LSU Preview

It’s time for Florida to re-emerge on the national scene, or fade away under the pressure of a tough October that contains 3 games out of 4 against Top 10 teams, starting with the LSU Tigers.

LSU is in a funk right now, struggling to beat a middling Auburn team, and simply not putting weaker teams away early.  I honestly believe they have been sleepwalking a bit, waiting for a real team to show up on their schedule to get their full attention……and the Gators will get it.

The Tiger offense still centers around a powerful running game, with a rotation of solid, big backs, led by Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard, and Alfred Blue, and an experienced O-Line.  Their running game still looks formidable, even when teams have been stacked up to stop it and daring their new QB, Zach Mettenberger, to beat them.  He has not lived up to his billing so far, but Florida has had a history of making struggling QBs look like stars – that cannot happen this week.  The Tigers have playmakers at WR with Odell Beckham and Russell Shepard, and an excellent TE in Chase Clement.  I get the feeling that LSU may go for some early deep throws to try and surprise the Gator defense and get an early lead, before settling into their comfort zone and running the ball.

The Gator defense has a huge challenge ahead.  The run defense has not been terribly impressive yet, and LSU will not panic and abandon the run, even if behind by a score into the 4th quarter.  The front seven needs to prevent the long, time-consuming drives that will wear them down going into the second half.  It’s all hands on deck in trying to stop the Tigers and give a still-learning Florida offense enough chances to win the game.  Coach Quinn has been rotating his DL to keep them fresh for the second half, and I expect the same.  The DT rotation of Omar Hunter, Sharrif Floyd, and Tre Orr have to hold the point of attack.  Unfortunately, 2 of the DEs in the rotation are true freshmen, and Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler will have a rough go of it Saturday.  Dominique Easley returns, but he needs help.  I am not confident at all that they can hold up for an extended period.  The LB corps will have to tackle better than they have in 2 years.  It’s time for Jon Bostic to play a disciplined game and get himself into the correct gaps to make plays, while Michael Taylor, Tank Morrison, and the rest of the unit to make a stand.  The secondary will be asked to play a lot of man defense, especially if the safeties are needed to slow down the Tiger running attack.  I think there is enough ability between Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins to hold their own against the LSU WRs, so Matt Elam can be used in a variety of ways to try and make some big plays at safety.

I’m sure Brent Pease has a ton of special plays he can call this week on offense to try and trick LSU……but in a way, I hope he keeps it simple so the Gators play “fast” and aren’t trying to think their way through too much new stuff to be effective.  Jeff Driskel has improved each week, and is getting a lot of press, but let’s be honest – he has a long way to go to prove he is elite, and can still improve quite a bit in his throwing.  He missed at least 2 TDs against Kentucky, and was late and high often in the first half.  I’m sure the staff is making him aware of this, while coaching him up for an extremely tough run coming up.

Coach Muschamp has preached a strong running game all season, but will he be stubborn if the running game gets stuffed early, which is entirely possible?  The O-Line hasn’t faced anything close to the caliber of the Tiger D-Line, and there is no proven RB behind Mike Gillislee.  It may take a reversal of tendencies – throwing more on first down, working the WRs in open spots (even if they are short throws), and springing some new formations to get the ball to Jordan Reed and Trey Burton where they can make a few big plays.

The LSU defense is one of the nation’s elite, and could make it a long afternoon for a Gator offense that still doesn’t know how good it is, or has proven itself against a defense of this caliber.  Sam Montgomery, Anthony Johnson, and Barkevious Mingo lead a terrific D-Line.  The secondary, despite the loss of Tyrann Mathieu, is a solid unit that makes plays.  Eric Reid and Craig Loston are one of the best safety duos in the country, but their CBs are inexperienced, and along with the LBs, can be exploited……if the Gator O-Line can protect Driskel and open some holes for the running game……a tough task.

Even with the perceived struggles of the LSU offense recently, I think they are going to be ready to perform well at the Swamp this Saturday.  Florida seems to be mentally and physically tougher than either of the 2010 or 2011 teams, and has the embarrassment of last year’s beatdown in Death Valley as motivation.  In the end, I see the experience of a solid running game and a seasoned defense for the Tigers being the difference in what could be a real classic.

Prediction  – LSU 23    Florida 17