No. 17 Florida travels to No. 10 LSU for the two's 60th anniversary, to be celebrated in the roars of Death Valley.
Year in, year out, the rivalry is regarded as one of the most anticipated meetings of the South, and this season's SEC contest is expected to rise to the occasion yet again. The Gators reign as the conference's best defense while the Tigers lead the SEC in third-down conversion rate (58.3 percent) and success in the red zone (90 percent) under the direction of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Florida (4-1, 3-0 SEC) comes to Baton Rouge coasting off a 30-10 win against Arkansas in The Swamp. Against the Hogs, the Gators showed that new starting QB Tyler Murphy is settling into his role comfortably, flashing threats in his passing and running games.
Louisiana State (5-1, 2-1 SEC) welcomes Florida after its 59-26 victory against Mississippi State last weekend. The Tigers' wide-margin win was a much-needed boost following their sole loss of the season against the top-10 Georgia Bulldogs in Week 5.
Both squads emerged from last weekend with SEC honors by Tigers QB Zach Mettenberger (SEC Offensive Player of the Week) and Gators DB Loucheiz Purifoy (SEC Defensive Player of the Week). This game will be a battle between an elite defense and a high-powered offense in the SEC. What more could you ask for from Week 7?
When: Saturday, Oct. 12; 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
Radio: Sirius 94, XM 200
Spread: LSU (-7) Via Matchbook.com
Cut 'em off
LSU's multidimensional offense presents itself as UF's biggest concern.
The Tigers are stacked with talent in the quarterback, receiver and running back slots, so the Gators' dominant defense has their work cut out for them.
QB Zach Mettenberger is elite in pass efficiency with his 190.1 rating and is well on his way to setting school records in passing yards and TDs in a season. Receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. have combined for 77 receptions and 1,302 yards, while Jeremy Hill is boasts nine rushing TDs.
The Gators need to contain these guys tightly, preventing them from getting down the field.
LSU has two very talented receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham. Beckham is also the punt returner and kick returner and he’s averaging over 20 yards every time he touches the ball. I think yards after the catch is going to be critical with both of these guys, they do an outstanding job of attacking the football down the field, and getting vertical yardage after. So we need to make sure that we keep them cut off down the field and do a good job of keeping them leveraged in space.
Every Point Counts
In a game projected to be decided by a touchdown, the Gators need to seize every opportunity they can to get on the board in Tiger Stadium.
This means finally figuring out how to succeed on special teams. This has been an area of vulnerability all season long, and it's an issue that's only getting more important to mend.
Kickers Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips can't afford inconsistencies against LSU, whether it's a blocked kick or a missed field goal, both showcased in last week's Arkansas game.
Defense, It's Time to Step Up
While LSU's offense has commanded the Tigers' wins so far this season, they'll have a heavy challenge against UF's defense Saturday.
The offense won't be able to carry the young defense like it has in games past. Nola.com's Jim Kleinpeter discussed LSU's defensive woes while analyzing their play against Mississippi State:
Defensively, the news is not so good. The Tigers surrendered 468 yards, 274 in the first half along with 23 points. Mississippi State averaged seven yards per play and ran 10 plays that netted at least 20 yards, seven in the first half. And I don't care what Les Miles says, the second half wasn't much better, even though the Tigers allowed just three points.
It's a young, developing unit, but the time to show what they can do is now.
Dominate the Red Zone
Obviously, a major strength for the Tigers. Ranked as the SEC's best in red-zone efficiency at 90 percent, LSU will have to continue to flex this against UF.
Last week, LSU went 6-of-6 in the red zone versus Mississippi State and has converted its last nine red-zone opportunities.
In the Tigers' loss to Florida last year, weakness in this area proved to be a deciding factor. LSU head coach Les Miles discussed last year's 14-6 loss in this week's news conference (Nola.com, Jim Kleinpeter):
We turned the ball over late in the game. If we don't, maybe we take the lead and it's a completely different game. I can tell you that Florida was very good that day, and we have to give them credit. They're a talented team. I think our guys fought very well. So finished second that day.
Marcus Roberson (CB, Jr.)
This season, other cornerbacks have been shining plenty bright for the Gators.
Loucheiz Purifoy had a career game against Arkansas last week to nab SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors, while freshman Vernon Hargreaves III is making his own waves, most notably leading UF and the SEC with his three interceptions.
A knee injury stemming from Week 2's contest against Miami has stuck Roberson on the sideline the past few games, but UF coach Will Muschamp told reporters Monday that he'd be back for the LSU matchup (GatorZone.com).
Roberson is impressive in Florida's return game with six punt returns for 87 yards on the season. Roberson wrapped up last season defending 14 passes. With Purifoy and Hargreaves racking up impressive performances already, how will Roberson stack up in his return?
Brad Phillips (K, Sr.)
All-American kicker Caleb Sturgis was a huge luxury on the roster for Florida, made especially evident with the Gators' struggles in the kicker position as of late.
Against Arkansas, redshirt freshman Austin Hardin's first-quarter field goal was blocked because it was too low. Despite the fact Brad Phillips made his 28-yard FG in the third quarter, he missed the extra point on the Gators' last touchdown of the night. While Hardin is slowly losing the starter spot, Phillips is going to have to capitalize on every opportunity he can to prove he's the guy for the job.
Following the Arkansas game, UF coach Will Muschamp said, “I’ve got confidence in those guys; both of those guys have the ability and just gotta go out and do it. They certainly showed the ability. Consistency in their performance is what needs to improve.” (Palm Beach Post, Jason Lieser)
Florida's full depth chart.
Zach Mettenberger (QB, Sr.)
Ladies and gentlemen, your SEC Offensive Player of the Week.
Zach Mettenberger is easily one of the Tigers' biggest weapons between the lines this season. He's been so impressive under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron that he's even generating some Heisman buzz.
The senior QB is quickly proving that his arm is a force to be reckoned with, as he's currently leading the conference in pass efficiency, reigning supreme with his 190.1 rating.
Mettenberger has completed 107 of his 157 passes for 1,738 yards, posted 15 TDs and has thrown a measly two interceptions.
Mettenberger has been elite thus far, but how will he perform under the pressure of a top-ranked Florida defense? He can run, he can pass and he's equipped to successfully manage this game for the Tigers.
Jeremy Hill (RB, So.)
Our featured columnist Jake Martin claims Jeremy Hill is the perfect back to attack Florida's defense, highlighting his versatility in the backfield and up front.
The sophomore is second in the nation with his nine rushing touchdowns and No. 2 in the SEC with his average of 118.8 rushing yards per game.
On the other side, the Gators are holding opponents to only 65 yards per game. But just as Mettenberger hasn't faced a defense like Florida's, Florida hasn't faced a running back like Hill.
With his multifaceted talents—whether it be speed, pass protection or breakaway ability—Hill just might be what can break through the ice of UF's defense.
LSU's full depth chart.
UF head coach Will Muschamp (GatorZone.com):
You have to try and make this a one-dimensional game as best you can, and understand they’re very effective at throwing the football and that’s where they’ve hurt some people...I coached at LSU; they can run, they can strike, they can play. They’re young right now, but they’re fundamentally sound, they play hard, they play fast, they play physical and that’s the type of defense we will see on Saturday afternoon.
Gators QB Tyler Murphy (GatorVision):
I think it'll be a great experience. Baton Rouge is a very lively place, so it'll be a very hostile environment. As a team, we're just going to have to focus on ourselves, not get caught up in all the hype ... We're going to have to try to not get distracted by the different types of things that are going on. They have a tiger that runs right by our locker room.
Any time that we get these two teams matched up, I can think back into '07, and think back into times that we've faced Florida in this stadium, they've always been very competitive, a great challenge certainly to both teams. So good, quality Florida team, ranked number 17, which in my opinion, they look a lot better than 17.
Tigers DT Anthony Johnson on what he remembers about last year's game versus the Gators (LSUSports.net):
The humidity. That was one thing I remember. It was hot, man. Other than that, they were a great team. The coaching staff put them in the position to make plays. We didn't finish off as a team last year, so we're going to come out this year and finish.
Don't expect an upset in Baton Rouge. This year's UF-LSU matchup will be a close one, though. So close, in fact, that it'll boil down to a touchdown.
Tigers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will develop a game plan that propels a fast-improving offense past an elite Gators defense.
One thing you can bet on from the Gators? Florida won't go down without a fight.
LSU 32, UF 27