Florida Gators Season Preview: Game Seven, LSU Tigers

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IMPORTANT MESSAGE: before I start this preview, I wanted to say something unrelated. A shooting has been reported at UF early this morning. The details are very unclear, except for the fact that they apparently caught the shooter. Please take a minute to think about everybody at UF, and to pray for their safety.

Now then…

PREVIOUSLY PREVIEWING

Game One: New Mexico State Aggies

Game Two: East Carolina Pirates

Game Three: @ Kentucky Wildcats

Game Four: Tennessee Volunteers

Game Five: Mississippi Rebels

Game Six: @ Missouri Tigers

GAME SEVEN: @ LOUISIANA STATE TIGERS

Coach: Les Miles, 12th year (103-29)

2014 record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC), lost to Notre Dame in Music City Bowl

Last meeting: LSU 30, Florida 27 (2014)

All time series: Florida, 31-27-3

Streak: LSU 2

The skinny: LSU hasn’t been quite the same program ever since they got trucked by Alabama in the national championship of the 2011 season (saying 2012 BCS Championship Game just gives off an odd feel to me). After appearing in three of the previous nine national championship games, the Tigers lost 11 games over the next three seasons and haven’t been to the SEC Championship Game since. That isn’t horrible- it’s certainly better than Florida since then- but not exactly a championship contending team, either. And the fans are growing restless.

LSU is still a year or two away from competing for a national championship, but they’ve got a few of the pieces needed in order to do so now. Running back Leonard Fournette is the kind of player you can build a team around, and that’s exactly what Les Miles will do. The Tigers also boast a talented secondary for new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to tinker with. But LSU is far from invincible. Unfortunately, Florida has to play them on their home turf, where they usually are.

Rivalry tone: LSU is what you might call a “secondary rival” for Florida. The Gators’ top three rivalries are with Georgia, FSU and Tennessee, and that will never change. But after those three, there’s a secondary layer of rivals: Auburn, Miami and LSU. Unfortunately, the Bayou Bengals are the only one of those three teams the Gators play every year. But just because Florida and LSU are in opposite divisions doesn’t mean the teams don’t get after each other a little more than most do.

The drama really began in 2003, when a 3-3 and unranked Florida team limped into Death Valley- and proceeded to pull one of the biggest upsets in college football history. But apparently, the 19-7 win over the eventual national champions wasn’t enough for the Gators, who all sprinted to midfield en masse and started stomping on the “eye of the Tiger” logo at midfield to punctuate the stunning victory. Four years later, LSU fans managed to put down their corndogs long enough to hijack Tim Tebow’s cell phone and leave thousands- yes thousands- of threatening and obscene voicemails. If you’re curious, think of what Jameis Winston said at the FSU student union center, but in a threatening context. To ensure that they’d made whatever immature point they were trying to make, they did it again two years later to Florida receiver Riley Cooper and backup QB John Brantley.

The rivalry added a bit of additional spice this offseason with the DBU debate that picked up on social media between the schools’ players and fan bases. This debate was silly, childish, and most importantly, very easy to end. Regardless of how foolish it was, it’s certainly going to be a point of emphasis in the week leading up to the game for both teams, which could carry into on field trash talking. But I’m forecasting a pretty miniscule chance for an on field brawl, for those who are curious.

Offensive breakdown

Returning starters: 8

LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has a big decision to make. Does he go with experienced but inconsistent incumbent Anthony Jennings at QB? Or does he give backup Brandon Harris a shot? Harris has struggled with maturity issues- and has publicly admitted as such- which makes Jennings the obvious leader heading into summer ball. Or at least it did until Jennings got arrested last month. So your guess as to who starts is as good as mine. But neither Harris nor Jennings particularly frighten me as a passer.

But whoever the QB is will get a big helping hand by simply handing the ball off. The aforementioned Leonard Fournette just might be the best running back in the country. He combines speed and power with an insane set of video game type moves that make him nearly impossible to bring down in the open field. And when he gets tired, Darrel Williams is more than capable of picking up where he left off. LSU also has a solid offensive line to block for them. Jerald Hawkins, Ethan Pocic and Vadal Alexander give LSU a trio of returning upperclassmen starters.

The wide receivers will be counted on heavily in order for this offense to tick, and I really don’t know if they’re up to the task. Travin Dural made some big plays for LSU last year, but he was the only Tiger to catch more than 17 passes in 2014. Malachi Dupree is extremely talented, but injuries hampered him last year. Behind them, Trey Quinn and John Diarse will be relied on to step up and make plays.

Offensive Grade: B. This offense has its fair share of question marks. But Leonard Fournette makes this offense a decent one all by himself. Now, if the talented group of receivers can step up and make the QB’s life easier, the offense will thrive.

Defensive breakdown

Returning starters: 8

The defensive line will be an issue that LSU needs to fix right away. Christian LaCouture and Devon Godchaux give Steele a solid interior presence, but the Tigers are in desperate need of finding defensive ends. Steele will run a 3-4 base defense, so the Tigers figure to highlight their strength on the inside of the line while trying to hide their lack of playmaking ends.

The middle level of the defense is in considerably better shape, which is a good thing because the 3-4 defense makes having dependable linebackers a must. All-SEC LB Kwon Alexander will need to be replaced, but Kendell Beckwith (a Nagurski Trophy Watch List member) and Lamar Louis give LSU two dependable linebackers. Look for Duke Riley and Deion Jones to step into considerably larger roles in the linebacker friendly defense.

Then there’s the secondary, the source of LSU’s DBU claims. Jalen Mills (another Nagurski Trophy Watch List member) slides over from corner to safety, where he’ll team up with fellow safety Jamal Adams to patrol the backfield. The cornerbacks are pretty good, too. Tre’Davious White is one of the more underrated corners in the SEC, and he’ll get help from similarly talented (but young) corners Ed Paris and Kevin Tolliver.

Defensive Grade: B-. LSU has talent and experience in spots of their defensive lineup. But in others, there are some serious questions. The Tigers always employ a good defense, and this year shouldn’t be an exception, but I don’t think this will be a great one.

LSU wins if… The Tigers are productive through the air. Fournette is going to do his damage; that’s almost a given. But Florida’s defense knows the ground game is LSU’s only real threat, and figures to sell out to stop the run by loading the box. LSU’s QB will have to make some plays to keep Geoff Collins guessing, or else they’ll be in trouble. This also means that Harris or Jennings has to play a smart, turnover free game.

Florida wins if… They’re able to run the ball effectively throughout the game. Florida’s offensive line is going to be a young one, but they’ll have gained some experience by this point in the season. LSU’s defensive line has almost as many question marks as Florida’s offensive line, so when the Florida has the ball, the line of scrimmage is pretty much a push on paper. If the Gators can win the trenches on offense and gain some yards on the ground, and negate their biggest weakness, you have to like their chances to pull the upset.

Three things to watch for:

1) Will Grier (or Treon Harris, if he wins the job) will have been through a couple of road tests before, but nothing quite like this. Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium and Missouri’s Faurot Field simply can’t compare to the rowdiness that resides in Death Valley. I’m extremely curious to see how he will handle what’s sure to be a raucous environment. Some young QB’s get rattled and make mistakes in situations like this. But Grier can’t afford to if Florida is to have any realistic chance to win.

2) A surefire way for the Gators to lose this game is to blow assignments in the secondary and make things easy for LSU’s QB. I trust Geoff Collins and Kirk Callahan to not let this happen, but then again, I trusted Muschamp to not let this happen last year and it happened on a consistent basis, including once late in the game against LSU. The Gators cannot make anything easy for Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris; doing so will be fatal.

3) Who’s going to step up in the passing game for Florida? Demarcus Robinson is the Gators’ lone proven receiving threat, but LSU is sure to watch him closely. Somebody else is going to have to make some plays to force LSU to back off of Robinson. Or maybe somebody will in an earlier game, and LSU won’t be able to focus solely on Robinson to start with. But I’m extremely anxious to see who Grier will be throwing to against such a solid LSU secondary.

LSU overall grade: A-. This may be the year LSU finally breaks through and returns to the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers have some weaknesses like any other team, but with Fournette leading the way, LSU should be a ten win team.

Overview: As much of a house of horrors as Death Valley is, the Gators actually have a pretty good history there. Florida has won 11 of the last 17 matchups in Baton Rouge. But the flip side of that is that LSU has won four of the last five over the Gators on their home turf. Equally daunting of a stat is that before Mississippi State beat them in Death Valley last year, they hadn’t lost to an unranked team since 2008, to Ole Miss. And that Mississippi State team quickly shot up the rankings and reached the Orange Bowl, while the 2008 Ole Miss team destroyed a top ten Texas Tech team in the Cotton Bowl.

So asking what figures to be an unranked Florida team to go into Baton Rouge and come away with a win is asking a lot, especially with a first year starting QB. The Gators figure to improve and get better each week under McElwain, and having lost two straight games in my hypothetical projections, the Gators will come into this game desperate to get back on the right track. Unfortunately, playing in Death Valley isn’t the easiest way to do it.

Then again: stranger things have happened in Death Valley, particularly when this Florida Gator squad is involved. I expect Will Grier to have a surprisingly big day, and the offensive line will surprise some people and really start to gel, allowing Kelvin Taylor to get going. And Florida’s defense is always one to fear. All that will keep Florida in the game longer than some may expect, but in the end, Fournette will save the day, and LSU will send the Gators to their third straight defeat.

Projection: LSU 24, Florida 17

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    Creator and founder of IAKOW 2.0

10 thoughts on “Florida Gators Season Preview: Game Seven, LSU Tigers

  1. I have a bad feeling about this game. Going into Death Valley with this team… man. It’s like Russian Roulette, it has no memory of previous occurrences. I think Florida loses from anywhere between two to five scores. And then we’ll get em in the Swamp in 2016.

    1. ALL LSU is missing is a QB. They usually have a good LINE and I think their D Line will be too much.

      We lose and by more than 10.

  2. I don’t mind LSU, generally. I save my rivalry spirit for Georgia and FSU.

    But the whole DBU debate is ridiculous. Both schools have great histories of producing stellar defensive backs, who really cares which one is better? Unless a kid is seriously considering both schools, there’s not even a legitimate reason to debate this. If that’s how kids want to spend their lives on Twitter, so be it. I just think it’s stupid.

    As for the game itself… Yeah, I don’t like Florida’s chances either. All LSU has to do is find a QB. Florida has to find a QB, and an offensive line, and a receiver not named DeMarcus.

  3. The game plan will be exactly like last years, unless UF actually has a division one offense by the time the game comes around. You know what Les Miles wants to do, pound the ball, stay conservative, and only throw the ball when he has to. We don’t have a clue what UF will want to do, but I think we will see an offense that is similar to Alabama’s, if UF has the talent for it. Kelvin Taylor told us in Spring ball what McElwain wants to do, when he informed us the UF was running a one-cut downhill running power offense. It’s the same thing Muschamp wanted, but failed to execute well. I don’t know if UF has the backs, offensive line, or tight ends to be a power running team now, so McElwain may need to adapt and use deception.
    “A surefire way for the Gators to lose this game is to blow assignments in the secondary and make things easy…” I think this another instance of misplaced blame. Maybe it’s time to place the blame where it’s deserved, on the players, not the coaches. The memorable drive by LSU comes to mind. Don’t you think a safety is taught to not let anyone get open deep instead of twiddling his thumbs in the center of the field? Keanu Neal is not a great safety, get used to it. To compound the brain freeze, McCalister commits a personal foul on the same play. So LSU, with a poor quarterback, converts a third and 26, or “third and California” as Jesse Palmer stated. They get 41 yards on the pass, plus 15 on the penalty. That’s 56 yards on one play. Two plays later, LSU gets a touchdown pass, despite Brian Poole committing one of his signature pass interference penalties.
    That’s not coaching, that’s on the players. Steve Spurrier, who has whipped UF four of the past five years, knows what the problem is with UF. He had some simple advise for McElwain, “get some more ball players.” Until UF gets better players, it doesn’t matter about the coaching.

    1. I don’t totally disagree with some of your points, but I like taking the approach that we’re not wholly screwed for another two or three years.

      And as far as blaming the players and not the coaches… well, yeah, they’re certainly not without blame. But when you have a secondary that gets burned week after week after week… that’s coaching.

      1. I’d like to share your optimism, but some players are never going to get it, hence the advice about getting “more ballplayers.” Take Brian Poole, for instance. He’s been at UF, seemingly forever, and has played as much, or more, han anyone. Yet he still can’t seem to cover anyone without being flagged for pass interference. He, more than anyone else, is the reason LSU won the game last year. Against FSU, he makes a brilliant interception, but he forgets his fundamentals. A defensive back is taught to head for the sidelines after making an interception, that’s 101 in secondary play and should have been absorbed long ago. I fervently believe that Poole would have had a pick six if he had done what he was taught to do. Instead, he cuts to the middle of the field and lets an offensive lineman tackle him. UF got zero points. Now I doubt UF would have won the game since I’d seen FSU always come back, but I also saw Winston have the worst game of his career, so you never know.
        The point I’m making is that UF does very dumb things to get them beat, and I don’t blame it solely on coaching, players have a lot to do with it. For instance, I’d rather have a safety that’s in position all the time, who’s not as physically gifted as a player who can run like the wind and hit like a freight train but can’t be counted on to be where he’s supposed to be. Muschamp was not a great coach, since he put players out there that couldn’t do their job, but the players have some responsibility. I think we finally figured out that coaching wasn’t the reason Jeff Driskel failed, let’s hope that same thing is not true with the rest of the team this year with new coaches.

    2. Interesting that Florida had quite a few guys drafted for a team that doesn’t have good players. Guess those NFL scouts are clueless.

      1. Because you are drafted by the NFL doesn’t mean you are a great college player. The NFL is very concerned with physical characteristics, and seems to value measurements over performance on the field. That’s why a player like D.J. Humphries, who was not a good player at Florida, gets drafted in the first round. Debose was an awful receiver, yet he was drafted because of his speed.The games are different, and I’d rather have an All-American who isn’t even drafted than a first rounder like Humphries.

  4. I think it’s both – PLAYERS & COACHES.

    You can’t tell me we did not have the talent to beat Ga SO?

    You can’t blame all the OFF-SIDES, MISSED BLOCKS, and DROPPED PASSES on Coaches.

    You also can’t blame the lack of “O” Recruiting on PLAYERS.

    But all in all – Look at the SNL Turnout for these new coaches – Ask yourself WHY?

    I think it’s because with these coaches ALL players think they have a “Fair Shot” – It’s not all STARS and your not good enough.

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