LSU vs. Florida: Shouldn't the Gators Be the Favorite in SEC Showdown?

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LSU vs. Florida: Shouldn't the Gators Be the Favorite in SEC Showdown?
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Quarterback Jeff Driskel gives Florida an edge this time around.

LSU may enter the Swamp as 2.5-point favorites, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story about who should emerge victorious Saturday.

For the first time since Tim Tebow was around, the Gators can and should beat the Tigers.

Despite their four-headed rushing attack, dynamic defensive end duo and 5-0 record, the Tigers have been tested early in games that should have been blowouts.

Just a week after barely scratching out a 12-10 victory against unranked Auburn, LSU needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to hold off Towson — a Colonial Athletic Association team.  

The Tigers’ other victims include a daunting lineup of North Texas, Washington and Idaho.

Meanwhile, Florida has shown continued improvement in its first four games. Their opening win against Bowling Green wasn’t pretty, but Will Muschamp’s team has since developed into a balanced, defensive-minded squad that refuses to quit.

In Week 2, the Gators earned a hard-fought road win against Texas A&M before blowing out Tennessee, 37-20, in Knoxville in Week 3. Of course, they beat up on perennial punching bag Kentucky back at the Swamp two weeks ago.

Entering Saturday’s matchup, the Gators should take the bite to the Tigers and prove they are in the same class.

Offensively, the Gators are miles ahead of where they were last season when LSU pummeled them, 41-11. The offensive line — save for senior left tackle Xavier Nixon — has been solid in paving the way for the nation’s No. 20 rushing attack.

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Thanks to senior Mike Gillislee’s no-nonsense running style, UF is averaging 224.5 yards per game on the ground and has scored 75 points in its last two games. The 5’11”, 209-pounder consistently gains positive yardage, utilizing his speed in the open field and his power between the tackles.

Between Gillislee, Mack Brown, Matt Jones and a more experienced Hunter Joyer, UF has a lot more firepower than last year’s blazing but undersized stable of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.

However, what truly separates this year’s squad from last year’s is the all-important man behind center: Jeff Driskel.

The former top recruit has quickly evolved from a timid freshman backup to an assertive sophomore in his first year as a starter. Driskel’s athleticism buys him extra time in the pocket and gives him the ability to scramble for big gains. Throw in a completion percentage a tick below 70 and a robust 8.8 yards-per-completion average, and the Gators have found themselves a real quarterback.

Driskel hasn’t faced a defense like LSU’s ninth-ranked unit, but the burden doesn’t totally fall on his powerful right shoulder, as the Gators check in just one spot behind the Tigers on defense. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s unit is playing lights out, surrendering just 12.8 points per game, including zero fourth-quarter points.

Playing in the Swamp against one of their most hated rivals should give the Florida defense an extra boost Saturday. Getting back two stalwarts in Jelani Jenkins and Dominique Easley doesn’t hurt, either.

Jenkins — who’s been sidelined with a thumb injury — gives UF’s linebacking corps a sound tackler, versatile blitzer and great leader. According to Gator Nation's Michael DiRocco, the redshirt junior should return to the lineup if he's cleared to play with a cast on his right hand. 

Easley — who missed the Kentucky game because of his knee — provides the defensive front with a terrific pass-rusher who’s capable of wrecking havoc in the backfield.

Combined with playmakers like Lerentee McCray, Jon Bostic, Matt Elam and Marcus Roberson, the defense is this team’s bread and butter.

LSU’s offense doesn’t lack playmakers, but UF’s defense is tougher, more experienced and deeper than in recent memory, which should give turnover-prone quarterback Zach Mettenberger fits.

Since arriving in Gainesville, Muschamp has always preached about how the SEC’s best teams run the ball and play great defense. LSU is still among the best at both, but UF is now right there with them.

In what should be a throwback SEC slobber knocker, something’s got to give.

This time around, Florida will defend the Swamp and send the Tigers back to the Bayou licking their wounds.

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