Florida faces LSU in the only top ten match-up of the college football weekend and it should be a great one. This game greatly affects the SEC race with UF trying to stay in control of its own destiny as it navigates a very difficult schedule. A loss for LSU would mean Auburn has to lose three games the rest of the way for the Bengal Tigers to get to Atlanta.
It is a high stakes showdown that will also affect the BCS. The winner could get the at-large bid for the BCS should Auburn run the table. An 11-2 Florida loser in the SEC title game or an 11-1 LSU team with just a 4-point loss to Auburn would be very attractive to the Sugar Bowl. Maybe the most important outcome of this game is whether Florida can maintain its home dominance under Urban Meyer. UF vowed to “re-take” The Swamp several times in the last five years but a win Saturday would validate any claims of Meyer’s supremacy at home.
SERIES FACT: LSU has not beaten UF in Gainesville three times in a row since they did it in 1978, 1980 and 1982.
The Gators currently have the sixth longest home win streak in school history and the third longest in the country. In the 90’s there always seemed to be magic in The Swamp yet when LSU comes calling, the Tigers have won the last two in Gainesville.
Urban Meyer is 32-2 at home in his coaching career. He knows how to prepare his team for home battles and he will need all that experience this week against a very talented Tiger team. LSU under Les Miles has been very good on the road, winning all five last season and the Peach Bowl in convincing fashion. The only loss under Miles on the road was earlier this season at Auburn in a hard-hitting defensive battle. The Gator 12 game win streak at home will be put to its toughest test of the season this Saturday.
FLORIDA SCHEDULE FACTOID: The Gators are the only team in the top five that have four games left with ranked opponents in the current polls. USC plays three ranked teams while #1 Ohio State plays just one.
LSU brings a lot of talent to the table based on terrific recruiting under Nick Saban and now Les Miles. They have closed the doors on the borders of Louisiana and have gone outside to get top recruits nationally. I think LSU has become more popular nationally and has actually won out over Miami for some big time on out of state recruits the past several years. The Tigers had to replace key players on both lines of scrimmage but because they have recruited so well there has been no drop off in talent. The big knock on Les Miles coming to Baton Rouge is he could pull an upset (Oklahoma State over Oklahoma) but he could not be consistent in conference play. Miles is 15-3 at LSU, and with a win this week will have won at Alabama, at Arizona State, and at Florida. That would be huge for his confidence and the overall health of the program.
LSU STATISTIC: The Tigers have completed 73 percent of the passes attempted on third down this season with 17 going for first downs.
Offensively JaMarcus Russell is playing as well as any quarterback in the country. In my opinion he is the best pro prospect right now in the college ranks and that includes Brady Quinn and Troy Smith. Russell stands tall in the pocket and has only thrown one interception in 115 pass attempts. That is a far cry from the young, enigmatic Russell that was pulled in Gainesville back in 2004. The Tiger offense is leading the SEC in scoring at 38 points a game, but produced just three points at Auburn. The trio of receivers — Early Doucet, Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe — are big physical playmakers who have finally reached their potential this season. When LSU goes three wide it will be interesting to see if Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison go with Tremaine McCollum or slide Reggie Nelson over on the slot. I think with the way Russell telegraphs some throws it would behoove UF to having Nelson in the middle of the field. LSU has been balanced on first down in the run-pass ratio, but those numbers are skewed because of the four blowout wins. It will be interesting to see if LSU throws first like Alabama and Tennessee or will they try to establish the run game. I think Les Miles learned that you cannot be one-dimensional in the loss to Auburn (43 yards rushing) and will try to run in the first quarter.
LSU STATISTIC: The Tiger secondary is giving up just 45 percent completion percentage for the season.
The Tiger defense is number on in the country in yards per game and leads the SEC with 19 sacks. They have six to eight defensive linemen that can all play and their back seven is as athletic as any team Florida will play this season. Laron Landry and Travis Daniels are very good at the safety position including backup Craig Steltz who has four interceptions. The front four is let by super defensive ends Tyson Jackson and Chase Pittman and they will put tremendous pressure on Florida’s tackles. Glen Dorsey is very good defensive tackle and his match-up with Drew Miller will be one of the best in the country. Having success against LSU’s defense is like eating a good slab of barbecue ribs. You know it’s going to be messy, but if you persevere you will enjoy your meal in the end. Florida must hang in there and get the big plays when they come later in the game. LSU is giving up over four yards per carry in the fourth quarter including some quality yards to Auburn in the second half. There rush defense overall is very good at 69 yards per game given up. Grab the wet naps and dig in for the long haul.
FLORIDA STATISTIC: The Gators are averaging 4.4 yards per carry in the second half this season.
The Gator coaches have obviously studied the “plan to win” in the SEC and it involves a successful running game. UF’s offensive line has gotten better in the second half in each of its SEC games. This is because UF establishes that they want to run the ball and even without early success they stay committed to it and reap the benefits later in the game. It takes a while for an offensive line to get the right fit on defense, especially ones as good as LSU. I think the fact Florida tries to run early is one reason for slow starts against SEC caliber defenses. On the flip side I think that is why UF has won at Tennessee and versus Alabama. DeShawn Wynn should play and his effectiveness will be evident early against the tough Tiger defense. I think you could see some of Marcus Manson this week because of his speed which could give UF some big plays in the run game. I also think it’s a matter of time before Tim Tebow lines up in the backfield with Leak. Tebow is fast, powerful and a natural runner so look for that in the near future. The other health question is Percy Harvin and he should play this week as well. Harvin will take some pressure off Dallas Baker in the passing game and should provide a quick threat versus the blitz for Chris Leak. Cornelius Ingram and Jarred Fayson could see some more opportunities this week in the throw game.
FLORIDA STATISTIC: Florida has not allowed a fourth quarter touchdown this season and has only allowed one rushing touchdown this year.
UF must blitz JaMarcus Russell this week and get pressure on him. He is way too comfortable right now and is throwing lasers to his big receivers. This could be a week where UF wrinkles in some “exotic” blitzes that they have not shown. I think Reggie Nelson will be involved in the blitz package this week because of his ability to get the big quarterback down. Florida harassed him last year causing five turnovers and five sacks. If they get that production this season they will win. Last year however the Tigers had Joseph Addai and his running saved LSU and got them the victory. This year Les Miles has not established a legit running threat and the backs have looked slow to the hole especially in the loss against Auburn. Florida’s defensive ends should have the edge on the Tiger tackles, but the inside part of the Tiger front is very solid. Will Arnold is as good as any guard in the conference and the Gator defensive tackles will have their hands full but Florida does have Marcus Thomas back and that’s a huge plus for the Gators. UF will once again look to stop the run first and leave guys in man coverage. If LSU hits some big plays expect UF to go to the “zone blitz” look giving up short passes while trying to create pressure on Russell.
LOOKING BACK AT LSU’S LOSS AT AUBURN: Many people who saw the game thought LSU was the better team and should have won the game but out of the “Ackerman Plan to Win” in SEC games, Auburn found success in two of the three areas. First the Tigers were out-rushed gamely by Kenny Irons and the Tigers. It was not a decisive edge but enough to move the chains a few times. Secondly, Auburn won the field position battle in the second half making LSU start on average at their 17 yard line while, Auburn started at its own 31. Auburn’s punter had four punts over 50 yards and two were downed inside the twenty. The third key was sacks, pressure and turnovers. Neither team committed a turnover but once LSU got behind and got away from the run in the fourth quarter they became one dimensional and that allowed Auburn to tee off and make Russell throw before he wanted to in several instances. Tubberville’s team had six tackles for loss, a sack and six quarterback hurries. LSU finished with 35 passing attempts and 23 rushing attempts and that was not enough balance in a tough game on the road in the SEC.
KEYS TO VICTORY: Field position, which encompasses turnovers, special teams and turnovers; rushing the football because the team that runs the ball better will win; and quarterback play. Leak is 1-2 against the Tigers , losing two straight and looking very bad last season in a road loss. Russell was knocked out of the game after playing horribly two seasons ago and last year threw two interceptions in a less than impressive performance in the victory against the Gators. The quarterback that makes the least mistakes but the most plays will lead his team to victory. It is a bit of an oxymoron, but a championship quarterback has to balance the line of greatness while avoiding the misfortune that lies out on the field. Keep an eye on third down conversions as the barometer for Leak and Russell. UF was 2-16 last season against the Tigers and I can’t imagine that happening again.
PREDICTION TIME: I think this is a toss up game where home field could be the difference. Florida’s playmakers have to shine for the Gators to beat a team with the talent of LSU. Defensively Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Marcus Thomas and Brandon Siler must have terrific games. I think Moss will dominate the tackles once again this week, while Reggie Nelson will make a game changing play. Offensively the seniors Leak, Cornelius and Baker will play well but it’s the young guys that will push Florida over the edge. Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon James who will shine on special teams will have an impact on the game. Gators win 17-13.
Check out College Kickoff on Sun Sports Friday night at 7 p.m. for a preview of the upcoming weekend. We will Gator Post Game in North and North Central Florida on FSN Florida and Sun Sports in South Florida from Gainesville immediately following the game on Saturday night. Join Whit Watson, Terry Norvelle, David Steele, Nat Moore, Todd Wright, Steve Babik, Todd Lewis and me for the coverage all weekend.