LSU vs. Florida: What to Watch

Who doesn't love a good apocalypse?

Rivers and seas boiling, the dead rising from the grave, solar eclipses, cannibalism, dogs and cats living together, what have you.

And that may just describe the tailgating on Saturday.

The game itself is officially CBS's featured telecast for the year, which is appropriate, since it should be a whole lot less predictable then the average CBS drama (Will CSI be able to discover the clues? Like they do every week? Find out!).

What You Should Expect to See on Saturday:

Made for TV
There may be no device more often used in the TV world then "Will they or won't they?" Whether we're talking about Sam and Diane, Ross and Rachel, Greg and Marsha (what? Oh...right..."brother and sister") or Buffy and Angel, it's the ultimate suspense builder. And the sports media is plowing it in nice and hard this week about whether or not Tim Tebow will play.

Well, here's a spoiler:


That's right - it doesn't matter.

Is John Brantley Tebow? Of course not. But Florida's offense is still Florida's offense. Even if Brantley is more of a passer then runner as speculated, it's not like the Gators are going to turn into a June Jones run-and-shoot attack. They may throw the ball a little more, but it will still be the same routes LSU has prepared for on film and in practice. They may not run a quarterback smash play on third and one, but they'll still run the option. And the principles to and assignments for defending the option don't change because the personnel running it does. Now, from an execution standpoint, you may assign different defenders to match the different personnel, but those essential principles remain the same.

Will Brantley be running the ball 10 times in the fourth quarter to try and salt away a close game? Probably not - but Florida will still not be hurting for a running game. They may even try some wildcat-ish packages to make up the difference.

As for the "should he play" argument, I'm not about to get drawn into that. I'm not a neurosurgeon (blah blah played one on TV), and I'm definitely not one of Tebow's doctors - and thus I have no idea what is right for him. If he's cleared, he'll play, and I assume he'll be 100-percent. Regardless of what you may think of Urban Meyer (and I think he'd sell one of his children's kidneys to win a football game), it's a pretty big leap from "ruthless bastard" to putting a player's life in jeopardy. And with brain injuries, that's exactly what the stakes are. Maybe it's the last little bit of naiveté I have in me for the college game, but I like to think that no college coach (or the administration behind him) would do that to one of their players.

What is for sure is that we will not know up until the Gators come out on the field. I do, at the very least expect Tebow to be there to cheer his teammates on. He may even come out for a Willis Reed moment of some kind.

On the Line
Speed is the word everybody throws around when they talk about LSU and Florida. But make no mistake; this game will be won between the tackles.

You can learn more about it here, but the blueprint for slowing down Florida's offense has always been to play it from the inside, out. The Gators have become more run-oriented than ever this season, with running backs Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Brandon James the focal point of the attack (aside from Tebow of course), followed by tight end Aaron Hernandez and then the outside receivers.

 The point of Urban Meyer's scheme (or any spread/zone running attack) is to force the defense to defend the width of the field, and attack any gaps that form. Where defenses fall into the trap is over-focusing on the speed to the outside with players like Demps, Rainey or James (or Percy Harvin in the past) that they often forget to play the first part of the typical triple option play: the dive. Think about it in the simplest of terms - the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line. If you give Florida's running backs inside lanes, they will take them happily. It's going to be crucial for Al Woods, Charles Alexander and Drake Nevis to be stout and hold their gaps in the middle - not to mention inside linebackers Kelvin Sheppard and Jacob Cutrera.  Gap control is crucial, from the A to the B and then the C.

Even if Brantley is playing quarterback, the passing game will likely still have the same focus - play-action passes, shovels and screens (especially to Hernandez), with a lot of curls and square-ins to the outside receivers. Look for blitzing and man-coverage on passing downs. Even "the third best quarterback in the SEC" as Brantley has been called at times, may not want to test Patrick Peterson.

Offensively, last week's success in the running game may be an important development, as the limited success teams have had against the Gators has come in the power running game.

That seems a little hard to believe when you consider that Florida's middle linebacker is this guy:

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oops! Wrong picture...

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...no, that's not him either...oh wait, here he is.

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Truth scarier than fiction? Truth scarier than fiction.

 

The Gator's defensive tackles have been a relative weakness, at least compared to the rest of the unit. Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard are talented, but it's a pick your poison when compared to Carlos Dunlap, Jermaine Cunningham and the rest of the group. The Tigers, despite some nasty stomach issues, were able to have more success against Georgia's talented group of Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens and Kade Weston. That needs to be the focus this week. Fans may not like seeing it, and certain Baton Rouge radio hosts may accuse Les Miles of "trying to be Bo Schembechler Junior,"(whatever that means) but establishing Charles Scott out of the I-formation or the pistol will be crucial. The lateral running game plays into the speed of the back seven, especially if there's no inside threat to give them pause.

Florida's secondary is loaded and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong loves to stack the line of scrimmage and bring pressure on third downs, so keeping the yardage manageable will be important for the passing game. Meanwhile, it's going to be incredibly important for Jordan Jefferson to start getting through his progressions faster. Look for Gary Crowton to try some half-roll passes and waggles, with a few screens to try and take advantage of Florida's aggressiveness. But if the running game can at least be respectable, it'll create some man coverage opportunities for Brandon LaFell and Terrance Toliver.

Establishing these basics may be important in order to create some of the big play opportunities for freshmen Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle.

Do NOT Expect:

The OK Corral
It's not necessarily a popular game-plan with the fans, but slowing things down is LSU's best chance to win this game. The last thing the Tigers want is a shootout, Tebow or no Tebow. Ironically, the way you beat the Gators is to bog them down in the muck. Slow down their offense by avoiding the big plays with sound gap control and tackling (especially the tackling - LSU won't get a second chance if they miss the first tackle on Demps, Rainey or James), and keep it off the field with grinding, ball-control offense.

This style sound familiar to anybody? That may be LSU's one advantage going into this.

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