When: 3:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday Oct. 12, 2013; CBS
Where: Death Valley Stadium; Baton Rouge, Louisiana
SETTLE DOWN IN TOUGH ENVIRONMENT
The Gators continue to get healthy and outside of the six players missing the rest of the season due to injury, they almost have everybody else back. .
On offense, Florida knows they are going to have their hands full with a very talented defense, one capable of beating everyone. The other big issue will be the environment as the stadium in Baton Rouge is one of the toughest in all of America to play.
Florida junior quarterback Tyler Murphy will be starting his third game for the Gators and continues to show growth after abruptly landing in the starting spot in the second quarter of the Tennessee game in week three. Murphy has shown an ability to move the chains and a general feel for the pocket that has been missing in Gainesville in the last four years.
Florida's offense wants to run but hasn't been able to assert its will in the running game as much as it would like and thus has had to rely on Murphy to get to his top targets at receiver, the trio of senior Trey Burton, senior Solomon Patton, and Quinton Dunbar. The trio's success means Florida is the only team in the SEC with three receivers with 270 or more yards so far in this young season. The Florida tight ends continue to be not much of a factor in the passing game outside of their blocking ability.
The running game has been solid with sophomore Matt Jones and junior Mack Brown, but are lacking in average and in number of big plays. Look for sophomore Valdez Showers to start to play a bigger role in the offense with his speed at the position. The Gators would like to get the backs involved a little more in the passing game as well.
Up front the Gators are as healthy as they have been all season. That translated into a good night in pass protection last week, but Florida head coach Will Muschamp said they were disappointed in the run blocking and the ability for the offensive line to move people. I don't think they are thinking making a move here from the starting five, but they are going to be on them to play better.
In essence this offense has been really tough to gauge and compare to a season ago or before because once they seem to get a two touchdown lead or more they tend to coast and run clock unmercifully. That means running into the teeth of eight and nine man fronts which is never going to return positive returns in the run game.
The Florida defense continues to dominate, but have started slow a few times this season. Whether it is making an adjustment or starting flat, LSU is not a team they want to start slow against.
Up front the Gators are getting the best pass rush from outside that they have had in years. That was to be expected from the likes of sophomores Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard and junior Ronald Powell. The Gators have also been able to blitz the quarterback from the secondary positions and juniors Cody Riggs and Loucheiz Purifoy have shined in that role. With Dominique Easley done for the year and his career with an injury, Florida has gotten steady play inside from the threesome of defensive tackles in senior Damien Jacobs and juniors Leon Orr and Darious Cummings. Bullard is also taking a lot of snaps inside and will play there a lot with a pass happy offense like LSU.
The Gator linebackers have played very well both in run support and in pass defense. Maybe the best thing about the unit is the quality depth as they go five deep for three positions and there isn't much of a drop-off from starters Antonio Morrison, Ronald Powell, and Neiron Ball to the backups in Michael Taylor and Darrin Kitchens. Taylor has had a great fall already.
The Gators are also finding comfort at the safety position. Cody Riggs has many more great moments than bad ones so far and has made a lot of big plays this year. Jaylen Watkins has been steady as well and showing a physical side to him we haven't seen previous to this year. Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman supply good depth at the position.
Starting cornerback Marcus Roberson should finally be back after missing the last two games. Whether he will start or not may be a big question due to the stellar play of true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III. Junior Loucheiz Purifoy was the national defensive player of the week last week and has huge big play potential. Brian Poole is a solid and aggressive backup and a starter at nickel.
The kicking game has been a big issue so far. Place kicker Austin Hardin is as good as it gets on kickoffs, but is hitting less than 50% on field goals. Muschamp wasn't happy last week when his backup missed an extra point and now walk-on Frankie Velez is making the trip and has a chance to win the job during pregame warm ups.
Punter Kyle Christy has also not lived u to expectations, but there hasn't been a move to change him yet.
The return game has been good, both punt returns and kickoff returns.
Zach Mettenberger will be the best quarterback the Gators have seen… by far. He's throwing for 289.7 yards per game with 15 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham are second and third in the SEC in receiving and have a combined 1,302 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns between them. The two receivers and Mettenberger translate to the third best passing game in the SEC.
Jeremy Hill has been the workhorse for LSU this year as opposed to years past when the Tigers would really split the carries between as many as four backs. Hill is special and is second in the conference in rushing at 118.8 yards a game and a big time 7.5 yards per carry average. He is a big play waiting to happen.
The LSU offensive line has been great in the running game, but has given up nine sacks in the three SEC contests they have played in. This is an area the Gators would hope to take advantage of.
The defensive line is very thin and hasn't been good so far this year. There is talent there, but they play the entire game and can wear down. Jemauria Rasco is the best player up front and a quality pass rusher, Florida needs to neutralize him.
LSU is looking for better linebacker play but the best of the group has been Kwon Alexander. The Tigers currently sit 8th in the conference in rush defense at 158 yards per game and the linebackers are a big reason for it.
They may not feel like they are their normal standard in the secondary, but LSU's pass defense is still ranked 4th in the SEC and only giving up 207 yards per game. The Tigers also have five interceptions on the year. They do start two freshmen at cornerback, but they have solid safeties led by the experienced Craig Loston.
It appears the best way to attack LSU is just like Florida did a year ago. Ground and pound them into submission and try and wear down their front seven. There is little doubt in my mind that Florida will try and do that to start the game and see where it goes.
However, I do like the matchup of Florida's veteran receiver trio against the true freshmen group of LSU's corners. This is something that should be approached with aggressiveness and applied in the right way during the game.
I think Florida's strengths on defense are perfect for the strength of LSU on offense, the passing game. Florida has the best group of cover guys in the country and a very good pass rush. LSU's lack of quality pass protection could be a big factor here.
The big thing to me on this side of the ball is stopping that running game and namely Jeremy Hill. The big key here is that Florida should be able to really play man on the outside and concentrate on that running game more than other teams are able to do that.
The Gators come into the game where their strengths really match up well with the strengths of the higher ranked team. The winner of this game is going to be decided on who turns the ball over less and which strength is better than that of the opposing team. So, is LSU's pass offense better than Florida's pass defense. I think not. Rushing offense better than Florida's rush defense, it doesn't appear so. Is Florida's middle of the road running game better than LSU's lackluster rush defense and same with Florida's pass offense and LSU's pass defense. Because of style of play I will give Florida the edge when they try and run the ball. LSU when Florida is trying to pass.
I think LSU evens things up quite a bit with special teams, at least so far this season they have a better kicker, better punter, and at least as good return game.
This is a very close call, but I will go against the grain and say… Florida wins 31-27.
Here is more from the week leading up to the game…
Purifoy earns Defensive Player of the Week
Muschamp notebook: Improving the run
Fowler showcases a unique personality
Muschamp previews LSU
Gators in the NFL: Week Five
Saturday offers Powell a shot at redemption
Patton breaking out
Durkin plans on using creativity Saturday
TigerSportsDigest.com in-depth look at LSU
Murphy surprising himself
Video: Garcia talks about offensive line play
Video: Rapid Recap of LSU Week
Gators ignoring numbers of LSU defense
Danielson: officiating key in Baton Rouge
Cummings stepping up to the challenge