Orange Bowl Pick: Florida vs. Virginia
Florida Gators (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (9-4 SU, 6-6-1 ATS)
When: Monday, Dec. 30, at 8 p.m.
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Point Spread: FLA -14.5/UVA +14.5 (SportsBetting.ag)
Total: O/U 54.5
Just by getting to this game, Virginia has already won. The Cavaliers hadn’t done much of anything for the past decade before finally putting the pieces together last year and winning its first bowl in 13 years. Now the Cavaliers face arguably the program’s biggest bowl game since 2011 when Virginia came up against Auburn in the Peach Bowl.
Of course, this year, the Peach Bowl is being used as a semifinal site, so the Cavaliers are in the Orange Bowl and facing Florida. The Gators haven’t been much on offense, but they’ve done a fantastic job at shutting down their opponents, which is the main reason that they’ve managed a 10-win season despite an almost total lack of a running game. Only two opponents all season have managed to break 24 points against the Gators, and one of those was LSU, whom nobody has come close to stopping all season long.
How the Public is Betting the Florida/Virginia Game
The line has ticked up to Florida, now hitting 14.5 points after starting at 13.5, while the total has stayed consistent.
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Florida: Wide receiver Freddie Swain is questionable with a knee issue.
Virginia: Safety Chris Moore is questionable with a lower-body injury, while wide receiver Joe Reed is questionable with a hip pointer.
When Florida Has the Ball
The less said about the Gators’ offense, the better. Florida has managed a 100-yard rusher exactly once this season, and that only happened against Auburn because the Tigers missed a tackle in their efforts to get the ball back and allowed LaMical Perine to rip off an 88-yard run in the fourth quarter of a game where he otherwise had 42 rushing yards. In fact, that one play was more rushing yards than any Gator had in any of Florida’s other 11 games, and this was against a schedule that included Tennessee-Martin and Towson.
Fortunately for the Gators, Kyle Trask has been slinging the ball pretty well. Over the final five Florida games, he threw for 14 touchdown passes and managed to top 250 passing yards in every game except the win over South Carolina. When Florida lost Feleipe Franks for the season, many people thought that would prove the end for the Gators’ offense, but Trask has handled the position better than Franks ever did and might be the long-term answer at quarterback the Gators have needed. With Swain questionable, look for tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Van Jefferson to get most of the targets, as they have 11 touchdowns between them.
When Virginia Has the Ball
For Virginia, the offensive attack starts and ends with Bryce Perkins. Over 75 percent of Virginia’s plays involve either his arm or his legs, with his arm making up about 50 percent. He’s done a solid job as the Cavalier signal-caller, throwing for 18 touchdowns and rushing for another 11. Plus, unlike Florida and Trask, he has a solid option at running back, as Wayne Taulapapa has 12 touchdowns on just 111 touches of the ball this season.
But it’s Perkins, and specifically, his rushing totals, that foretell either success or doom for the Cavaliers. The one common thread for Virginia’s failures outside of the Clemson game was that Virginia was 0-3 when Perkins failed to average at least two yards per carry on the ground. Against Clemson, he nearly doubled that total, but nothing was going to work against the Tigers that day. If Florida can keep Perkins contained, the Cavaliers don’t have a great Plan B waiting in the wings to try to solve the Gator defense.
If you’ve been taking Florida, you’ve been making money. The Gators have covered in six of seven, and when they get to the big stage of a bowl game, they perform to expectations. Florida has covered in six of the past seven bowl games where it was the favorite, and the Gators have won four in a row ATS as the favorite. On the Cavalier side of the ledger, the over is proving to be an excellent play. Virginia’s past five games have all gone “over”, and six of the Cavaliers’ previous seven matches at a neutral site have also hit the “over”. That fits well with Florida’s recent trend of success in December, as the Gators have hit the over in each of their past four games of the year’s final month.
Miami weather is Miami weather, which means 80 degrees and a possible thunderstorm before all is said and done.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread
Beating Florida means doing two things: stopping the pass and forcing the Gators to run, and doing enough on offense to take advantage of the Gators’ struggles. Missouri was able to stop the pass, but the Tigers’ offense was so inept that it didn’t matter, as Florida held it to six points in an easy victory. Georgia was able to do enough on offense to outlast the Gators, but the Cavaliers are not on the Bulldogs’ level. Virginia’s pass defense is middling, and that’s after throwing in that the Cavaliers’ numbers are inflated by playing in a weak ACC.
The Cavaliers got routed last time out by Clemson, and while Kyle Trask is not Trevor Lawrence, the fact that Lawrence threw just six incompletions and tossed for 302 yards is a concerning thing. I don’t want to call for a blowout here, especially with the pathetic Florida running game. Still, the reality is that the Gators’ defense has proven nasty all season long, and the only team that Virginia has seen of that caliber is Clemson. The difference between Clemson and Florida is that the Tigers have a great offense to go along with their championship defense. In contrast, the Gators have the defense but are pedestrian — and that’s being kind — on offense.But Virginia lost that game to Clemson by a 62-17 count, and Florida is going to be plenty motivated to get its first 11-win season that included a bowl win since 2009, when Urban Meyer was in Gainesville. Florida can’t put up 62 points the way Clemson could, but the Gators can probably get to the mid-30s, and that’ll be enough to cover the spread as long as their defense plays to their capability. I’ll take Florida to cover.
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