Florida famously plays LSU, its cross-division rival, every single season, so in theory it should be familiar with the Tigers when the two teams square off on Saturday.
But this LSU team is different. Historically renowned for their swarming defense and just-good-enough offense, the Tigers' units have reversed those roles this season.
The offense ranks top 10 nationally in yards per play, killing teams with an uncharacteristic vertical passing game, while the defense ranks seventh in the conference in points allowed per game.
Welcome to Bizzaro World.
Still, there's a chance Florida can play LSU close in Baton Rogue. Junior quarterback Tyler Murphy entered the lineup when starter Jeff Driskel broke his leg, and so far, Driskel's absence has been addition by subtraction.
Despite playing only SEC teams, here is how Murphy's numbers compare:
The TD:INT ratio jumps off the page—and rightfully so. Driskel proved he could move the offense in a loss at Miami, but he frequently shot himself in the foot, costing Florida a game it should have won.
If Murphy wants to pull the road upset at LSU, that is precisely what he must avoid. The Gators will need a ball-control game plan that's predicated around keeping its defense on the sideline for as long as possible.
Why? Because no matter how good LSU's offense is, a rested Gators defense is one that's almost impossible to exploit. Even without Dominique Easley, who tore his ACL, Florida is sound-to-elite on every level.
Lest we forget how bad it made Zach Mettenberger look last season:
The team with the best unit on the field always has a chance to win, and there's reason (every game it's played this year) to believe that Florida's defense is said unit. But it can't overcome sloppiness and recklessness on the other side of the ball.
Just look at the efficiency of the last four quarterbacks (in five games) who beat LSU, including Driskel himself in a 14-6 slugfest last season:
|Aaron Murray (UGA)||W 44-41||58.8||8.8||1||165.4|
|Tajh Boyd (CLEM)||W 25-24||72.0||6.9||0||143.3|
|AJ McCarron (ALA)||W 21-17||51.9||6.1||0||115.4|
|Jeff Driskel (FLA)||W 14-6||66.7||5.1||0||109.4|
|AJ McCarron (ALA)||W 21-0||67.6||6.9||0||125.46|
All did well to take care of the football, only throwing one interception between them. You can't shoot yourself in the foot against a team as sound as the Tigers.
But that mindset extends even further. Here's how those quarterback fared, on average, during the whole of that season when they beat LSU:
|Aaron Murray (UGA)||64.9||10.2||176.87|
|Tajh Boyd (CLEM)||67.2||9.1||165.58|
|AJ McCarron (ALA)||67.2||9.3||175.28|
|Jeff Driskel (FLA)||63.7||6.7||132.18|
|AJ McCarron (ALA)||66.8||8.0||147.27|
Every single one of them played below their season QB rating in the victory, and all but AJ McCarron in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game played well below their season yards per attempt.
But all of them were happy to do so.
The formula for beating LSU isn't stretching the field—even if that's how Murray beat it earlier this season. Florida doesn't have the horses to apply such a scheme.
Who Will Win on Saturday?
The Gators must follow the previously-adhered-to formula; Murphy must take care of the ball, refuse to turn it over, throw shorter passes, sacrifice his QB rating, pick up timely third downs, avoid taking sacks, then let his defense do the rest.
Even if this LSU team is different than previous years, Tiger Stadium is the same beast. Playing in that environment will rouse the Tigers defense to levels it didn't enjoy on the road at Georgia.
Murphy stands little chance of taking its top off and picking it apart downfield.
But that doesn't mean he can't beat it.