When ESPN's College Gameday comes to your citaaaayyyy, you know you must have a pretty exciting game on your hands. That much is obvious. "Big game" is even an understatement when the No. 1 Florida Gators come to Baton Rouge this weekend to take on the No. 4 LSU Tigers.
What's not so obvious is the direction in which both these teams will go after this game. LSU is hosting the Gators and is still a ten point underdog. First glance says the Tigers probably lose, Tebow or no Tebow. And to the college football world, that's probably what's supposed to happen. Florida returns a huge chunk of the team that won it all in '08. A team that embarrassed the Tigers a year ago in the Swamp.
This game is not sneaking up on the Gators. It's been circled by everyone looking for a spot where the Gators to falter in '09 especially Gator fans. Because of that, Florida will probably give one of their best efforts of the season just like they have the past two years against LSU. The game in '07 was an epic slugfest overshadowed by many other great games that year.
A win for the Gators this Saturday, will be just another step towards repeating as champs. That's pretty obvious. What's not so obvious is what a loss will mean.
Much will depend on what LSU would do with the rest of their season, if the Gators deserve/get a shot to be a one-loss champion again. Their road would be cloudy and with superstar Tim Tebow's future cloudy with possible concussion issues, the Gators could become a team that falters under pressure.
A loss for LSU means a loss that most everyone pencilled in during the off season in the first place. When people throw around predictions like 9-3 or 10-2, the Gators were seen as a sure mark in the "L" column. Even though the Tigers are ranked at No. 4, they haven't proven to be worthy of that ranking just yet, though the Georgia game was a step in the right direction. Beating Florida is a different animal of course.
Since a loss might be expected what's less obvious is what a win might mean for the Tigers. Having bested all three opponents from the East this year (Vandy, Georgia, UF) the Tigers would control their own destiny in the West (actually they still would with a loss as well) having offset the advantage for Alabama and Ole Miss (no disrespect to Auburn here) not having to play teams like Florida and Georgia from the SEC East.
In a bit of a rebuilding year where the Tigers seemed to be just a year away from reaching a ten win season again, a victory against the Gators will make the other teams in the West shake their heads as they thought LSU's schedule would be its undoing.
So to continue our look at what's obvious and not-so obvious here are some keys to the game.
LSU will win if...
Obvious—The offense which is still a work in progress starts scoring points especially in the red zone.
Sophomore QB Jordan Jefferson has benefited from his on the job training this season. However, he is still getting used to the position. The game seems to be slowing down just a bit every week, but after a while red zone failures will come back to bite this team.
The Georgia game showed us some firsts for the Tigers this year. It was the first time the ground game worked and hence it was the first time the Tigers dominated in time of possession. By doing that, the defense was fresher and it seemed to help both phases. Controlling the ball will be essential against the Gators as the Volunteers showed earlier this season.
Not so obvious—Special teams play.
Urban Meyer's teams are known for their solid special teams play. LSU so far this season has been inconsistent but looking better as the season has progressed. If this becomes a defensive game, then top notch special teams play will be essential in establishing and/or switching field position as well putting all important 3's on the board when the 6's don't materialize.
On the other side of things, LSU will have to do everything it can on both sides of the ball to contain the Gators. Having to worry about mistakes would sink them. However, shining on special teams could be the difference in the game. Chad Jones had a great day against MSU and Trindon Holliday turned in a solid performance in Athens. More of the same in the return game plus solid coverage could spell trouble for the Gators.
LSU will lose if...
Obvious—Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes!!!
The Tigers will have little margin of error in this game and must do several things right in order to have a shot to beat Florida. LSU started the season making bucket loads of mistakes including basic fundamental ones like snapping problems, missed tackles, missed blocking assignments, etc.
You don't win a national championship without making other teams pay for their mistakes. Urban Meyer's focus will be taking every error the Tigers make and taking advantage. If LSU's performance is riddled with gaffes, then Florida will rout the purple and gold and you'll be looking for another game to watch.
Not so obvious—The running game and O Line don't show up
LSU looked much better against the Dawgs running the ball and that was key. And now many LSU fans think it's back, but let's not be so sure about this one. LSU ran against one of the weaker defenses in the conference this past week and now it takes on the one of the best.
It may very well be the team the runs the ball better will win the game, but if LSU's O line repeats their performance from the first four games, Florida will take this game easily.
On top of the offensive line needing to step up for the running game, Jordan Jefferson has been running for his life because of bad pass blocking. If the Gators stay in his grill all day then the sophomore QB may find this situation more than he can handle. Jordan Jefferson has never started a game of this magnitude and it's up to his line to keep him off the ground.
The X Factor
The Obvious—Uhhh, I'll give you a hint, it rhymes with Slim Me-show.
Tim Tebow will go down as one of the greatest college football players of all time. I'm pretty sure having a Tim Tebow is a lot better than not having one. Concussions are nothing to fool around with. It's the type of injury where if you keep getting them, doctors will stop clearing you to play...ever.
If he does play, then what kind of shape could he be in? What state of mind?
There's no doubt this guy would give his all for his team, but he does have a future to think about. How many more bad hits to the head can he take this year playing his style of football before the eventual NFL contract is in jeopardy?
This is a tough spot. Honestly, as a fan of college football, I want Tebow to play. As a fan of LSU, I'm torn. I want the Tigers to win and one would think that playing without Timmah would be the best bet.
Either way, the task for Jon Brantley will be great. Never starting a game before for the Gators and coming in to a Saturday Night in Death Valley. Eek!
But with the defense and the weapons around him, it's not all on his shoulders and that's a good thing for the Gators.
Not so obvious—The shadow of the valley of death...
Or maybe it is obvious?
Maybe Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night gets its reputation justly. I was there for the Florida game in '07 and it was unreal.
On a college football preseason preview show, Urban Meyer was asked about coming to Death Valley.
He said, "Tiger Stadium quiets down real fast if you get on 'em."
This quote has drawn the ire of many LSU fans but it's not entirely false.
In essence, it's a true statement of any stadium. If Florida is leading by three TD's at halftime, the place won't be rocking in the 3rd quarter. Neither would it if they played the game at any other opposing venue.
So what Florida needs to do is put LSU away early. Put in on LSU early much like they did on the field last year in Gainesville. When Danny McCray tipped that pass to Percy Harvin last year, the game was over, the Tigers just didn't know it yet.
Don't allow those kinds of things to happen, let Tiger Stadium come alive, and anything can happen which would be bad news for No. 1. which Steve Spurrier found out in 1997.
On paper, LSU should lose this game. Florida is on a different level than LSU this year and it's nothing to get upset about, Tiger fans. Florida is that good. That doesn't mean LSU can't hang around this one and if they do they have a puncher's chance.
LSU will not blow out Florida. If this game is a runaway then look for the Gators to be spoiling a Louisiana Saturday Night. But if it remains close, the advantage goes to the Tigers.
Now let's get something straight, I never think LSU is going to beat Florida. Ever. There was a year in the Zook era (2003) where I thought LSU would win and they didn't score an offensive touchdown (Tigers lost 19-7).
However, way back in 1997, things looked so dark for the Tigers. The week before taking on No. 1 Florida in Death Valley LSU took a nightmarish trip to Nashville and beat Vandy on a blocked extra point 7-6. During that game, LSU standout RB Cecil Collins broke his leg and was done for the season. It was bad.
But somehow, me, Mr. Pessimism was quietly hopeful and just had a "feeling" about that game. Every gameday up until that point I would write my score prediction in our apartment's dry erase board on Saturday morning before my roommates woke up (I was too excited to sleep in on gamedays). But on that day, I wrote no score. Instead I wrote this:
"Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground."
I was one of the many in the student section that night witnessing the greatest game I'd ever seen at that point in my life. We rushed the field at the end, tore down the goalposts. I probably still have the foam from one of the goalpost pads somewhere around here.
There was much celebration but one of the best feelings that night was getting home and seeing that quote on our fridge after all that we experienced.
Much has changed since then, LSU isn't exactly David anymore.
Logic controls much of my picking and therefore I pick LSU to lose much more than my fellow fans think I should. Would I be surprised if Florida demoralizes LSU Saturday night?
Not in the least.
Would I be surprised if LSU does the unthinkable again?
I've seen what Death Valley on a Saturday can do. And for better or worse, it sometimes defies logic.
LSU 23 Florida 20
For the Florida side of this game, click here for an article from Tom Kessler.