Meeting as ranked foes for the ninth straight season, the LSU Tigers and Florida Gators square off in a pivotal SEC contest this Saturday in Gainesville.
LSU, which has won 18 straight regular-season games and comes into the clash ranked No. 4 in this week's AP Poll, has topped the likes of North Texas (41-14), Washington (41-3), Idaho (63-14), Auburn (12-10) and Towson (38-22). The Tigers face considerable challenges in the coming weeks, with tough bouts scheduled against Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State. Fortunately, after this tilt four of their next five will take place in Baton Rouge, including the much-anticipated clash with the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
Also sporting an unblemished record, No. 10 Florida is 4-0 after taking out Bowling Green (27-14), Texas A&M (20-17), Tennessee (37-20) and Kentucky (38-0). The Gators, who were idle last weekend, are the first team in the country to win three conference games, and while starting SEC play 3-0 is certainly a good thing, their toughest bouts are still ahead -- LSU, South Carolina and Georgia -- not to mention the regular-season finale at ACC rival Florida State.
Florida leads the all-time series with LSU, 30-25-3. The Gators hold a 14-11-3 edge against the Tigers when playing in Gainesville. The Tigers, however, have won the last two meetings, and are seeking their first three-game win streak over the Gators since 1977-80.
The LSU offense, which generates a scoring average of 39.0 ppg, prides itself on putting forth a balanced effort each time out, as the team produces 229.6 ypg on the ground and 203.2 ypg through the air. The rushing attack has been the main source of scoring though, with 16 of its 22 offensive TDs coming on the ground. RB Kenny Hilliard leads the team with 366 yards and six TDs, and a total of five players have at least 100 yards on the year.
The Tigers' aerial pursuits feature the solid if unspectacular play of QB Zach Mettenberger, who has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,016 yards, six TDs and only two interceptions. Pass catchers Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Jr., and Kadron Boone have combined for 44 grabs, 627 yards and all six of Mettenberger's scoring strikes.
Like so many years past, the 2012 LSU defense is among the best in the nation as the unit allows just 12.6 points and 217.8 total yards per game. The Tigers have been equally tough against both modes of attack, yielding 83.0 ypg rushing and only 134.8 ypg passing. They average more than eight TFL per tilt, and have logged 11 sacks and 12 turnovers. Kevin Minter leads the team with 34 tackles, while Micah Eugene has a club-best three sacks, and both Jalen Mills and Martin Ronald have a pair of interceptions. Foes have not scored a single point in the third quarter this season, and only average four points in the second half of games.
Last week's meeting with visiting Towson wasn't the lopsided affair many expected it to be, as poor weather conditions evened the playing field a bit in what wound up being a 16-point win for the home team. LSU played a rather sloppy game, losing three fumbles and committing 10 penalties, but Mettenberger threw for 238 yards and two TDs, both of which went to Beckham who finished with five receptions for 128 yards. RBs Russell Shepard and Michael Ford each scored a rushing TD, the team as a whole finishing with 158 net rushing yards.
As for the defense, it was taken to task by the Towson rushing attack, which amassed 188 yards and accounted for a pair of TDs. LSU was impressive against the pass, allowing the visitors just 103 yards on 13 completions, while logging three sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries. Minter led the stand with nine stops, although only of those was an unassisted effort.
While obviously pleased with the outcome, LSU head coach Les Miles was not happy about all the mistakes his team made, and knows they can't afford to be that careless against a team as good as Florida.
"There are some things that we are going to do differently that will help us that way. Am I alarmed? Yes, absolutely. I think it is time that we recognize that we cannot go on the path that we are on. It is not productive, and it is not the football we are used to."
Florida has used the run to maximum efficiency this season, averaging 224.5 ypg on 5.0 ypc. RB Mike Gillislee has rumbled his way to 402 yards and five TDs already. As for the Gators' passing attack, it typically generates 183 ypg, with QB Jeff Driskell hitting the mark on nearly 70 percent of his throws. He has just four passing TDs, but has been picked off only once. TE Jordan Reed is the club's top receiver, having hauled in 16 balls for 193 yards and a score. The one area of concern if you're coach Will Muschamp is the number of times the opposition has gotten to the quarterback -- 12 times already.
Defensively, Florida has enjoyed similar success to that of LSU, permitting a mere 12.8 ppg. The Gators have allowed only two passing scores all season, and they are giving up 102 fewer total yards per game that the offense generates. Led by DB Josh Evans and his 26 total tackles, the UF defense has been credited with 20 TFL and six takeaways. Additionally, the Gators have yet to allow a point in the fourth quarter of a game this year.
It took a little while to get going, but Florida took control of its recent matchup with Kentucky, winning 38-0 to give the Gators their 26th consecutive win over the Wildcats. The victory marked UF's first shutout of an SEC opponent since a 52-0 verdict versus Mississippi State back in 2001.
Balance was the key in the rout of UK, as the Gators ran for 200 yards and passed for 203, averaging 5.6 yards per play. Gillislee tallied 56 yards and a TD on the day, while Driskel accounted for two scores -- one rushing, one passing.
Kentucky managed just 60 passing yards against a swarming UF defense, and finished with only 219 total yards while committing three turnovers -- all interceptions. One of those picks was returned for a TD by DB Jaylen Watkins midway through the second quarter. The Wildcats never reached the red zone, and in fact, the opposition has done so just 10 times against the Gators this season.
Muschamp knows his team is going to have be at its very best this week, taking on an LSU squad that has very few deficiencies.
"The thing that jumps off the film at you, as it does every year with LSU, is the physicality of their football team in all three phases and how they play the game," He continued, "A very deep roster. They've won 18 straight regular- season games for a reason. They have an outstanding staff and some really good football players."