Arkansas Review / LSU Preview

Florida put forth a solid performance in it’s 30-10 win over Arkansas at the Swamp Saturday night.  The defense continues to lead the way, allowing the offense the luxury of a few possessions to find a rhythm before effectively moving the ball.  The run defense, though, showed a few cracks, as the Razorbacks ran for 81 yards in the 1st quarter and took a 7-0 lead.  Alex Collins is a good back, and their fullback is effective as well, but the loss of Easley and an undersized LB corps was slightly exposed.  The coaching staff will have to figure out a way going forward to scheme ways to offset these shortcomings against the tough opponents coming up.

Tyler Murphy continues to perform efficiently at QB.  The passing game was opened up a little bit, as Arkansas (as expected) dared Florida to throw.  Some new corner and crossing routes were used to good effect, and Patton had a career game with his 2 long runs after the catch for TDs, taking advantage of some poor tackling.  The only real criticism is that Murphy has to learn to throw the ball away occasionally instead of taking a loss.  The running game struggled, but credit has to be given to the Hog D-Line, one of the better units in the SEC.  Of course, the game plan was to keep things safe mostly between the tackles as long as the game was close or in hand, but Florida won’t have that luxury against the better teams coming up.  Matt Jones still doesn’t look right, and while Mack Brown is solid, but has no real breakaway speed.  There were some holes that a game-breaking RB could have made some big runs through, but it looks like the Gators simply don’t have that big-play RB this year.

On defense, Florida controlled things after a shaky first quarter.  Coach Muschamp said after the game that some of Arkansas’ running success was due to poor gap discipline, but I’m still concerned that the interior of the line and LBs lack elite size and strength to control more physical opponents.  Fowler and Powell got good pressure against the pass, and Taylor seems like the most instinctive LB when shooting gaps to make tackles and in coverage.  Morrison has been pretty quiet at LB so far this season.  The secondary did it’s usual excellent job.  Purifoy turned the momentum of the game around with his pick-6 to give the Gators the lead for good, while the rest of the DBs did a good job of tackling.  However, the Razorback WRs did their QB no favors with at least a 6 drops.  The slant routes were effective, and Florida needs to shore up it’s technique against these immediately.

The (not so) special teams play by the kickers was brutal.  Christy and Hardin are a mess mentally right now.  They need to relax and get their minds right going forward, or will be on the bench.  If the personality of your team is ball-control offense and tough defense, this group can kill any good work by either.


The preseason is over, and it’s time for big-boy football starting this week at LSU.  Going in to this game with a backup QB who really hasn’t been tested by a quality opponent, and with the loss of the defensive leader, does not allow for much optimism.  However, it also takes some of the pressure off of the team, as expectations for an upset will be scaled back.  Unfortunately, it’s doubtful the Tigers will overlook the Gators, as they will have payback on their minds after the physical way they lost last year.  Based on performance to date, it would appear that there is little chance the Florida’s running game will control the clock and wear down the Tigers like it did last season.  But this has been a strange year for defense in the SEC, and LSU has uncharacteristically struggled this year, especially against the pass  The question is whether Florida can expose this weakness with it’s lack of playmakers.  Yes, Patton and Dunbar have made some big plays, but this is a step up in quality of opponent, despite their struggles so far……especially in a tough place to steal a road win.

LSU’s offense has been a revelation this season, with new Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron reviving an attack that’s been mostly dormant for years.  Zach Mettenberger is suddenly a pro prospect at QB, with Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, and Kenny Hilliard all big and tough RBs.  The passing game is what has elevated their offense to one of the best in the country.  This will be strength vs. strength, and the Gator secondary has to prove it’s worth with tight coverage all day against quality WRs like Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.  It will be interesting to see how Florida’s run defense holds up, as Arkansas had some early success between the tackles.  This will by far be the toughest test to date for Florida’s defense, and we will see if it’s lofty statistical ranking is more a function of weak competition or of true ability.  The Tigers are averaging over 40 points a game, and there’s no way the Gators steal a win in Death Valley unless they hold LSU to around 24.

LSU’s defense has really struggled at times this year, especially against the pass.  Defensive Coordinator John Chavis has been in the SEC for over 20 years, and I have to believe that they will improve.  Unfortunately, I’m just not sure that Murphy, despite his poise and leadership, has the experience and confidence to really open things up and execute when opportunities present themselves on a consistent basis yet.  Brent Pease has to break tendencies across the board, starting with more passes on first down to keep the Tiger defense honest instead of stacking the LOS.  The RBs have to start to be utilized more in the passing game, and perhaps we’ll see some screen plays and more play-action passes.  The O-Line has to play it’s best game of the year to open some holes in the running game, but also in pass protection.  Arkansas presented a solid challenge with their D-Line, so perhaps that was good preparation for this week.  Of course, crowd noise will be a huge factor, and the OL has to show discipline in preventing procedure penalties.

Until Florida’s offense proves it’s worth against a good team, it’s all on the defense to keep things close until the 4th quarter.  The Gators have to win the turnover battle, and somehow keep the crowd out of the game by keeping the score close, and not allowing momentum to sweep them away.  Defense and special teams have to give the offense some short fields to work with, and it’s time to open up the playbook after a painfully conservative 5 games.  This is a huge step up in competition, and I’m sure the players are ready to elevate their game to the challenge.  Ultimately, I’m afraid the Gator offense with Murphy at QB still lacks the experience and playmaking ability to keep up with LSU’s offense.  I can see a few cracks showing in the Gator defense as the game wears on unless the offense rises to a level it hasn’t shown in a long time.  Again, the special teams play has to revert to something approaching 2012 form to make a tough job a little easier.  Right now, I think the Tigers pull away in the second half in what should be a very good game.

Going in to the meat of the schedule with a new QB and the loss of Easley may eventually prove problematic, but I feel it alleviates some of the expectations, and may allow the Gators to play fast and loose on Saturday.  Very few give Florida either a chance to win in Death Valley, or to go on and win the SEC East, so it’s time for the staff and players to play with house money and let it ride.  I hope it’s a fun ride the rest of the season no matter the wins and losses.

Prediction:  LSU 27          Florida 17