L$U Preview

For a rather uneventful first 4 games, there sure has been more intrigue off the field than on for the Florida Gators, and the off week and the days leading up to the showdown at Baton Rouge have been no different.

Will or won’t Tim Tebow play?  Can Johnny Brantley win in his first ever start, on the road, against a quality SEC team in a tough environment?  Can the Gators throw the ball downfield?  Does the dream end at Death Valley?

This game is very hard to predict, because of all the hype combined with a bunch of 18-22 year old kids feeling it.  Honestly, with a healthy Tebow, the outstanding senior leadership, a tough running game, and great special teams, that normally is the perfect recipe for winning on the road no matter the environment.  While many are ready to heap praise and confidence in Brantley if he starts, I just can’t do it yet.  No starts, and no meaningful early snaps with the first team?  This is not the right recipe in the college game.

LSU is still an enigma.  They certainly have enough front-line talent to beat any team, but have yet to put it all together this season.  Jordan Jefferson has enough mobility to bail himself out of trouble against some expected pressure by the Florida defense.  Brandon LaFell is a playmaker at WR, but even as a senior he still has lapses in concentration catching the ball.  He had his way with Joe Haden last year in Gainesville, though.  Richard Dickson a clutch performer at TE, and Terence Tolliver is a big target at the other WR position.  Even true freshman Reuben Randle is starting to contribute.  However, none of those WRs has elite speed, and UF should be able to play a lot of man coverage if necessary to free up the safeties and LBs to support the run or blitz.

The Tiger running game was expected to be strong again this year, but has struggled.  Charles Scott and Keiland Williams are quality runners, but the O-Line just hasn’t been consistent.  Their performance against Georgia can’t inspire too much confidence, as the Puppies have been soft on defense all year, and LSU struggled in short yardage all game.  Jefferson looked awful running the option — he seemed much more comfortable in the pocket or taking off on scrambles if necessary.

What about the Gator offensive game plan?  There’s simply no way to predict what the scheme and play-calling will be like if Brantley gets the start.  The running game I believe will suffer due to the fact he can’t run the option with the effectiveness of Tebow, nor do I believe he would be put at injury risk if Tebow is not allowed to play.  It may be time to really incorporate the RBs in the passing game as well, and I would expect many more swing passes and a few screens to any of Rainey, Demps, or Moody.  Deonte Thompson is supposedly ready, and that should be a real lift to the passing game, allowing the Gators to stretch the Tiger secondary vertically, and at least present the threat of the deep ball to loosen them up.  I would also expect a slightly different passing scheme, with Hernandez and Cooper getting more looks in the seams and over the middle.

Now, If Tebow is cleared and ready to go, I fully expect him to still be the physical player he is, and to be allowed to run the option, draws, and do whatever he can to win the game.  No doubt his presence on the field would be a huge lift to Florida.  Even with LSU expecting the run with him in the game, his added dimension of running, along with the best interior OL in college football, should be able to generate a decent or better run game that should find success against a Tiger DL that is not of the same quality or depth as it has been the previous 4 years.  Of course, Tebow’s presence allows Demps and Rainey to become even more dangerous on the edge, as they were last year when they ripped through LSU all night.

On defense, Florida appears to have a solid advantage overall with it’s depth and experience.  Despite perhaps the best group of skill players it will face this year, Florida’s team speed and solid back seven should hopefully be good enough to allow Coach Strong to pick his spots as far as any blitzing, and I have to think there are plenty of new looks and schemes he has not had to show all year to confuse Jefferson.  All that being said, the Gator D-Line must do it’s job against the run.  Terron Sanders, Jaye Howard, Lawrence March, and Omar Hunter — time to shine.  If they can stuff the Tiger running game, Jefferson is in for a long night.  It’s time for Jermaine Cunningham, Carlos Dunlap, and Justin Trattou to have a big game rushing the passer, and they should have some success against a Tiger OL that has struggled to date.

Despite the uncertainty going in to this game, I’m going down in flames with the better Head Coach, better defense, better special teams, and more experienced team in this one.

Prediction – Florida 24        L$U 17

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