By Trey Mongrue
There is no rest for the weary and bludgeoned in the Southeastern Conference.
Still in pieces after getting walloped 41-7 by Auburn, the LSU Tigers remain on the road as they travel to Gainesville this Saturday to take on their longtime rivals, the Florida Gators.
Unranked for the first time since 2008, there is a lot at stake for the Tigers this weekend. Not only is Les Miles still searching for his 100th victory as LSU’s head coach, but more importantly, his team still has a very noticeable goose egg in the conference win column.
The silver lining for Miles and the Tigers is that the Gators are floundering in the SEC as well. Under its fourth year with head coach – and former LSU defensive coordinator – Will Muschamp, Florida returns home to Ben Hill Griffin after stealing a 10-9 victory from Tennessee with a frantic fourth quarter comeback.
Despite the 2-1 conference record, questions remain about Florida’s anemic offense, its issues at quarterback and Muschamp’s future with the team.
Miles boasts a 5-4 record against Florida in his LSU tenure. Considering the ramifications that another loss this season may hold, a sixth win against the Gators would be particularly sweet.
“We look at the opportunity to prepare for Florida’s best stuff,” said Miles. “I think there’s an opportunity for us to play best and continue to improve.”
LSU OFFENSE vs. FLORIDA DEFENSE
The stage was set for Brandon Harris. Coming off of a string of good performances as a backup, the freshman quarterback was awarded the start at Auburn. What happened after that can only be described as putrid. Completing just 3 of his 14 passes for 58 yards – the bulk of that coming on a 52-yard completion to fellow-freshman Malachi Dupre – and showing signs of not understanding certain game situations, it became clear that the lights were too bright for Harris. Now, LSU is back to square one with Miles announcing on Monday that Harris and Anthony Jennings will compete this week for the starting job. Going up against a sophomore defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III and a Florida secondary that has forced seven interceptions in four games, whoever is under center for the Tigers will have to be wise with his passes. Leonard Fournette and the rest of the LSU backfield will have their hands full as well. Led by a pair of veteran linebackers in Neiron Ball and Antonio Morrison who combine for three sacks and 52 total tackles, the Gators’ front seven is allowing just 2.8 yards per carry this season.
LSU DEFENSE vs. FLORIDA OFFENSE
Muschamp and the Gators thought they finally found a spark in the offense last week against Tennessee when freshman quarterback Treon Harris took over for senior Jeff Driskel and commanded Florida to 10 fourth quarter points and a win. However, it was announced on Monday that Harris is suspended indefinitely after being accused with sexual assault. That misstep thrusts Driskel back into the starting quarterback role and that may not be a good thing for the Gators. Averaging just 173.8 passing yards per game this season, Driskel’s biggest issue has been ball security with six interceptions. But as teams have shown this season, Florida may not have to do much passing against LSU’s much-maligned defense. Allowing more than 211 yards this season, the Tigers defense ranks dead last in the SEC in defending against the run. That can only mean good things junior running back Matt Jones who is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season.
Back in 2010, then-Florida freshman Andre Dubose almost sank the Tigers with an emphatic 88-yard kick return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Now a fifth-year senior, Dubose remains a threat for the Gators on special teams. Although he has yet to find the end zone this season, he is averaging 23.9 yards on kick returns and 19.4 yards on punt returns with longs of 43 and 55 yards, respectively. On the other side, LSU’s return game has been largely non-existent with Tre’Davious White returning punts and Fournette taking back kicks. The good news, however, is that both have at least been secure with the football.
Youth has been the overarching theme for LSU this season. Coming off of the program’s worst loss since the 90’s and playing a second straight game on the road can be mentally grating on such a young team. If the Tigers were going up against a tougher opponent, a win would seem nearly impossible. But Florida has its own issues, which makes this game a toss up. In the last two seasons, when much better offenses took the field, the winner of this game has not scored more than 17 points. Expect the same thing to occur this Saturday with Florida’s home crowd rattling LSU just enough.
Florida 17, LSU 13