Baton Rouge, LA – The nation's top-ranked team hopes to ranked and short-handed Florida Gators travel to Baton Rouge for an SEC affair against the LSU Tigers.
Florida opened 4-0 under the guidance of first-year head coach Will Muschamp, including a win over rival Tennessee. Hoping to move to 3-0 in SEC action, the Gators welcomed mighty Alabama to Gainesville last weekend. Unfortunately, Muschamp's group proved to be no match for the Tide, falling by a 38-10 final.
"We got beat by a better team tonight," said Muschamp. "We were inconsistent in stopping the run in the first half. They're a good football team, and you can't afford to make mistakes."
Florida comes into this clash with a record of 3-8 all-time against the nation's No. 1 team.
As for LSU, it has yet to be challenged, winning all five of its games by double figures. The Tigers have already beaten three ranked foes at the time of the game, including an Oregon squad that was expected to challenge for the national title. Last weekend, Les Miles' group overwhelmed Kentucky, 35-7.
"I think our team is looking forward to playing our next opponent," said Miles of this weekend's clash. "I suspect there will be some eyes on the tv set."
The Gators own a 30-24-3 series advantage over LSU, but the Tigers did sneak by Florida last season by a 33-29 final.
Not only does Florida have the challenge of facing one of the nation's elite defenses this weekend, but the team will be forced to play with a freshman under center. Quarterback John Brantley injured his ankle last week and will miss this showdown, forcing rookie Jeff Driskel into action. UF is averaging 34.2 ppg and 413.8 total ypg, and although Brantley hasn't been the key to the offense's success, his experience and leadership will undoubtedly be missed. Brantley has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 947 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions to date, but the best thing he has done is hand the ball off to Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps repeatedly.
Rainey leads the team in both rushing (415 yds) and receiving (14 receptions, 246 yds) with four total offensive touchdowns. He has also returned a punt for a score and blocked a kick as well, proof of his tremendous versatility. As for Demps, who averages a staggering 8.8 yards per rushing attempt, he has gained 324 yards and four touchdowns on just 37 carries.
Against Alabama last week, the offense was limited to 222 total yards by the Tide. Diskey, who has been shaky at best in relief of Brantley this season, did nothing to evoke the confidence of his teammates when the starter was knocked from the 'Bama game. Rainey was held to four rushing yards on 11 carries, and Demps barely touched the ball.
"We need to regroup, become a team again," said Rainey after the beatdown. "We need to take another step; the season isn't over yet. It's not good that we didn't rack up rushing yards. We just need balance."
The Florida defense has been stellar under the guidance of Muschamp, a defensive-minded head coach. The Gators are holding foes to 14.8 ppg and 258.6 total ypg, impressive to say the very least. They are surrendering a mere 90.4 rushing ypg at a clip of 3.0 ypc. As for the pass defense, the team has held opposing quarterbacks to just 9.4 yards per pass completion. Jonathan Bostic leads UF with 29 total tackles, including four TFL.
Bostic and company were simply pushed around last week, as Alabama churned out 226 rushing yards at a clip of 5.3 ypc. The Gator defenders were on the field over nearly 35 minutes and permitted 7-of-13 third down conversion attempts to be successful.
While Florida certainly faces another strong offense this week, LSU isn't exactly explosive with the ball. In fact, although the team does rack up 38.0 ppg, it is mustering a rather modest 349.6 total ypg. Fortunately, the Tigers make very few mistakes, having committed just three turnovers all season. They make good on 46 percent of their third-down conversion attempts and can make plays both on the ground and through the air. Jarrett Lee has been an effective performer at quarterback, connecting on nearly 60 percent of his passes for 793 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. Odell Beckham (20 catches) and Rueben Randle (319 receiving yards) are formidable targets on the outside, while Spencer Ware spearheaded a talented backfield with 323 total yards and three scores.
While Lee and the offense has been productive, the defensive unit garners most of the headlines for the Tigers. Surrendering a mere 12.8 ppg, the Tigers have been tremendous against the run, allowing only 60.4 ypg at a clip of 2.0 ypc. The pass defense has been solid as well, as opposing quarterbacks are posting a modest 9.3 yards per pass completion. The star of the defense is Tyrann Mathieu, a relentless performer who is always around the ball. Mathieu has posted 35 total tackles, including four TFLs, and he has recovered three fumbles while forcing four.
Mathieu returned a fumble 23 yards for a touchdown against Kentucky last week, and the Tigers held the 'Cats to 155 total yards, including 89 rushing yards on 39 attempts. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson returned from suspension last week for LSU and provided an early spark, running for a short touchdown in the first quarter.
"Jarrett Lee is our starting quarterback," said Miles, making it clear that there is no quarterback controversy.