Florida’s offense sucked last year. It’s ok to say it. It did. It was mangled from the start when Will Muschamp brought in Charlie Weis to call plays with Urban Meyer’s spread personnel. Oh, and John Brantley got hurt meaning they had two true freshmen playing who had no business playing SEC football. This group is different. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease (from Boise St) has this group on the same page and moving the football. The philosophy is different, and the continuity is much better. For LSU, it’s been a nice year thus far. They got sloppy last week and gave up a couple of cheap scores, but it’s been a focused group for the better part of five games. The turnovers from the offense have been the killers. The Tigers are healthy right now, and this group is going to have to be excellent for LSU to get out of Gainesville alive.
LSU Defensive Line vs. Florida Offensive Line
Anthony Johnson is the story of this unit so far. He simply cannot be blocked by one player. He’s in the backfield on almost every snap. He’s got 19 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and a sack and a half. Not bad for a defensive tackle. Bennie Logan has been right there with him, piling up similar stats with much more focus placed on him. Josh Downs has given way to Johnson as the starter, as we expected, but he’s giving LSU some quality snaps in there. Sam Montgomery and Lavar Edwards are your starters on the edges. Edwards is simply making too many big plays to be held out. He’s got five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, not to mention the interception for a touchdown. Barkevious Mingo is fine, and he plays plenty. It just a matter of having two positions and three players. What you have seen a little bit is a three man rush with Mingo and Montgomery on the ends and Edwards in the middle. It’s easy to get creative when you have that much talent.
One of the many reason’s for Florida’s resurgent offense is the front. It returns for starters, and the fifth man is a fifth year senior. Xavier Nixon has been a starting tackle on this team since his freshman season. He’s now a senior. He’s 6-feet-6-inches and has arms like tree limbs. Chaz Green is the sophomore right tackle. He started a number of games as a freshman last year. Jonotthan Harrison is the junior center. He started every game last year. The guards are John Halapio and James Wilson. Halapio has started 17 games, and Wilson has started 10. These guys have made a commitment to the run this year. The Gators have run for at least 200 yards in all but one game this year and average five yards per rush. The glaring weakness, Texas A&M got to Jeff Driskel EIGHT times for sacks. It looks like a bit of an aberration as Tennessee didn’t register one and Bowling Green had just one. Kentucky did sack quarterbacks three times in that game, but it was a 38-0 beat down. Certainly the Gators have a better front tan last season, and the philosophy is different. LSU’s defensive line will be the stiffest test Florida will face all year.
LSU’s defensive line has one chore above all else in this thing- stop the run. Florida is going to try as hard as it can to establish some semblance of a ground attack. If LSU chokes that off, it could be a long afternoon for Florida. This is not the tricky, option, side-to-side blur that the Urban Meyer spread was. Florida tries to play downhill now, and it starts with these guys. LSU needs to rotate it’s players in to stay fresh on a hot afternoon in Gainesville. This is the Tigers’ first day game, they need to be hydrated and fresh. I think Florida struggles to get much of a push against LSU. No one has done that yet. Expect Logan and Johnson to play big inside. If Driskel is forced into third and distance, LSU can release the hounds like A&M did. The Aggies have a pair of really good defensive ends, but LSU matches up favorably with anyone there. This is a huge test for Florida. I think LSU has the edge.
LSU Linebackers vs. Florida Running Backs
The big story last week as the absence of Luke Muncie at outside linebacker for LSU. Muncie is battling a virus right now and hasn’t practiced much. He’s also lost some weight. Deion Jones and Kwon Alexander played in Muncie’s stead last week and played pretty well. Alexander made a nice play in zone coverage, and Jones just looks so smooth out there. The rock solid play from Kevin Minter and Lamin Barrow continues. Minter had 2.5 tackles for loss last year. He’s got 5.5 this year. How’s that? Barrow is second only to Minter in tackles for this team with 30. He made 17 last year. Muncie said this week that he’s been able to practice more, but I still don’t think he’s all the way back. The youngsters may have to step up again this week.
Yes. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are gone. You can stop scanning the entire field to find them sprinting all alone for a long touchdown. With their departure went the spread offense. Mike Gillislee, a 209 lb. senior is now the lead back in Gainesville. He brings a power running game to a place that hasn’t had one since maybe 2003? Gillislee is averaging right at 100 yards per game. He can break the big one, and he can get the tough one. Matt Jones is a monster at 6-feet-2-inches and 226 lbs. The freshman has carried the ball 23 times for 83 yards. He’s the physical, wear you out back. Trey Burton is another option in the backfield. He can do anything on a football field. He’ll play wildcat QB, RB, TE and WR. No. 8 is all over the place.
These two positions are actually productive this year, quite a stretch from last season. I expect Gillislee to get his hands on the ball a good bit in this one. He’s going to line up in the eye and come right at this LSU defense. Usually when that happens, runners don’t even get to the LSU linebackers. This week, I think the Florida front is strong enough to at least get a body on the LSU defensive line. That means Minter, Barrow and whoever else is in there will have to come meet the ball carriers in the hole. That hasn’t been an issue this year, and I don’t expect that it will be. Gillislee is good enough to get loose a couple of times like Onterio McCalebb did in Auburn. He’ll get his seven and 13 yard carries. The key is to keep them there and not allow the 65 yarder for a score. It’s not something Gillislee does a ton, but he does have a 45 yarder. Burton scored from 80, as well. I like both of these units. Because the Tiger line is better, I don’t think Gillislee explodes.
LSU Secondary vs. Florida Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers
At this point, you figure Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills have got enough experience to be assets on this LSU defense. Mills was beaten on the late Towson touchdown pass. He didn’t get his head around in time, and the fade burned him. Don’t think Florida didn’t see that, either. Still, those guys have made exceptional plays early in the year. Mills almost made a circus play last week when he tipped a ball away that was eventually tipped back to him but he dropped the easy interception. Tharold Simon had a rough week tackling against Towson. He said this week that he didn’t have a good game. It’s good to get those out of the way when you’re playing a team like Towson. Craig Loston continues to start, but Ronald Martin gets his time I there as well. It’s a nice blend that has proven to be productive for this team. Teams are completing exactly 50 percent of their throws against LSU who has allowed five touchdowns and picked off eight passes. Not bad.
Jeff Driskel is improved form last year. He been efficient, completing 70 percent of his throws, and he’s only turned it over once. That’s all you need against most teams when you have a defense like Florida’s. He can also move the chains with his feet. His receiving corps is not ultra scary. It’s a bit like LSU’s. There are some talented players there who haven’t exactly set the world on fire. Jordan Reed leads the team in catches, but he’s a tight end. Sophomore Quentin Dunbar has 10 catches on the year and averages 10.9 per catch. Frankie Hammond is another 6-feet-1-inch receiver with some good speed. He’s got nine catches. Weirdly, Andre Debose hasn’t caught a pass this year. He’s been a home run threat against LSU for two years now. I can’t believe they haven’t thrown him the ball.
This Florida passing attack is far from a work of art. It’s been successful because of the running game, but Driskel grew up a bit in Knoxville. He made a couple of throws in that game that have got to give him some confidence moving forward. The tools are not a problem. Experience and confidence were the obstacles. Reed and Burton can be issues in the matchup department on the inside. On the outside, you have to like LSU’s odds with Simon on any of the Gator receivers and the Jalens holding their own. As is always the case, the secondary will play much better if the defensive line takes control of the line of scrimmage like it can. Reid seems to play his best football in big games. Look for him to take a leadership role this Saturday night and put together a sold game.
Although LSU has an advantage in all three phases here, they are slight. Florida is bigger and better than last season, and they are going to be sky high for this one. If LSU stops the run, it’ll be a huge problem for Florida. Driskel is not ready to win one by himself. I think Florida pounds it at this LSU team as long as it can before opening things up. I like the Tigers in the trenches. Driskel can cause problems with his feet. He’ll surly pick up a few first downs that make John Chavis’ blood pressure elevate. He also isn't prone to turning it over. Holding on to the ball can keep Florida and its crowd right in this game. Florida won’t score 35 points in this game. LSU is too good on defense. The Tigers’ problems may arise on the other side of the ball. Look for a tight, low-scoring affair. It could be trouble.
Prediction: Florida 17, LSU 14