No. 4 LSU at No. 10 Florida
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. CBS
Line: LSU -2 ½
As recently as just a few weeks ago, an October 6th matchup between LSU and Florida seemed like it might be a bit of a bore. The Tigers entered the season a consensus Top 3 team, while the Gators were an SEC East afterthought behind Georgia and South Carolina. Simply put, anyone who thought this one would be close a month ago was either lying to themselves… or a Florida fan.
But now three weeks into the season, things have definitely changed, with this game looking more like a toss-up as we get closer to kickoff. LSU has lost some of their luster from last year and has looked largely unimpressive through five games, while on the opposite side of things, Florida has a pair of impressive road victories at Texas A&M and Tennessee.
So who has the edge going into Saturday’s game?
Let’s take a look.
For LSU to Win: They need to control the line of scrimmage on offense. Remember that last year, while everyone was quick to discuss the play of LSU’s secondary and defensive line, it was actually their offensive line which was key to several wins. Games that were close at halftime became blowouts after intermission, simply because the Tigers ran right over opponents behind a menacing offensive line.
Unfortunately, that isn’t happening this year with starting left tackle Chris Faulk out with a knee injury and several other key linemen hurt. And it's been because of that weak offensive line play that the Tigers struggled to pull away from Auburn a few weeks ago, and why games against Towson and North Texas were closer than they probably should’ve been as well.
It’ll be a whole different ballgame going up against Florida’s defensive line Saturday, one of the best in college football.
For Florida to Win: They need to get explosive plays from their playmakers.
Thanks to new offensive coordinator Brent Pease the Gators have had a much better offense this year, in large part because Pease let’s his most talented players do what they do best. Trey Burton is taking snaps out of the shotgun, Jordan Reed is making catches at tight end, and Jeff Driskel is effectively balancing the pass and throw.
The problem is that to date, Florida simply hasn’t played a defense as good as LSU’s, and it’s that reality which leads to the key question Saturday: Will the Gators be able to get enough big plays to move the chains, and ultimately put up enough points to win?
Key Player, LSU: While the obvious answer might be Zach Mettenberger, one of the running backs or a defensive star, we’re going to go off the board and say kicker Drew Alleman. For as good as Alleman was last year, he’s been a bit erratic in 2012, converting only six of nine field goal attempts, including two misses from inside 40 yards. For comparison’s sake, Alleman didn’t miss a single kick within 40 yards last year.
On Saturday points will be at a premium and LSU can’t afford to leave any on the field. More than anything, they’ll need consistency from their kicker.
Key Player, Florida: This time we’re not going to get cute, and will go straight to the man who could make all the difference, Driskel.
Look, we already mentioned this offense, and mentioned Pease, who has somehow found a way to keep Burton and Reed engaged, while still focusing on the run with Mike Gillislee.
Still, the difference between this year and last year is Driskel. After a slow start he has emerged as one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC so far, and developed into a smart playmaker that seems to have an adept sense of when to run and when to throw the ball.
Then again there’s a difference between doing it against Kentucky, Tennessee or Texas A&M and doing it against Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and LSU.
Driskel will need to play his best game for the Gators to remain in it until the end on Saturday.
Key Stat: 9 and 10, which are the respective rankings of LSU and Florida’s run defenses entering this game.
If you didn’t think this one would be decided by the defenses, and decided by the smallest of mistakes one way or the other, that should tell you everything you need to know.
Simply put, this will be one of the best games of the regular season.
Just don’t expect to see many touchdowns.
For all his opinion, analysis and college football insight, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.