year (plus a win over such a high-level opponent) will go a long way towards making that happen.

The Canes currently boast a 28-26 edge in the series. Miami can either pad its lead at home or Florida can inch one game closer to evening the overall record with a road win.

We here at Gamedayr will be watching these five factors, in no particular order. We believe that they will play the biggest parts in Saturday’s showdown. Read them over, digest, and launch into some debate, criticisms, or both in the comments below.

1. Give Duke the ball, watch what he does with it

Duke Johnson was the crown jewel of Miami’s 2012 recruiting class, and all he has done is star for the Canes ever since. The 5-foot-9, 196-pound Johnson piled up 947 yards and 10 touchdowns on a mere 139 carries (good for a 6.81 average per attempt) in 2012 and picked up right where he left off to open 2013. Against FAU, Johnson piled up 186 yards on only 19 rushes (9.79 yards per carry).

If Florida is caught watching Johnson’s ability instead of bringing him to the turf, they could be looking up at the scoreboard in a losing effort 60 minutes later.

Or vice versa, of course: The Gators may handle Johnson no problem. We’ll just have to wait and see.

2. Who is going to dominate time of possession?

Against a very good Toledo team in Week 1, coach Will Muschamp’s squad held onto the ball for nearly twice as long as the Rockets, dominating time of possession, 39:48 to Toledo’s 20:12.

One of the best ways to contain Johnson and the rest of the Canes offense will be to keep them off the field. Also against Toledo, redshirt junior Mack Brown was the type of time-killer Coach Boom loves, collecting 112 well-earned yards and two scores on 25 carries.

Muschamp will lean on Brown and sophomore Matt Jones. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Jones was slated to start after the spring, but a viral infection kept him out of Week1.

Miami coach Al Golden boasts a more spread-out attack and a few quick strikes could be enough to do the trick against Florida. Muschamp will attempt to limit the number of plays Miami runs by pounding the rock.

3. Which quarterback will make a few game-changing plays?

Miami Hurricanes senior Stephen Morris was named the No. 3 pro quarterback prospect for 2013-14 by NFL Draft expert Todd McShay. He has been unable to participate in the postseason, however, so he has not been able to enjoy the types of big games his peers have.

Jeff Driskel, on the other hand, led the Gators all the way to the Sugar Bowl in his first year as the starter. However, he laid an egg and Florida was trounced by Louisville.

Both are supremely talented, but only one will lead his team to a “W.” Will it be Morris, with his extensive knowledge of the playbook, strong arm and opportunities within a more wide-open system? Or might it be Driskel, who can make plays with his legs, but is still feeling out his wide receiving corps?

We’re not sure, but we’re excited to watch and find out.

4. Matt Jones is back in the fold, as are several Florida starters

Gator Nation is thrilled to have increased depth back at a number of positions following injuries and suspensions. The eyes of those at Sun Life Stadium ,as well as the millions watching at home, will be on Jones, whom we mentioned earlier was the starter before contracting a viral infection.

However, he is not nearly the only Florida star making his season debut in Week 2. Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, linebacker Antonio Morrison and defensive tackle Darious Cummings are all back following single-game suspensions for various off-the-field issues. Purifoy is considered the premiere cover-corner in the entire nation. Miami’s receivers and Morris are going to have their hands full with the physical, ball-hawking young star.

Morrison, only a sophomore, is probably the hardest hitter on the team and should man the middle in Florida for at least the next two full seasons. Cummings will join an elite run-stopping rotation in the middle that includes Dominique Easley, Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs.

5. Can we see a little more discipline?

If there is anything Florida has taught its fans over the last two seasons, it is that penalties do not make or break a team’s chances to win. However, it certainly puts them behind the eight-ball.

The Gators incurred a whopping 105 penalties in 2012. Out of 124 teams at the FBS level, that ranked Muschamp’s squad at a not-so-great No. 122. Miami was not much better, recording 88 penalties, good for No. 100 nationally.

Florida won 11 games and earned a trip to the Sugar Bowl a year ago despite the flag-happy behavior. That being said, a national title is the goal, and fixing the small things – like penalties – is the only way it is going to happen.

Florida did not impress in this regard against Toledo, racking up another 10 penalties, worth 70 yards of lost offense. For a team that wants to grind out wins, every inch is precious.

The Canes incurred eight penalties for 67 yards themselves.

The last thing fans want to see is game stoppages every few minutes to listen to a zebra jibber-jabber. We’d all much rather just see some football.

This is the last time these two teams will be playing for quite some time – so let’s have a clean, disciplined, excellent game, shall we?