Gators are close to turning the tide in the FSU rivalry

Jim McElwain did the best that he could last year cooking up a rallying cry after Florida’s utterly flat 27-2 loss to Florida State.

“Give them credit,” McElwain said. “They won the game. I guarantee you we’ll show up there next year.”

Yeah, well, that’s how the schedule works pretty much on its own.

SYRACUSE, NY - NOVEMBER 19: Dalvin Cook #4 of the Florida State Seminoles breaks a tackle to run in his final touchdown of the day against the Syracuse Orange during the third quarter on November 19, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Florida State defeats Syracuse 45-14. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

SYRACUSE, NY – NOVEMBER 19: Dalvin Cook of the Florida State Seminoles breaks a tackle to run in his final touchdown of the day against the Syracuse Orange on November 19, 2016. FSU defeated Syracuse 45-14. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Can’t blame the Florida coach for being a little flustered, though. The Gators entered the game at No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings but needed a safety just to avoid being shut out in the Swamp for the first time since 1988.

The offense was kaput, all right, with Treon Harris at quarterback. That left Florida’s powerful defense in a terrible position, fighting and fighting through three quarters on the wrong side of a 13-2 score and finally fizzling in the fourth quarter.

That’s when Dalvin Cook got 150 of his 183 rushing yards and both of his touchdown runs. Until then both teams had been fairly stagnant. Nine punts by the Gators. Seven punts by the Seminoles. Truth be told, seven of FSU’s 15 first downs came in the final 8:00, when the game already was on ice.

OK, so it hardly was a classic but the Seminoles pushed their winning streak in the rivalry to three games overall and they won at Gainesville for the third consecutive time, too. ”Our players know how hard it is to do that,” said Jimbo Fisher.

Has anything happened to help switch the momentum for Saturday’s prime-time renewal of the rivalry at Doak Campbell Stadium? Sure, plenty.

[Here’s one former Dolphins head coach who really impressed Adam Gase]

[FAU job was tough enough without Butch Davis moving in next door]

[Might be last chance to see Brad Kaaya play at Hard Rock Stadium]

The Gators are coming off a huge victory, for openers. Last week’s goal-line stand to beat LSU also put Florida back in the SEC Championship game. In 2015 the game before FSU was a scary Gator escape from FAU. In overtime.

Also, the Gators have a legitimate field-goal kicker now in Eddy Pineiro, who was 3-for-3 against LSU. Last year Austin Hardin couldn’t be trusted to make an extra point. Against FSU, he missed from 51 yards on the final play of the half and had a 37-yard try blocked when it started out low.

Finally, the Florida defense kept Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice from killing them on the ground last week and came up with the biggest plays of the game when it mattered most in the closing minute.

Injuries were no excuse. Fatigue was no excuse. Spotty support from the Florida offense was no excuse, either.

Of course, Cook is the problem now, and he’s coming off a 225-yard, four-touchdown performance against Syracuse. His ability to run stronger and hurt teams more as the game goes along is his biggest threat.

If Florida can get a handle on that, avoiding big breakout plays by FSU’s new career rushing leader, these two teams just aren’t that far apart.

Call it 19-16 FSU, and call me a coward for not predicting an upset.

If this really does turn out to be the last game in Tallahassee for Jimbo, LSU’s top target, and Dalvin, a potential NFL draft gem, they’ll both bust a gut to keep it from being a loss to the Gators.