Gator Country and Tiger Rag have combined brains to bring you the most in-depth head-to-head match-up of a major SEC tilt coming in The Swamp with the Tigers taking on the Gators. In this session, we cover the Gator offense vs. the Tiger Defense, with more on the way.
By: Mark McLeod
Field possession, big plays, turnovers, and special teams play will factor heavily in determining the winner of the game between ninth ranked LSU and fifth ranked Florida. Both teams play fabulous defense, which usually means the offenses will have to rely on big plays and converting on those opportunities without penalties or other breakdowns- and that especially includes special teams.
Unless you’ve spent the past week under a rock you know that LSU is the top rated defense in the country. But did you realize that four members of the Tigers front seven had no starting experience prior to the season opener?
That’s right- four sophomores received their first collegiate start when the Tigers opened the season on September 2nd. Left defensive end Tyson Jackson, mike linebacker Luke Sanders, and weakside linebacker Darry Beckwith saw significant action last year on special teams and/or as reserves. Defensive tackle Marlon Favorite only played in three games last season for the Tigers. That seemingly spells one heck of a coaching job by defensive coordinator Bo Pellini, defensive line coach Earl Lane, and linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto.
The Big Nasties
The Gators are finally beginning to get healthy. Their projected starting guards prior to the season opener were Jim Tartt (6-3 315) and Ronnie Wilson. Both give Florida a physical, rather punishing presence. However, Tartt has been slow to return from shoulder surgeries. He still does not have the range of motion and seemingly experiences tightness in the shoulder. The sophomore has toughed it out at left guard where he has started every game. Once he regains full motion in that shoulder, the Florida coaches expect him to become one of the leagues dominating guards. He is a real road grader.
Florida lost Wilson (6-3 312) on August 12th to a broken ankle that required surgery. Wilson had performed very well throughout practice and like Tartt, displayed the nasty attitude that coaches love. Wilson has been practicing with the team and it appears ready to secure playing time, probably as a reserve. But, Wilson is expected to regain his starting right guard very soon.
Florida’s two best linemen are center Steve Rissler (6-3 306) and right guard Drew Miller (6-5 305). The pair played together at Sarasota Riverview High School. They were among the most sought after recruits in the state. Rissler is Florida’s elder statesman with sixteen starts. The senior moved over from guard where he player last season. Rissler was named co-offensive player of the game after his performance against Tennessee and graded out very high against both Kentucky and Alabama. Miller, a junior, made a name for himself as an Olympic lifter at Riverview. He told me that helped him tremendously with the transition to the collegiate level. Miller has started fourteen games in his Florida career. He was also named to the champions club for his work against Kentucky and Alabama.
The loss of Wilson forced the Gators to move Drew Miller back inside from right tackle. They moved reserve Carlton Medder up to right tackle in an effort to get their five best linemen on the field.
Medder (6-5 315) was seemingly lost last spring. However, he noted that a change had to be made. The redshirt junior worked very hard in the weight room- the result being a stronger, more physical lineman. Medder graded out high against Tennessee, earning membership in the champions club. He had a most pleasant surprise on the front. However, he did not make the champions club the past two weeks against Kentucky and Alabama. His efforts in practice coupled with Ronnie Wilson’s availability will determine his status to hold down the right tackle position.
Left tackle Phil Trautwein (6-6 308) entered the season with very limited experience. Five starts later, the junior who is charged with protecting Chris Leak’s blind side has been singled out for praise by Meyer. In fact, Trautwein was named co-offensive player of the game by the Florida coaches for his effort against Tennessee. He graded out at 88% with seven knockdowns against Kentucky and also made the champions club for his play against Alabama.
Overview: The biggest plus for the Florida coaches is the potential availability of Ronnie Wilson, which should provide them with more flexibility. The Big Uglies did not fare as well opening holes for the backs against the Crimson Tide blitz package. The Gators have rushed for 167.2 yards per game, 4.7 yards per carry. For many years Florida has toiled with the finesse’ label. This offensive line should not be confused with that label. There is no question they will try to knock people off the ball.
Running back DeShawn Wynn, who has been the Southeastern Conference’s fourth leading rusher is doubtful for the LSU game. He’ll be replaced by quicker, faster backs that won’t possess Wynn’s ability to pound for extra yardage. The offensive line has allowed nine sacks this season. Last season, a Florida offensive line that returned four starters had allowed 20 sacks after just five games.
Are the Tigers the best front seven the Gators have faced? You bet. Well-coached, big, very athletic, and quick pretty much describes the LSU defensive front. As I noted above, they don’t have a tremendous amount of experience, but there is certainly not a lack of talent. The Tigers rank 11th nationally in run defense. They lead the SEC in sacks with 19, which is fifth best nationally.
Quarterback Chris Leak (6-0 207) is ninth in the nation in passing efficiency. He is 84-130 for 1,240 yards with an SEC high 14 touchdown passes, which is second best in the country. He has not put together a complete game in SEC play. He was sensational in the second half against Alabama last week and despite struggling a bit throwing the ball in the first half- brilliantly used the quarterback draw to provide the spark for the Gators. Leak has improved his decision making when running the ball. Obviously, Meyer took exception to Leak’s slide short of the marker in the Tennessee game. I doubt that we’ll see that once again. In the past, Leak seemingly always chose the wrong time, direction, etc when trying to leg out something positive when receivers weren’t open.
“We can’t have early turnovers or miscues in this game,” Leak said. “Obviously great teams like LSU will capitalize on them and put points on the board. We have to make sure we stay on schedule and make plays that need to be made. LSU is a great team defensively. They have a lot of veterans. They are a disciplined defense and do a great job running to the ball. We will have to play our best football to be successful. This has always been a big game and a big game in the SEC. This is why you go to Florida to play in games like this.”
True freshman reserve quarterback Tim Tebow (6-3 229) continues to impress everybody with his ability to run the football. Tebow brings a whole new aspect to the Florida offense that forces defensive coordinators to spend time preparing for him. Tebow is the Gators second leading rusher with 193 yards on just 32 carries, a hearty 6.0 yard average. He continues to work in the development of the Florida passing game. Tebow has completed 8 of 12 for 116 yards and an interception.
Senior DeShawn Wynn (5-11 238) has also been impressive. A senior who not nailed down the starting running back job a few weeks ago is the SEC’s fourth leading rusher with 354 yards on 64 carries, a 5.5 yard average. However, he might have to sit this one out with a high ankle sprain. Sophomore Kestahn Moore (5-10 212) figures to receive the most playing time in Wynn’s absence. Moore has run for 160 yards on 30 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per attempt. Both are also solid receivers out of the backfield.
The unsung hero of this offense is senior fullback Billy Latsko. He is an outstanding blocker who gives Leak additional time to throw, Wynn and Moore the ability to get past the linebacker, and is often spotted downfield knocking around a defensive back to clear a path for the Florida receivers. Latsko (5-10 232) provided a huge spark to the offense with a key 18 yard reception last weekend. He provides yet another headache for defensive coordinators.
Florida has a pair of athletic tight ends. Junior Tate Casey (6-7 240) has several starts under his belt and teams with Cornelius Ingram (6-4 225) to provide a terrific one-two punch. Casey is a big target who played baseball with the Gators baseball squad. Ingram played basketball for the Gators and is one of the most athletic tight ends in the nation with speed and running ability galore. Ingram has hauled in eight passes for 100 yards. He picked up 38 yards on a big play against the Vols.
The Gators have one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the country. They can flat torch you when they opt to go four or five wide. The leader of the group is senior Dallas Baker (6-3 207) who leads the team with 27 receptions for 448 yards (16.6 ypc) and five touchdowns.
Fellow senior Jemalle Cornelius (5-11 185) has 14 receptions and brings a tremendous 20.4 yards per catch average with him. He has a lot of quickness and wiggle. The third starter is junior Andre Caldwell (6-1 203) who was lost for much of the season last year. Caldwell was a little rusty in the season opener against Southern Miss, but is now the Gators second leading receiver with 16 receptions for 150 yards and three touchdowns.
“They blitzed us a lot and pretty much challenged us to beat man-to-man coverage and we couldn’t do it,” Cornelius said of the 2005 Bayou Bengals. “We have to do a better job of that this year.”
True freshman Percy Harvin (5-11 180) is expected to see significant playing time after suffering a high ankle sprain against Tennessee. Harvin has blazing speed and has hauled in eight catches for 145 yards (18.1 ypc), while rushing for 83 yards on just eight carries.
The Gators reserves don’t have the experience, but aren’t lacking in speed and talent. True freshmen Jarred Fayson (6-0 202) and Riley Cooper (6-3 206) have made an immediate impression and will see playing time. Both are fast, fluid, and usually have good hands.
Senior Kenneth Tookes (6-2 207), redshirt freshman David Nelson (6-5 206), and sophomore Nyan Boateng (6-1 204) are three other outstanding receivers who the Florida staff have confidence in playing.
Overview: Leak and his receivers combine to make-up a terrific blend of experience, speed, and talent. The running game which had been a big question mark before coming of age is now a question mark with the potential absence of Wynn. Florida desperately needs a spark from Moore, (reserve running backs) Brandon James, and Markus Manson, and the speedy Percy Harvin.
The LSU secondary has picked off nine passes this season, which is tops in the conference and fifth nationally. Meyer and company are well-versed in the competition.
“They have two very good corners,” Meyer said of his western division rival. “I think their corners are as good as Alabama’s. Their safeties are dynamic guys that play around the ball, and their numbers reflect that. They have a lot of interceptions and a lot of touchdowns.”
This will be one more serious test for Florida’s experienced receivers. The Tigers felt they could play man and get pressure on the quarterback last season. And they passed the test. It’s a new front for both teams, but the Gators skills positions players understand this game presents a tremendous challenge for them because of this talented secondary. I do think the Gators will be able to come up with a few big plays in this one. They can’t be flagged for a penalty, miss the open receiver, or drop the ball when these opportunities are available though.
Tough stretch…Florida’s next three opponents (LSU, Auburn, and Georgia) have recorded a combined 14-1 (93.3%) mark. LSU lost a controversial game to Auburn. All are ranked in the top ten.
Analysis: Obviously, the Gators must generate some offense. But, there are five things that simply must happen for Florida to beat the Tigers. The Gators must eliminate costly turnovers, stupid penalties, mental breakdowns, connect on field goal attempts, and win the field position battle. These first four are obvious by definition and have been a source of frustration for the Gators this season.
The Florida offense has to help their defense by moving the football, which besides providing a scoring opportunity gives the defense a much needed rest and would force the Tigers to drive the ball themselves. Last weekend, Alabama ran 70 offensive plays. That is far too many opportunities.
I’ll cover field goals in the special teams round-up.
LSU has limited opponents to just 61 first downs all year. The Gators lead the conference with 111 first downs. They rank second in third down defense allowing 27.1%. They’ve only given up two touchdowns to opponents in nine trips in the red zone. Their 44.4 % average ranks second in the conference. The Tigers have also picked up 11 turnovers.
The greatest challenge is laid out there before the Florida offensive line. Everybody is talking about the Tigers defensive front. They’re top ranked. If they come out focused, having soaked up the lessons from the staff, they will win their share of battles within this war. They must have improved in practice for this one.
by Matt Deville
Remember when people used to live and die by the theory of “defense wins championships.”
Well if you listen to the national media these days, you’d think defense wasn’t necessary to win a championship. All you have to do is put up 40 points a game and you’re considered a national championship contender (see Notre Dame).
Well, they do things a little differently in the SEC.
The so-called experts can dis on the style of football played in the south, but defense is a staple in the SEC – always has been, always will be. That’s why it is no surprise that seven of the top 35 defensive units in the country hail from the SEC.
* 1. LSU – 193.4 ypg
* 6. Georgia – 233.6 ypg
* 13. Florida – 248 ypg
* 17. Auburn – 258.6 ypg
* 29. Alabama – 290.4 ypg
* 31. Tennessee – 284.2 ypg
* 35. South Carolina – 291 ypg
For the LSU Tigers, it is nothing new to be rated among the best defenses in all of college football. After several years under the tutelage of defensive genius Nick Saban, defense is no doubt king in Bayou country.
Many felt like the emphasis on defense would fade when Saban left and Les Miles took control of the program in 2005. However, that was not the case. Miles hired one of the most respected defensive coordinators in the country to assume the reigns of the defensive machine at LSU – and Bo Pelini hasn’t looked back.
Fact is, Pelini may even be outdoing the mighty Saban. Pelini finished his first year in Baton Rouge with the No. 3 rated defense in Division I football. The Tigers surrendered just 266.85 yards per game a year ago, third behind Virginia Tech and Alabama.
Through five games this season, the Tiger defense is surrendering just 193.4 yards per game, that’s 21 fewer yards per game than No. 2 rated Missouri.
Talk in Baton Rouge is that this defense rivals – or is better than – the suffocating unit Saban put on the field in 2003, a defense the Tigers rode all the way to the national championship. That year, LSU limited Oklahoma, a team that averaged 439 yards per game, to a mere 152 yards in the BCS title game.
And they’re better now?
Senior free safety LaRon Landry thinks so. Landry, who was the starting free safety on that 2003 defense as a true freshman, says the current system allows a player to be more aware of what’s going on around them. In the previous (Saban’s) system, Landry said each player was assigned one certain duty or area of the field.
The amazing thing about the 2006 LSU defense is that the Tigers lost a pair of all-SEC defensive tackles in Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams. Also gone is Peach Bowl Defensive MVP (defensive end) Melvin Oliver. Two linebackers – Cameron Vaughn and Kenneth Hollis – had to be replaced as well as veteran cornerback Ronnie Prude. In all, five of the front seven on defense are newcomers this year.
As stated above, LSU had to completely re-tool its defensive line replacing a pair of defensive tackle standpoints in Wroten and Williams. Oliver was no slouch either.
At least one of those spots was pretty much locked up because everyone knew Glenn Dorsey was good. ‘But just how good’ was the question.
The 6-2, 295 pound Dorsey, known to teammates “Putt,” has grown into a ferocious pass rusher and has become the next great tackle in a long line of standout tackles – Anthony “Booger” McFarland, Chad Lavalais, Williams and Wroten. He is second on the team in tackles with 23 total (4 solo, 19 assists). Dorsey has six tackles for loss and two sacks totaling 15 yards. He was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week following the Tigers 7-3 loss at Auburn.
Playing alongside Dorsey is Marlon Favorite. Not the tallest of D-Lineman, Favorite (6-1, 291) is a tenacious run-stopper and has stepped up to the plate as a key player on the Tiger defense.
Chase Pittman was the line returning defensive lineman for the Tigers starring at right defensive end. Playing with a nasty demeanor, Pittman has amazing speed for a player of his size (6-4, 270).
On the other end is Tyson Jackson (6-5, 281). Jackson has been the biggest surprise this season on the LSU defensive line. Jackson has 16 tackles on the year, six for loss and five sacks. It was Jackson who put the punishing hit on Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama on the first play of LSU’s 45-3 domination of Arizona.
While the starters are all playing lights out, it is the Tigers depth across the defensive front that makes LSU’s D-Line so scary. Rickey Jean-Francois (6-3, 266), Charles Alexander (6-3, 285), Tim Washington (6-3, 270), Rahim Alem (6-3, 240) and Al Woods (6-5, 325) all will play in the game and there seems to be little dropoff when any combination of these 10 players are in the game.
Another position thought to be in a rebuilding/retooling stage was linebacker. But the LSU backers seem to be one of the strengths of the team.
While LSU lacks little depth at the position, the first teamers are extremely good.
Ali Highsmith (17 tackles) was a star a year ago, but sophomore Darry Beckwith has emerged as the standout this season. At 6-1, 230, Beckwith is the team’s leading tackler with 30 stops on the season. He is, no doubt, the team’s hardest hitter too.
Luke Sanders is one of the biggest linebackers in the league standing 6-4 and 235 pounds. On the year he has 17 tackles and a sack.
Past the starters, LSU has former fullback turned linebacker Jason Spadoni, who has been a quality sub at key times. Past Spadoni are only true freshman, the only one to see significant playing time in Jacob Cutrera.
THE COVER GUYS
The LSU secondary has been touted as the nation’s top unit and you’ll get little argument anywhere.
The Tigers are loaded to the gills with depth and talent in the secondary and like the defensive line, Pelini will trot out as many as eight defensive backs in this game.
The LSU secondary all begins with the safeties, both of whom are all-American candidates. LaRon Landry (6-2, 204) is the best free safety in the country. A four-year starter, Landry has 18 tackles on the season, one interception and a clock-cleaning sack of Arizona’s Tuitama. (If you saw this hit on SportsCenter, you know how vicious it was).
Jesse Daniels (5-11, 203) is a three-year starter at strong safety and plays with equal skill and aggressiveness. Daniels ranks third on the team in tackles with 21 stops.
The corners are locked down by Jonathan Zenon (6-0, 179) and Chevis Jackson (6-0, 189). Zenon has three interceptions on the season, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Zenon was knocked out of the Auburn game early in the first quarter and missed the rest of the game with a concussion. Jackson is LSU’s best cover man and has 18 stops on the season.
As stated above, the Tigers depth in the secondary is the strength. The first to come into the game include Daniel Francis (5-11, 183) and Craig Steltz (6-2, 203). Francis will sub at nickel or dime or even can step in at corner. Steltz is a hard-hitting, physical player who will come in at safety. He leads the Tiger team with four interceptions, one in each of the last four games.
LSU leads the SEC in pass interceptions with nine in all. The Tiger defense also leads the SEC in sacks with 19.
LSU defense versus the run:
Florida is a pass-first offense, but they do run the ball fairly well, mostly out of Urban Meyer’s spread formation. The Gators will most likely be without the services of tailback DeShawn Wynn, who severely sprained an ankle in the win over Alabama. Quarterback Chris Leak likes to get out and run on the outside from the shotgun formation, but he had better be careful with LSU’s tremendous speed on defense, especially on the edge. The talented Florida quarterback has been asked to run more this season. LSU’s team speed on defense is the best you will find anywhere and the Tigers have knocked four of the last five quarterbacks they have faced out of the game. Look for Leak to run less this week. The Tigers rank 11th in the country against the run, allowing just 69 yards per game. The only team better against the run than the Tigers – Florida.
LSU defense versus the pass:
Leak comes into his senior season at Florida rated as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. He is also getting consideration for the Heisman Trophy. While Leak seems to be more comfortable in Meyer’s spread offense, he cannot totally forget about the Gators’ trip to Baton Rouge in 2005. Leak was held to just 107 passing yards, the worst game of his career as Florida’s starting quarterback. The Tiger secondary is the best Leak will face this season, as they hold opponents to 124 yards per game, third nationally.