Cam Cameron’s high-flying, high-octane offense was the talk of the SEC prior to Saturday. A veteran NFL offensive coordinator, Cameron flew into Baton Rouge from Baltimore and transformed the Bayou Bengals from Romper Room to high tech. Prior to Saturday’s game with Florida, only Georgia and Texas A&M were throwing for more yards per game than LSU and quarterback Zach Mettenberger was being talked about as a NFL prospect and not the guy whose lack of development held LSU back last year.
Leading up to Saturday’s game, all the questions seemed focused on Florida’s ability to stop Metterberger and Cameron from lighting it up with the passing game. That’s a reasonable assumption except that it’s not exactly what happened. Instead of high tech, Saturday’s 17-6 win over Florida was on the ground, hat-on-hat and physical.
Saturday, Les Miles returned to his Michigan roots and the result was the LSU offense that we have seen since the Miles era began back in 2005. This was old-school LSU football and the final 11-point margin wasn’t nearly as close as the scoreboard indicated. Mettenberger threw the ball only 17 times — his lowest total of the season — but he didn’t need to pitch all over the yard because the Tigers were content to pound Florida into submission with 175 rushing yards on 39 carries – a 4.5 yards-per-carry average.
A line of scrimmage league
There’s been a lot made of the offensive surge in the SEC this season. With quarterbacks named Manziel, Murray, Mettenberger and McCarron many wondered if the league had shifted from their defense-first mentality to a pass-happy league.
That notion was thrown out of the window today. The Gators and Tigers lined up at midfield and went to war in the trenches. Unfortunately for Florida, LSU was the more physical team up front.
“They kind of beat us at our own game,” Florida defensive tackle Damien Jacobs said. “So we have to go back to the drawing board and fix that.”
The Gators came into the game with the No.1 ranked rushing defense in the SEC allowing just 65 yards per game. In their first five games, the Gators had not allowed a 100-yard rusher and only one team (Arkansas) to surpassed the 100-yard mark.
Jeremy Hill brought that little streak to an end. He ran for more yards by himself (121 on 19 tries) than any team had run on the Gators all year. There was no trickery about it. It was just line up and fire off the ball.
“They played physical, which we expected them to.” Jacobs said. “We knew that they would come out and play physical ball. They really didn’t do anything special. They were just physical.”
That’s what makes this loss that much harder to take. Two years ago when the Gators visited Death Valley, they were down to Jacoby Brissett, their third string quarterback who was making his first career start. That game was over almost before it started. Turnovers and a crazy, lucky bounce on a fake field goal did the Gators in.
It was supposed to be different this year which is why there is no excuse for Saturday. LSU lined up, punched Florida in the mouth, ran the ball whenever and wherever it wanted and won the game Florida-style.
Third Down defense struggled
That was how often opponents were converting third downs against the UF defense before this game. LSU was 5-9. You don’t beat good teams allowing them to convert 55% of their third down opportunities.
“That was very frustrating and I think some of them were third and long as well,” Florida safety Cody Riggs said. “Third down is our money down and we take pride in it. We usually get off the field on third down and they converted on third down, they were able to keep the ball.”
Part of the issue for the Gators was their inability to stop the run on first down. LSU ran the ball effectively on first down, which led to short conversions on third.
One play in particular stuck out to everyone. LSU faced a third and 17 in the second quarter, leading the Gators, 7-3. The Gator defense was on the verge of giving the ball back to Tyler Murphy and the offense. That’s when the unthinkable happened. Mettenberger found Odell Beckham Jr. for a 22-yard gain in the middle of the field, all the way down to the Florida 25-yard line. The Tigers were able to punch the ball in four plays later to create a two-score lead.
Special teams shine and stumble.
Take your hat off to Frankie Velez. The last time Velez kicked in an actual game he was a senior at Trinity Catholic High School playing in a state championship game. The crowd and atmosphere was a little bit different today for the walk-on from Ocala but he wasn’t nervous the first time he stepped out on the field.
“It felt great.” Velez said of hitting the first of two field goals. “I wasn’t nervous. I was more nervous on the second one because everyone was loud but the first one felt so good.”
Velez found out Thursday that he would travel with the team for the first time. What would the redshirt junior have done if he hadn’t made the trip with the team? Watch the game with his girlfriend or family, just like any other student.
Velez didn’t know he was actually going to kick until right before the game. Velez better apologize to his girlfriend because she’s not going to have him around on Saturday’s for long.
“Frankie Velez will be our kicker right now,” dejected Florida coach Will Muschamp said in his post game press conference.
Velez is a feel good story, the walk-on making the most of his opportunity but on the flip side, there’s a former Under Armour All-American kicker in Austin Hardin who was left watching from the sidelines. Hardin will reportedly kick longer field goal tries but there were none to be had Saturday night.
Kyle Christy continues to struggle and at one point got chewed out on the sidelines by both Muschamp and special teams coordinator Jeff Choate. Christy was a pre-season All-American but his punting hasn’t lived up to the standard he set last season and he could be spending time next the coaching staff the rest of the season.
“The punter job, I don’t know.” Muschamp said after the game. “We had opportunities to pin them and flip field position. Kyle had two opportunities and he didn’t do it. I’ll open it up, and I seriously considered during the game ripping that redshirt off Johnny [Townsend.]”
It appears that Muschamp’s patience with the punting game has run out. Change could be on the horizon.