These two teams battled in epic fashion last year in Baton Rouge with LSU topping the Gators 28-24. The Tigers trailed by 10 two different times in the game before gutting out a tough victory in the fourth quarter.
The stakes for the 2008 contest are similar to last year’s game as well, with Florida coming in with one loss to an SEC West opponent (Ole Miss this year, Auburn in 2007) and LSU coming in unbeaten.
Florida cannot afford another loss if it wants to get to Miami in January, and LSU can’t drop too many games in order to keep up in the SEC West with Alabama.
In their last trip to the Swamp in 2006, LSU suffered through an error-filled performance riddled with yellow hankies and five turnovers on the way to a 23-10 loss.
LSU will win if...
The Tigers continue to run the ball like they have all season.
Charles Scott has taken over where Jacob Hester has left off and then some. Scott is averaging 133 yards per game and 7.5 yards per carry.
LSU keeps dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
While most fans know about LSU’s “magnificent seven” defensive linemen (even though they can really rotate nine guys), most of the nation is unaware of how solid LSU’s offensive line has been so far.
Charles Scott may have a great burst and can lower a shoulder with the best of them, but he usually does so through a gaping hole created by the Tiger O-line—the strength of which resides on the left side with tackle Ciron Black and guard Hermann Johnson. The line has much to do with LSU averaging 6.6 yards per play on offense.
Jarrett Lee is efficient under center.
Don’t turn the ball over, and don’t try to be a hero—just keep the sticks moving and convert third downs. That’s it. An effective running game will help this materialize. But mistakes from the QB position can be a killer for the Tigers.
Arkansas had some success moving the ball on the Gator defense but shot themselves in the foot. LSU can’t afford to do the same. Florida will get theirs and score in the 20s in this game—it’ll be the Tiger O that needs to match that plus one.
LSU will lose if...
The Gators throw deep effectively.
While Tim Tebow didn’t look so polished last week throwing the ball, LSU’s pass defense has left a lot to be desired this season, especially on deep passes. I’m not naming names because the whole secondary has been suspect at times, but the nickelback position that the Tigers employ, especially against the spread, will need to tighten up if LSU plans on winning.
The Gator defense dominates.
The Gary Crowton/Charlie Strong matchup may be a fun chess match to watch. What might be more interesting is to see if both squads can execute what these coordinators send in. If the UF defense is clicking and is able to disrupt Jarrett Lee’s first road start, then it’ll be a long day for the Bayou Bengals. The crowd won’t help matters.
LSU’s punt return woes continue.
Most LSU fans have gotten to the point where they don’t care if the ball is advanced, just so long as the rock is caught and secured. Trindon Holliday seemed like a natural to fill in at the punt return spot, but his hands have proven to be a liability. Maybe look for safety Chad Jones to come in and call fair catches.
Any fumbles can greatly switch a field position advantage, and in a game that’s going to be close, that kind of mistake may be fatal.
The X factor
While Urban Meyer is considered by most a genius and Les Miles an erratic, lucky oaf, there was some serious coaching going on under both headsets last year in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers had last week off while the Gators went to Fayetteville. In his tenure at LSU Les Miles has never lost after a bye week, with the exception of the unscheduled hurricane bye week in ‘05, and is undefeated in the bowl season. Meaning under normal circumstances, Miles and his team have been deadly with more than a week to prepare.
It won’t be the difference in the game—just something to think about.
Throw all the trash-talking headlines out the window. It doesn’t matter. Or maybe it does. Florida came out last year before the game and collectively stomped “The Eye” at midfield, much to the crowd’s and possibly the team’s chagrin. Tim Tebow phoned his way into the end zone, but LSU dialed up the W.
So maybe the Ricky Jean-Francois quote does matter. Maybe it gives the Gators the extra edge Saturday night when these teams are fighting to a standstill.
These teams are very similar. Both teams have won the crystal ball in one of the last two seasons, both teams have intimidating home venues, and both teams play with a little swagger in their step. Another similarity is both of these squads have amassed their fair share of penalties the past few seasons.
That may play a role on Saturday night. I think LSU loses the penalty and the turnover battle, and that, along with the disadvantage of playing in the Swamp, becomes a little too much for LSU to overcome, and the Tigers drop a close one.
Quite simply, Florida came into Baton Rouge last year with their backs against the wall and lost a heartbreaker. The Gators will play like they have everything to lose, and it’ll show on Saturday in a positive way.
Maybe the game isn’t played on the level of last year’s version, but it’ll be another white-knuckle ride. Hopefully, no jump passes this time. Did I mention I’m an incurable pessimist when it comes to my team?
Florida 26, LSU 24
For the Florida perspective, check out David Wunderlich’s article here.