Every week is a big one in the SEC but there’s a little more intrigue around this league this Saturday. Four of the league’s top five teams meet, as Florida hosts LSU, while Georgia visits South Carolina.
Although LSU is off to a 5-0 start, it has fallen in the polls over the last two weeks. Back-to-back lackluster showings against Auburn and Towson raised question marks about this team, but a win over Florida would certainly show LSU is still one of the top two or three teams in the nation.
Although Florida has scored road wins over Texas A&M and Tennessee, this team is still searching for national respect. The Gators had a bye week last Saturday but blanked Kentucky 38-0 in their last game. Is Florida a threat to win the SEC title? Most think the Gators can, however, beating a team like LSU would erase any doubt and signal Will Muschamp’s team is clearly on the way back to being an annual top 5-10 program.
Storylines to watch in LSU vs. Florida
Jeff Driskel vs. LSU’s secondary
If the Gators are going to knock off LSU, it starts with Driskel’s success against the Tigers’ secondary. LSU has allowed only five passing scores this season and ranks sixth nationally in passing yards allowed per game (134.8). The secondary doesn’t feature a senior in the two-deep, while freshmen Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins hold down the cornerback spot vacated by Tyrann Mathieu. Driskel has shown steady improvement since the season opener, completing 14 of 20 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Tennessee. The sophomore also gives Florida an extra threat on the ground, rushing for 148 yards on 33 attempts this year. While Driskel has been efficient and careful with the football, the Gators don’t have an abundance of playmakers at receiver. Tight end Jordan Reed leads the team with 16 catches for 193 yards and one touchdown, with Quinton Dunbar the top target at receiver with 10 catches. Florida won’t be able to lineup and pound LSU with its rushing attack, which adds an extra emphasis on getting the receiving corps to step up. The Gators don’t need to throw it 50 times to win, but Driskel and his receiving corps has to hit a few big plays against the Tigers.
Can Florida stop LSU’s rushing attack?
Florida’s front seven was supposed to be one of the best in the SEC this year, but this group still has a ways to go to be considered among the nation's elite. The Gators are allowing 119.3 rushing yards per game and rank 98th nationally with an average of 1.3 sacks per contest. The defensive line should get better as the year progresses, especially as end Dominique Easley gets closer to full strength from a torn ACL suffered late last season. The linebacking corps suffered a setback earlier in the year, with Jelani Jenkins suffering a broken hand against Texas A&M. Jenkins is expected to return against LSU, and he figures to be tested immediately on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers have one of the deepest backfields in the nation and rank 18th nationally with an average of 229.6 rushing yards per game. The key to beating LSU starts with stopping the run, and Florida was steamrolled for 238 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in last season’s matchup. Expect the Gators to load the box and force quarterback Zach Mettenberger to win, which brings us to our next storyline…
Time for Zach Mettenberger to step up
The preseason buzz around LSU revolved around Mettenberger and how he was supposed to ignite the passing attack. Five games into the season, the jury is still out on whether or not Mettenberger is ready to carry this team to a victory with his arm. The junior has thrown for six touchdowns and only two interceptions but struggled in LSU’s last two games. The Tigers’ offense feeds off the rushing attack, but opposing defenses will load the box and force Mettenberger to prove he can beat them with his arm. Florida should employ a similar strategy on Saturday afternoon, and it’s up to Mettenberger to hit a few throws and open up rushing lanes for LSU’s talented group of running backs.
The battle in the trenches
The biggest concern for Florida in Saturday’s matchup has to be the battle in the trenches. LSU’s offensive and defensive line are two of the best in the nation and the edge in these two areas could be the deciding factor. The Gators rank 98th nationally with 1.3 sacks generated per game, while the offensive line is allowing three sacks a contest. LSU’s defensive line boasts two potential All-American candidates at end with Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, which figure to be a handful for Florida’s line. Having a mobile quarterback like Driskel will help the Gators’ line, but this group needs to get a push on the ground. Running back Mike Gillislee is averaging 100.5 yards per game but running room could be limited against LSU. Considering LSU’s pass rush, Florida will look to move Driskel around the pocket and create opportunities for him to make plays with his legs.
Florida has already passed two SEC tests and Saturday’s game against LSU is an even bigger challenge. The Gators have lost their last two games to the Tigers but have won two out of the last three in Gainesville.
Even though LSU has struggled in its last two games, the Tigers have the edge in talent and depth. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has to step up his game in the Swamp, especially as Florida will look to eliminate the rushing attack.
If the Gators can force Mettenberger into a few mistakes, they should win this matchup. However, the Tigers’ defense will keep Florida’s offense in check, especially as the Gators are struggling to find playmakers on the outside.
Florida is a much-improved team in Will Muschamp’s second season, but the Tigers are the better team in 2012.
Final Prediction: LSU 24-20
by Steven Lassan
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