The SEC has had a fair share of twist and turns throughout the first six weeks of the 2015 college football season, and the Week 7 showdown between No. 8 Florida (6-0, 4-0) and No. 6 LSU (5-0, 3-0) could provide more, potentially sending one half of the conference into a free-for-all while essentially declaring a conference champ for the other half.
The Gators have been one of the biggest surprise teams at the midway point of the 2015 season. Florida is undefeated with three tough games left on their schedule, including LSU. The Gators have played great team ball behind a patchwork offensive line with redshirt freshman Will Grier leading the way. But a bombshell was dropped on Gator Nation on Monday with the announcement that their rising star in the pocket would be suspended for a calendar year after testing positive for PEDs. The offense is now left in the capable hands of Treon Harris.
The Tigers on the other hand, per usual, were expected to be a Top 25 team but with big question marks under center — like who and how well will he play? A question mark remains but quarterback Brandon Harris has helped guide the Tigers to an undefeated mark thanks to the nation’s No. 14 defense and the nation’s top running back, Leonard Fournette.
College Football Podcast: Week 7 Preview
Florida at LSU
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Line: LSU -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Brandon Harris vs. Treon Harris
Brandon Harris set career-highs in completions, connecting on 18-of-28 pass attempts, with another career-high, 228 yards passing, against South Carolina in Week 6. Perhaps the most important stat for the challenged quarterback, he has avoided throwing an interception and has played cleanly thus far over 91 pass attempts.
The weight of being the No. 8 AP ranked team in the nation just fell into Treon Harris’ lap, but one can assume that is exactly what the true sophomore wanted. Harris started six games in 2014 and the season opener against New Mexico State. Harris missed one game due to suspension but has appeared in three games total compiling 269 yards on 19-of-27 passing with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Treon, like Brandon, adds a dual-threat element to the game which will keep linebackers tight on both sides of the ball and loosening up holes in the passing game.
Florida and LSU can trade quips about which team is “DBU” but neither team has truly been a shutdown unit this season on pass defense, with LSU facing the only true quarterback threat in Dak Prescott. LSU is winning the yards per game battle allowing 192 per contest, No. 38 in the nation, while Florida is close behind at 197 yards (No. 44). Neither Brandon nor Treon needs to be prolific on Saturday just good enough to get 150 to 200 yards to help move the chains and hopefully keep the opposing defense from lining eight men in the box play after play.
2. Florida’s Run Game vs. LSU’s Rush Defense
One area where Florida has not done well so far under Jim McElwain is in the run game. Statistically, the Gators are one of the worst run teams in the nation only gaining an average of 139 yards per game. This is where a weakness meets a strength. The Tigers are one of the best in the nation at stopping ball carriers out of the backfield only giving up 99.6 yards a game.
Junior running back Kelvin Taylor is the Gators’ leading rusher with 438 yards off 114 carries with seven scores. True freshman Jordan Cronkrite has emerged as the team’s primary backup rushing 28 times for 106 yards. Will Grier and Treon Harris are second and fourth on the team’s rushing list respectively. If the Gators are to pull out the victory, expect Harris to have a big game on the ground to help supplement needed offensive production that is not expected to come from the passing game.
3. Leonard Fournette vs. Florida’s Run Defense
Anytime LSU sophomore running back Leonard Fournette is healthy and in a LSU uniform, opposing defenses will have to find a way to slow him down. Fournette was held to a season-low 158 yards on 20 carries against South Carolina breaking off an 87-yard touchdown run to start the third quarter to pad the stats. The Gamecocks' front seven did a good job of bottling up Fournette holding him to 71 yards on 19 carries the rest of the game. Backup Derrius Guice led the Tigers with 161 yards on 16 carries, setting up a tough one-two combo for any defense to shut down for four quarters.
The Gators may have the squad that can keep LSU’s run game under wraps — not stopped but under wraps. Florida has the nation’s No. 12 run defense allowing 99.2 yards per game. In fairness to stats, the Gators have not really faced a potent rushing attack outside of maybe Tennessee in Week 4. In a 28-27 win over the Volunteers, Tennessee rushed for 254 yards with quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd both going over the 100-yard mark.
From a schedule standpoint, this game means more to LSU than to Florida. The Gators get a bye after LSU wrapping up their conference play with Georgia, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. LSU on the other hand is really just starting their season. The month of November is brutal with a road trip to No. 10 Alabama, vs. Arkansas, a trip to No. 13 Ole Miss, and vs. No. 9 Texas A&M.
A win for Florida all but wraps up an SEC East Championship. A loss for LSU puts the winner of the Alabama (5-1, 2-1) vs. Texas A&M game in the driver’s seat until November, especially for the Aggies (5-0, 2-0); sorry Ole Miss.
Both teams have done a great job of winning turnover battles but Florida has a slight tendency to hand the ball back in the passing game. Both squads also have good defenses and neither team has a prolific passer in the pocket that will scare the opposing defense. The one thing that is a known is LSU’s rushing attack. The Tigers may be one of the worst and best one-dimensional teams in the nation on offense but the one thing they do, they do really well.
The 2014 matchup in the Swamp was a barnburner with LSU getting a 50-yard Colby Delahoussaye field goal with seconds left to win 30-27. Expect another tight one in Death Valley on Saturday.
Prediction: LSU 28, Florida 21
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.