Florida Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. LSU
A year ago, the Gators offensive line got roughhoused by LSU during a 41-11 pounding. On Saturday, the improved front five will be the biggest key in Florida's quest to upset the fourth-best team in the nation.
After facing serious depth and size issues in 2011, Will Muschamp, offensive line coach Tim Davis and strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman have molded the flawed group into a stouter, meaner unit.
The early yields have been tremendous, as the Gators boast the nation's No. 20 rushing attack.
Although the play up front has been mostly solid, the Gators have yet to face a defensive front as talented as LSU's. The starting five will have its hands full in blocking Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Co.
Besides the offensive line, this close matchup could be swung by special teams, turnovers and the running game.
Saturday's matchup has the potential to be an old-fashioned slugfest, and the Gators finally have a legitimate chance to scratch out a win against the Tigers.
Let's take a look at the five keys to a Gators win.
Shut Down LSU's Run Game
Like fellow SEC powerhouse Alabama, LSU features a glut of talent at the running back position.
While many teams would settle for just one 4-star running back, the Tigers boast two in Kenny Hilliard and Spencer Ware and a former 5-star recruit in junior Michael Ford. Throw in Alfred Blue—the team's second-leading rusher—and it's clear the Tigers have an abundance of riches in their backfield.
Through five games, Les Miles' squad has already rushed for 1,148 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Defensively, Florida has been solid at stopping the run, but has shown some vulnerability on outside runs. Getting back defensive end Dominique Easley should help solidify the edge run defense and keep LSU's offense in check.
Establish Mike Gillislee Early
If it wasn't for Mike Gillislee, Florida would likely have a losing record.
The senior running back has been the unquestioned offensive MVP, rushing for 402 yards on 69 carries (5.8 yard average) and five touchdowns.
Against Tennessee, the 5'11", 209-pounder was pivotal to the Gators' 37-20 victory, averaging a robust 6.4 yards per carry on 18 carries.
Gillislee only carried the ball 13 times against Kentucky, but there's no question offensive coordinator Brent Pease has to get the ball in Gillislee's hands early and often Saturday.
As long as the Gators can pick up four or five yards each time, they can force LSU to respect the run, which should open up the passing game.
From LaRon Landry to Patrick Peterson to Morris Claiborne, LSU has made it a habit of churning out star defensive backs.
Here in Gainesville, the Gators have produced some game-changers of their own.
In safety Matt Elam and cornerbacks Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson, Florida has a trio of NFL-caliber playmakers in the secondary. After showing plenty of promise early in their careers, all three appear destined for stardom in 2012.
Elam—a former 5-star recruit—is the unquestioned leader on the back end, providing stout run defense and solid coverage skills. Watkins and Roberson came to Florida as 4-star recruits and form a dynamic cornerback duo.
The trio has snagged half of the team's interceptions and needs to make plays on the ball against turnover-prone quarterback Zach Mettenberger. If the Gators win the turnover battle, they should leave the Swamp victorious.
Put Jeff Driskel in Winnable Situations
The Jeff Driskel hype machine has a chance to explode Saturday—for better or for worse.
Florida's sophomore quarterback has captured national attention for his hot start in his first year as a starter. The 6'4" signal-caller boasts a terrific 69.6 completion percentage and 158.02 efficiency rating.
However, his numbers have been aided by playing against the likes of Bowling Green and Kentucky. Those teams aren't in the same stratosphere as LSU.
The Tigers have an incredibly deep talented defensive line headlined by stud defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. The Gators offensive line must give Driskel ample time to make his reads and get the ball out to his receivers.
If the Gators can't establish the run, it's going to be a nightmare for Driskel to get anything going against the Tigers' ninth-ranked scoring defense. Brent Pease needs to let Driskel utilize play action and buy time with his legs in order to put points on the board.
Make Big Plays on Special Teams
Will the real Andre Debose please stand up?
The kid dubbed as Percy Harvin 2.0 has been phased out of the offense, but that's not to say the Gators can't use his talents.
Despite his inability to earn snaps on offense, Debose's physical prowess still makes him a game-changing returner. During the past two seasons, the 5'11", 189-pound speedster averaged 27 yards per kick return and scored three touchdowns.
The red-shirt junior has averaged 24.2 yards on six kick returns this year, so he's due for a big play.
In terms of kick coverage, the Gators have done exceptionally well, especially due to the strong leg of kicker Caleb Sturgis. The senior averages nearly 64 yards on kickoffs and has converted 80 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Les Miles loves to mix it up on special teams, so the Gators have to be on their toes.
If UF is able to catch LSU sleeping, there's a great chance the Gators will chomp the Tigers in the Swamp Saturday.