Florida heads to Death Valley on Saturday night to take on LSU in a clash of undefeated top-10 teams. Big-time showdowns are nothing new to the SEC this year. The Gators defeated Auburn 24-13 last Saturday, while the Tigers already have a road victory against Texas in Week 2. With the midpoint of the season just around the corner, matchups like the one on Saturday night in Baton Rouge only raise the stakes for the national championship and playoff picture.
Florida’s standout defense delivered another clutch performance, while the offense generated enough timely plays to knock off Auburn last week. The Gators improved to 6-0 with the victory, improving coach Dan Mullen’s record to 16-3 since taking over prior to the 2018 season. Saturday night’s game at LSU marks a key three-game stretch for Florida’s hopes of winning the SEC East. A trip to South Carolina is on tap for next Saturday, followed by the annual Jacksonville matchup against Georgia.
It’s no surprise LSU ranks among the best teams in college football. However, it’s a bit shocking at how this program is winning in 2019. After leaning on its defense and a power rushing attack in previous years, the Tigers enter Week 7 ranked No. 1 in scoring offense behind quarterback Joe Burrow. The high-powered attack led the way for LSU to knock off Texas 45-38 in Week 2 and also earn four other victories by 25 or more points.
Florida owns a 33-29-3 series edge against LSU. The Gators won the last meeting in Baton Rouge (2016).
Florida at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: LSU -13.5
When Florida Has the Ball
Losing Feleipe Franks to a season-ending leg injury was a setback for Florida’s offense, but Kyle Trask has played well as the starter. The junior has tossed seven touchdowns to only two picks and connected on 72.2 percent of his throws for 902 yards. Trask has tossed two touchdowns in all three of his starts and hasn’t tossed an interception over the last two games. However, fumbles have been a problem for the Texas native.
Trask’s efficiency and accuracy is crucial to Florida’s hopes of a road upset on Saturday night. The strength of the offense is a deep receiving corps, and the Gators have struggled to get a consistent ground game established. Freddie Swan (21.5 ypc), Van Jefferson (19 catches), Trevon Grimes (16), Josh Hammond (16), Tyrie Cleveland (12) and tight end Kyle Pitts (25) form one of the SEC’s deepest receiving corps. LSU ranks an uncharacteristic ninth in the conference in pass efficiency defense, but this unit still has three standouts in cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley and safety Grant Delpit. The Tigers have only 11 sacks this year and have struggled at times with tackling in open space.
The Gators have struggled mightily to establish the run behind a revamped offensive line in 2019. Through five contests, Florida is averaging only 141.4 yards per rush and just 4.4 yards a carry. Lamical Perine (327 yards) is the No. 1 back for Mullen, with Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis also seeing some snaps. Redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones is a better runner than Trask and is likely to receive playing time on Saturday night. LSU’s defense is giving up just 2.6 yards per rush and ranks second in the SEC against ground attacks, so once again, running room could be limited for Florida. Lineman Rashard Lawrence and linebacker Michael Divinity have missed three games due to injury but are on track to return for Saturday night. The return of Lawrence and Divinity would be a huge boost to the front seven.
Florida has yet to eclipse more than 138 rushing yards in a contest against Power 5 opponents this year. That’s unlikely to change on Saturday night against LSU’s talented front. In order for the Gators to win in Death Valley, Trask will have to play a clean game with no turnovers and continue to be an effective distributor to a deep group of weapons.
When LSU Has the Ball
No defense has been able to slow down LSU’s offense through the first five games of 2019. New assistant Joe Brady teamed with Steve Ensminger this offseason to build a new spread attack that effectively moved the Tigers into the modern era of college football. The results have been an overwhelming success. LSU has the No. 1 ranked scoring offense (57.8 ppg), averages 8.0 yards per snap and has nine plays of 40 yards or more this season.
Quarterback Joe Burrow’s development and overall fit in this offense have helped LSU emerge as one of the nation’s top attacks. The senior is completing 78.4 percent of his throws for 1,864 yards and 22 scores. Burrow has only three picks and averages 11.5 yards per attempt. The Tigers have a strong supporting cast around Burrow, as Justin Jefferson (30 catches) and Ja’Marr Chase (23) rank among the SEC’s top playmakers through the first month of the season. With Terrance Marshall sidelined due to a foot injury, Stephen Sullivan and Derrick Dillon are likely to be more involved in the passing game. The ground game isn’t featured as prominently as before, but Ensminger and Brady make sure Clyde Edwards-Helaire, John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price are involved.
Finding a weak spot in this LSU offense isn’t easy. However, the Tigers entered the year with concerns up front on the offensive line. So far, LSU has allowed only nine sacks through five games but has yet to be tested by a front like the one Florida brings to Baton Rouge. Jonathan Greenard has accumulated four sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss and is likely to create havoc on Saturday night against LSU’s front. Additionally, Jabari Zuniga is expected to return from an ankle injury, giving the Gators one of the top end combinations in the nation. With a pass rush that leads the SEC in sacks (24), Florida’s secondary has plenty of help, but cornerbacks Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson are two of the best in the SEC.
Florida’s defense is only giving up 4.6 yards per play and 8.8 points a game, so LSU’s high-powered attack won’t have an easy going on Saturday night. Considering the ability of the Gators to disrupt the passing game with a standout pass rush, a quick passing game that gets the ball out of Burrow’s hands and into Jefferson and Chase for big plays is a must. And with an offense that’s still developing this year, Florida has to generate a couple of takeaways.
The last five matchups between these two teams have been decided by eight points or less, so another close game should be expected on Saturday night. Florida’s hopes of an upset rest with a disruptive defensive front and a secondary that can limit the damage when Burrow makes connections over the middle. When the Gators have the ball, this game will rest on the effectiveness of Trask and his receivers. But most importantly, Florida can’t afford to have turnovers and must find a way to generate a couple of takeaways. LSU also ranks first in the SEC in red zone offense, but the Gators will counter with the conference’s best red zone defense. Keeping the Tigers to three points instead of seven in the red zone is a must. Florida’s defense will slow LSU’s offense at times, but the edge goes to Burrow and the Tigers at home.