Forget Conventional Wisdom, Florida Will Win

All week long, we’ve heard all about the tremendous speed, the size of their players and unlimited talent that Coach Les Miles brings to Gainesville with his LSU Tigers for Saturday’s Homecoming encounter in The Swamp with the Florida Gators. If you listen to most of the pundits, the Gators don’t have a chance, but as Lee Corso has said so many times, “Not so fast my friend!”

Conventional wisdom says that LSU has too much speed, too much power, too much defense and too many great athletes for the Gators to handle. Conventional wisdom says the Tigers beat Florida last year despite turning the ball over five times and giving up five sacks. Conventional wisdom says that if the Tigers could make Coach Urban Meyer cry last year, they’ll make the whole damn stadium feel like its puppy just got run over Saturday afternoon.

That’s the conventional wisdom, but not so fast my friend.

This is college football and what does conventional wisdom have to do with anything? Conventional wisdom says that an NC State team that has lost to Akron and Southern Miss can’t possibly beat those folks from the Old Coaches Rest Home in Tallahassee but darned if they didn’t. And by the way, Chucky the Chest cried after that one, so let’s put to rest any talk about Urban being un-manly after last year’s loss to LSU. Chucky the Chest did everything but beg for a group hug after he beat the Semis Thursday night and he’s a manly man, or at least the Semis that used to puke into garbage cans after mat drills say it’s true, so if it’s okay for Chucky the Chest to cry, then Urban can cry, too. It’s fine with me.

It’s also fine with me that Urban and his Gators just might have enough football in them to not only beat LSU, but do it by a pretty good margin Saturday in this nationally televised brouhaha. During a week when all the talk has been about how good LSU is, people have tended to overlook that the Gators are not only 5-0, but they’re pretty darn good, too, and they’ve gone unbeaten against a schedule a whole lot tougher than one LSU has played. The only tough team the Tigers played was Auburn and they racked up a whole three (count’em) points in that one.

And they lost.

Their four wins haven’t been over the Brothers of Constant Agony Monastery All-Stars but the last time we saw dogs like that they were either chasing mechanical rabbits over at Orange Park Kennel Club or pulling out a last second win over Troy State in Tallahassee.

Am I saying that LSU is overrated? Nope. They’ve got a lot of great athletes and they’re ranked ninth in the country, which is pretty good, and I don’t think there are more than eight teams capable of whacking them this season. The Gators, however, are ranked fifth. Fifth means the Gators are among the eight teams ranked higher than LSU. And yes, I think the Gators are one of those eight teams capable of breaking LSU’s kneecaps.

I think they’ll do it Saturday, in fact. And I’m not really sure it’s going to be close. It could be close. It probably will be close, but I’m going on record right now that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gators make LSU just the next team that goes over the top of the steel cage in this Royal Rumble of an SEC schedule.

It could be close because LSU really is good. It probably will be close because LSU does have a collection of athletes so big and so fast that you wonder why some booster in Baton Rouge isn’t trying to get an expansion franchise for the NFL and fill the roster with the guys on this team.

If the Gators don’t take care of business in the first quarter, not only could the game be close, but LSU could win it and if these guys get a lead, they are highly reminiscent of those old teams from the University of New Jersey at Coral Gables that used to be like a feeding frenzy of sharks. Just ask the Himmicanes (the women’s teams at UNJ-CG are the Her-ricanes … I write that for my favorite Semi, Josh Glover who hasn’t a clue and is probably deluding himself into thinking all is actually well in Tallahassee these days). LSU left the Himmicanes lying naked in an Atlanta gutter last year at the Peach Bowl. LSU hung a 40-3 undressing on Uncle Fester and his crew and that was with the second string quarterback taking all the snaps at LSU. Maybe they did that just to make it seem fair?

It all sounds so intimidating (I’m so scared) and that’s what the national pundits are thinking this week. They’ve seen all the slow starts that the Gators have gotten off to this year, figure that Florida will do what Florida does again this week, and we’ll have Peach Bowl redux on our hands.

That’s the conventional wisdom, but no so fast my friends. Take a look at a couple of minor little details before you start thinking this is a lead pipe cinch blowout city win for the bad guys.

Last year when LSU saw Florida go five-wide they blitzed eight and covered five receivers with three defensive backs. LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini guessed, and quite accurately, that Chris Leak wouldn’t throw to Billy Latsko or Kyle Morgan and even if he did, they weren’t fast enough to make it all the way to the end zone before one of those Olympic type sprinters on the LSU defense caught up with them. They also guessed, quite accurately again I might add, that Dallas Baker (high ankle sprain), Jemalle Cornelius (high ankle sprain even worse than Baker’s) and Chad Jackson (hamstring, see New England Patriots 2006) were so dinged up that they could (a) be covered one-on-one and (b) even if they caught the ball, they were so slowed down by injuries that they couldn’t burn LSU for a lot of points. So LSU rushed eight, created havoc, and Florida never burned them.

This year, when Florida goes five-wide, here’s hoping that Bo Pelini tries to send seven or eight again. Chris Leak has a whole lotta healthy folks just waiting for a chance to burn anyone idiot enough to blitz the Gators. Leak doesn’t have to hold the ball long. He just has to see the blitz and drop it off to Baker (fast and elusive), Cornelius (very fast), Bubba Caldwell (he’s faster), Percy Harvin (yes he’ll play and he’ll be really, really fast), Cornelius Ingram (expect him to be a blow torch up the Tigers’ butts Saturday) and Jarred Fayson (see Harvin). My guess is they’ll blitz one time and get burned (see Ingram, my target du jour) but they won’t learn their lesson so they try again. Oops (see Caldwell, Bubba; I expect him to be target du jour numero dos). Last year, Leak didn’t have the confidence to throw the ball quickly so he got the beating of his life. This year, he’s got playmakers, a line that can protect and if you don’t think he’s oozing with confidence then you didn’t see him take off for 45 yards against Bama last week nor did you see him make the right read on the option and flip it to Wynn for a 15-yard gain in the third quarter. And you also didn’t see that laser he threw to Dallas Baker for the game-deciding touchdown in the third quarter. That was off play action. Remember play action. I’m betting LSU is going to bite on it at least one time too many Saturday.

Their defensive line was better last year than it is this year and Florida’s offensive line is better this year than it was last year. Last year DeShawn Wynn ran for 93 yards against that vaunted defense. Wynn may or may not play. It may not matter. Florida is still going to run the ball on LSU. My running play du jour (my word of the day in case you haven’t figured it out) is Have Mercy Percy on the inside handoff to the slot man and then we’ve got one of those dealies where if you’re not the lead dog on the sled, the view never changes. I think Tim Tebow is going to step in on at least a couple of occasions and do that voo doo that he do so well. In other words, he rolls right, nobody’s open, backside is open and it’s 20 yards down the field and one cornerback that wonders if anyone got the license plate on that truck before the chains get moved.

And of course there are those LSU receivers, all of them so tall and so fast. They’re good, that’s for sure. And everyone is saying that Florida is living on borrowed time with corners Ryan Smith and Reggie Lewis. Check the record folks. Tennessee had three receivers as good and as fast as this LSU threesome. How many TD passes did Erik Ainge throw against the UF secondary? Ainge didn’t get one and the only TD pass Tennessee got the whole night was on a flanker around trick play. So the answer to the question is zero with an asterisk. And how many passes did Alabama throw on Florida’s secondary last week with a couple of receivers that are every bit as good as those of Tennessee and LSU? Zero but no asterisk this time.

Last year LSU could run. This year, Alley Broussard needs to join me on the Slim Fast Plan and Justin Vincent still hasn’t recovered from knee surgery. The Tigers are averaging 2.8 yards per carry. There isn’t a Joseph Addai to bail them out this year and not only that, the offensive line isn’t nearly as good as it was last year. A couple of these guys need to join Broussard and me at Jenny Craig. I do think they’re faster than I. I have had sciatica.

And this brings us to Scoop. He’s back. Oh yes, I’ve heard all that stuff from the Old Coaches Rest Home folks in Tallahassee about how this whole suspension of Marcus Thomas was fixed. I’m here to tell you it wasn’t, although we should have known it would turn out favorably the moment we heard the appeal went to the student judiciary committee. Do you honestly, for one second, believe that a group of his peers are going to make Scoop and his buddy Marcus pay an extended price for something half of them were probably doing the night before the judiciary committee met? And this isn’t some new setup designed by the Jeremy Foley’s evil twin. It’s university policy and has been so for quite some time. You screw up on a drug test at UF and you can appeal it to a student jury of your peers, a group that I might add probably wasn’t tested this summer or anytime in the last few months.

But anyway, Scoop is back which means pressure up the gut and that means you double up on Scoop and leave Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey working one-on-one on the outside. It worked last year, too. JaMarcus Russell went down not once, not twice, but five times last year. Five sounds like a good number. With Scoop in there on pass rush situations, I think five is a good over/under number for this year.

Now, LSU can win the game. Don’t get me wrong. They really can. And if they won it by a blowout, well you can say the pundits knew exactly what they were talking about with all their conventional wisdom. The only way LSU gets a blowout, or even a win, is if the Gators somehow leave their game at the Holiday Inn. Otherwise, Florida wins this one, baby. It could be close. It probably will be close. But it doesn’t have to be. I’m saying Florida 20, LSU 13, but I’m not the least bit surprised if it’s 27-13 or 30-13.

You could argue about it but you probably will be wrong.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.