Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Games Like This" - Florida Preview

This is why big time athletes sign with LSU.  To play in games like this.  #4 LSU hosting #1 Florida in Death Valley at night in front of 92,000 juiced up Tiger fans.  It's a heavyweight bout between two of college football's elite programs on the biggest of stages.  Four of the last six national championships have been won by these two teams, and the winner of this game has won the last three national championships.  Needless to say, a lot of attention will be paid to this game.  Florida is the heavy favorite this time, but LSU holds several advantages that give them more than a fighting chance. 

When Florida Has The Ball:

It's no secret what Urban Meyer likes to do on offense. With running plays for most teams, the quarterback hands off to the running back and the quarterback is then out of the play. From that point forward, the defense has an advantage of 11 players against 10. Meyer doesn't like that. He likes to use the quarterback as a runner which evens things back up.  Having a Mack truck as a quarterback has made this strategy look like pure brilliance. 

The Gators are in a bit of a predicament in that regard due to the concussion injury to star quarterback Tim Tebow.   If Tebow is able to play, then the Florida coaching staff will surely try to prevent him from taking another big hit.  That means they won't ask Tebow to run the ball up the gut like they normally do and they'll have to change their game plan some as a result.  If Tebow cannot play, then they'll turn to John Brantley who has never started a game in his career.  The Gators have a lot of confidence in Brantley, a good runner himself.  But will the coaches call his number on running plays knowing that if he gets dinged, they'll be down to their third string quarterback?  If Meyer is unable to run the quarterback the way he likes, then they'll have to turn to the running backs and the passing game.

That's not a bad thing for Florida, really.  Florida has a trio running backs who are all averaging over eight yards a carry.   That's insanely good.  Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps have serious speed while Emanuel Moody is a bigger back.  Their running backs are certainly capable.  However, they are used to running the ball when the defense is keying on Tebow.  If the defense is keying on them, will they be as effective?  Florida has a big strong offensive line, but LSU has defended the run fairly well this season.  It's very important for LSU to try and force the quarterback to throw the ball in order to win. 

Florida's receivers haven't been special this season.  They haven't been bad, but it's clear they miss Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy from a year ago.  Denote Thompson and Riley Cooper are talented, but they haven't been showcased to this point.  Tight-end Aaron Hernandez has been the Gators' top receiving threat, and he's a tough matchup for any linebacker or safety.  LSU probably feels pretty comfortable leaving their cornerbacks in man coverage and using their safeties to eye the backfield in efforts to help stop the run.  I think LSU's safeties and linebackers will have to get involved in applying pressure on the quarterback.  The defensive line hasn't been able to get any pressure so far this year. 

Regardless of who plays quarterback, Florida's offense is one of the best in the nation.  LSU has to stop Florida's running game, especially on first and second down.  Forcing a young quarterback who is making his first career start to convert third and long is obviously in LSU's best interest.  If Florida is consistently gashing LSU's defense on the ground for gains of five yards or more, then it could be a long night for the Tigers. 

When LSU Has The Ball:

With all of the talk about Tim Tebow and Florida's offense, many are overlooking the fact that Florida has one of the nation's top defenses and the best in the SEC.  They allow just 212 yards and 7.2 points per game.  With that said, LSU will be the best offense they have faced this season. 

LSU is going to come out and try to run the ball.  The Tigers finally had some success on the ground last week against Georgia, and they'll try to build on that.  But  I have serious doubts that they'll be able to run the ball against Florida's defense.  We'll likely see a lot of 2nd and 9s Saturday night.  But the line may be able to feed off the energy in the stadium and make some holes for Charles Scott and the running backs.  LSU is so adamant about running the ball because it open things up for Jordan Jefferson in the passing game.  If the Gators can stop LSU's run without bringing an extra man in the box, then Jefferson has more defenders to read and he is more likely to make a mistake.  It's imperative the Tigers stay respectable on the ground. 

The Tigers would do well to catch Florida off guard a bit with a number of passes on first down.  The Gators' secondary is very good, but Brandon Lafell and Terrance Toliver will be able to get open against them.  Jordan Jefferson has been very careful throwing the ball so far this year, but he'll have to take some shots in this game.  He needs to trust his outstanding receivers to come down with the ball if they're only guarded by one defender.  Some successful throws early in the game will balance things out for the running game. 

Most importantly, LSU's offense simply HAS to get touchdowns if they're deep into Florida territory.  LSU struggled against both Mississippi State and Georgia in "goal to go" situations, and they had to settle for field goal attempts.  That won't get it done against the Gators. 

All in all, the crowd and atmosphere will help keep LSU in this game and as long as they're within ten points in the fourth quarter, then they'll have a shot.  It may take a big return or turnover in order to win, but crazier things have happened.  I picked the Tigers to lose last week...and they won.  So sticking with what works, I'll say:

Florida 27
LSU 20


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