By Casey Gisclair
How about that high-powered LSU offense?
After relying heavily on a dominant rushing attack through the first month of the college football season, the Tigers’ offense finally found its groove on Saturday in a dominant 45-24 win over South Carolina. LSU (5-0, 3-0) amassed more than 600 yards of total offense for only the second time in the Les Miles era, as the Tigers were able to blast the Gamecocks defense a healthy mix of both the run and the pass.
Next up is No. 6 LSU’s stiffest test of the season – a battle with No. 8 Florida, the fifth time the two schools have clashed when both ranked in the Top 10. All five of these bouts have come during the Les Miles era, with the Gators leading 3-1, and LSU’s lone victory coming in Tiger Stadium during the national championship 2007 season.
No one expected the Gators (6-0, 4-0) to shine this brightly in 2015, but man, oh man, were we all wrong. Florida brings a glistening undefeated record to Death Valley, but the Gators will be without starting quarterback Will Grier, who has been suspended for one year after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.
The weirdest LSU football season in modern memory just keeps getting weirder.
LSU OFFENSE vs. FLORIDA DEFENSE
The LSU offense is no longer unbalanced. After a dreadful 2014 and a Fournette-centric, conservative start to 2015, the Tigers’ passing game found a way to hit their stride on Saturday versus South Carolina. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris continues to blossom and threw for a career high of 228 yards on 18-for-28 passing against South Carolina.
Of course, LSU’s running game is also beastly – a three-headed monster that features the best player in all of college football (Leonard Fournette), one of the best true freshmen players in all of college football (Derrius Guice) and an overlooked sophomore back (Darrel Williams) who would start for 90 percent of the teams in the country.
But LSU will face a stiff test against Florida’s defense. Long an SEC defensive power, the Gators haven’t faltered in their defensive successes in 2015. The Gators have held opponents to 13 points or fewer in four of their six games this season, including three of their four SEC wins. Florida allows 296.3 yards per game defensively, including 99.2 rushing yards per game. The Gators have NFL-bound players at both the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. Linebackers Jarrad Davis and Andrew Morrison are Florida’s best tacklers – the two men Fournette will be meeting most often on Saturday. In the passing game, it’ll be defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III who will be tasked with locking up LSU’s top receivers.
LSU DEFENSE VS. SOUTH CAROLINA OFFENSE
The LSU defense is a tough one to figure out. Again, the Tigers didn’t allow a ton of yards on Saturday – something that’s been the signature trait for LSU throughout the season. But LSU’s defense didn’t look particularly good, either. The Tigers fail to get consistent pressure the quarterback, and have a tough time defending the middle of the field against the passing game with its safeties and linebackers.
Against Florida, LSU will be facing an offense that has been vastly improved this season, but now faces question marks without quarterback Will Grier. Sophomore Treon Harris will take over under center, and has played sparingly in 2015. A true dual-threat, Harris tallied over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014. Harris has only attempted 27 passes in 2015, and none since Florida’s week two 31-24 victory over East Carolina. Harris’ lone two touchdowns came against New Mexico State in the Gators’ season opener.
In the running game, Florida uses Kelvin Taylor as its primary back. While Taylor’s no Leonard Fournette, he’s certainly not terrible, either, already recording 438 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. In the receiving corps, the Gators spread the ball around, and six players already have 10 or more catches this season. By comparison, LSU only has two. Florida’s offense is better than before, but still inconsistent. Grier’s absence gives LSU the edge.
I’m about done with Bradley Dale Peveto being a part of the LSU coaching staff. The same guy who was co-defensive coordinator in one of LSU’s worst defensive seasons in 2008, Peveto’s ineptitude has now taken its grip on the LSU special teams.
For the second-straight game on Saturday, the Tigers were fooled by a surprise onsides kick – this time it was luckily negated by an offsides penalty. Likewise, LSU’s coverage units are so corroded that LSU spent the better part of Saturday’s game squib kicking the ball and conceding excellent field position to South Carolina. Florida’s special teams units aren’t excellent, either.
The Gators have made just 5-of-9 field goals and own some of the lowest return averages in the SEC, but I’ve never seen Florida squib kick the ball repeatedly out of fear of a long return. That’s Busch League.
Which Florida team is the more accurate depiction of the 2015 Florida Gators? Is it the team that struggled to beat Eastern Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky or is it the team that demolished Ole Miss? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Riding newfound offensive confidence and a home crowd that will be in excess of 100,000, I think LSU continues to roll and stays unbeaten.
LSU 28, Florida 20
No. 6 LSU Tigers (5-0, 3-0) vs. No. 8 Florida Gators (6-0, 4-0)
Tiger Stadium (102,321); Baton Rouge, La.
Saturday, Oct. 17; 6:00 p.m.
TV: ESPN; Radio: 98.1 FM