When you get to the biggest games of the season, the little things mean so much more. Those specific match ups that will go a long way towards deciding the winner between two very strong teams are maybe the most interesting thing about games like Florida/LSU.
Top to bottom the Gators and Tigers are similar teams. They are both in the top four of the SEC in scoring and scoring defense, as well as total offense and total defense. They are one, two in rushing defense and one, three in pass efficiency defense. Shoot, they are even two of the three most penalized teams in the conference.
But the unique individual and group battles are what makes this game fascinating. There are some really good ones.
Florida offensive tackles versus LSU defensive ends —– The Tigers lead the SEC with 19 quarterback sacks, and Chase Pittman and Tyson Jackson have combined for half of them (9.5). Phil Trautwein and Carlton Medder are the outside guys who will have responsibility for that dynamic tandem. The Gators have allowed nine sacks in five games, and need to keep it to two in this one.
Florida secondary versus LSU receiving trio —– Craig Davis, Dwayne Bowe and Early Doucet combine for 13 catches a game and average 16 yards a catch. They can all catch it in traffic and can also beat you deep. The Gators have given up quite a bit of passing yardage (198/g) but have given up just three TD passes while grabbing eight interceptions. Since both teams are very tough to run on, whichever squad throws it best will likely win.
Cornelius Ingram versus Jessie Daniels —– Ingram seems to have been very quiet but he does have eight catches for 100 yards. Daniels is crucial in LSU’s run support. Keeping Daniels honest by establishing Ingram as a threat would be a big plus and should open up some running room. It would be good to see a play-action pass to C.I. very early.
Brandon James versus LSU punt coverage —– LSU has only allowed four of 15 punts to be returned. However, those returns have been for an average of 18 yards. James has shown flashes of brilliance in the return game including a 35-yarder against Tennessee and penalties have cost him some others. He may well get one or two return opportunities here and needs to take advantage.
Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey versus JaMarcus Russell —– Russell is a mountain of a quarterback, but the Gators did sack him five times last year including Moss getting it done thrice. LSU is not as good at tackle this year, but Russell is making much quicker (and better) decisions under pressure. That’s evidenced by LSU allowing just four sacks this year. Gators have to bring heat AND make it pay.
Gator running backs versus LSU front line —– Even though LSU held Florida to just 206 yards total offense last year, the Florida running game actually worked pretty well. DeShawn Wynn and Kestahn Moore combined for 130 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries. LSU is second to the Gators in the SEC, allowing only 69 yards a game on the ground. With Wynn out, it’ll be a heckuva challenge to match that productivity.
Chris Hetland versus LSU place kicking —– Florida has yet to make a field goal this year. LSU has yet to miss a field goal. Each team has tried three. Florida has failed to convert the extra point five times while LSU has not missed. It would help the Gators if all of those things change.
Florida versus first quarter scoreboard —– LSU has been almost perfect during the first 15 minutes of games this season, scoring 66 points while shutting out all five opponents. The gators have been a barely above average team in the opening quarter, owning just a 27-17 edge. As good as Florida has been in the second half this year (77-13) I bet they’d be happy with a split.
So there you have some key battles within the game for the top ten showdown between the Gators and the Bayou Bengals.