I've captured my extensive thoughts on the game review piece here. Week by week, we continue to learn more and more about this team, and now that we're in the heart of the SEC schedule and not playing speed bumps like UAB and Kent State, we can actually glean some meaningful information. At this point, it's safe to say we have a strong offense. At this point, it's safe to say, that our defense is a work in progress, at best. At this point, we know this team is pretty damn good, considering we've trumped every opponent except Georgia, a top five team, who we played to a near loss on the road. We know Zach Mettenberger is having one of the finest seasons that any LSU quarterback has ever had. We know that Jeremy Hill is a special running back. We know that we have the best damn WR duo in the country.
We also know that there is still a lot of football ahead of us. There is more work to be done. This season is far, far from over. Championship goals are still in sight. But in order to get there, LSU must take care of business. Saturday is the first of those hurdles that must be overcome. The annual Florida showdown has often been a measuring stick for both team's success. Expect no different in 2013.
1) The Offensive Line Must Come to Play
We entered the 2013 season with high hopes regarding the offensive line. Even while reshuffling a few positions and ushering in two new starters, it was reasonable to feel this unit would be an upgrade over what we fielded in 2012. LSU's offensive line is likely as athletic as it's been in the Miles era. La'El Collins is a future NFL player. Jerald Hawkins has the tools to be as well. Vadal Alexander and Trai Turner are beefy mashers that may get a look as well. And while Elliot Porter won't win the "get off the bus" award, he's athletic and tenacious.
Thus far, we've seen the highs and lows. At times, the pass blocking is absolutely outstanding. As Billy likes to say, Mettenberger should make a sandwich back there or something. But at other times, he's been under assault. In recent weeks we've seen more breakdowns, which isn't surprising considering the caliber of athlete is significantly higher than our opening opponents.
The good news, from my view, is that this isn't a "lack of talent" issue. It was clear, last season, that Alex Hurst was simply overwhelmed on the outside. I'm unsure of what transpired that caused his play to sink to such low levels, but there's a reason he was phased out of the starting lineup by midseason, I believe shortly after the Florida game last season. In that instance, it was clear, he simply couldn't hack it out there. This year, the issues are more mental than physical. We've struggled on blitz pickups and when opposing defenses run stunts. It's absolutely imperative that the communication tightens up. Florida is a team that will throw some interesting blitz looks at us, while also running through a variety of different fronts that can make hell for blocking schemes. Not to mention that they will field some of the best defensive line athletes we will see all year. This will not be an easy match-up for the offensive line. Mettenberger has thrived, even under pressure, this season, but it's in our best interest to keep him as upright as possible, obviously.
2) The Match-up of the Game of the Year of the Decade of the Century
If you can point me to a better talent match-up this season than LSU's WRs against Florida CBs, then I'll give you $100 in Monopoly money and the rights to Boardwalk and Park Place with hotels. What I see when I look at the UF secondary is a bunch of thoroughbred athletes that can run, cover and hit. This is, quite easily, the best secondary we've faced all season.
There's very little chance that Beckham and Landry are running wide open through their back seven, like we saw against Mississippi State, Auburn, Georgia.. wait, everyone. Now, we're fortunate in that we have two superb route runners and a QB that's been deadly accurate thus far. Firstly, we need Landry as healthy as possible. Secondly, we need both of these guys to be running the best routes of their careers. It's going to be tough sledding out there. They can excel in this game, but we need their best.
3) Win the Pre-Snap Chess Game
One major upgrade that I've seen Cameron bring to this offense is the amount of pre-snap motion and reads we make. Mettenberger has done a fabulous job of not just audibiling and getting this team into good plays, but recognizing the mismatches before the ball is snapped. We like to move the FB around the field to get a feel for zone/man coverages. We like to stack our WRs and run multi-level routes to force defenses to pick their poison. Against UGA we saw that Mettenberger isn't afraid to go to his third and fourth option if that's the best match-up.
During the Geaux Show, I asked Andy Hutchins if he felt Florida would stack the box against this offense to try and get numbers against the running game. In his estimation, they won't need to. Quite curiously, we've seen every other team load up to try and slow our power rushing attack, which has lead to favorable match-ups down field. If Florida is able to win against our running game without bring in extra bodies, it will make life difficult on our offense.
One of the best ways to counter this is by winning the play before the snap. That means checking out of bad plays, checking into good ones, and correctly identifying where we have the advantage. We've made a strong effort to further incorporate our running backs into the passing game, so don't be surprised if that's one aspect of the game where we seek to capitalize.
4) Tackle, Tackle, Tackle
As Billy has noted, the Florida offense is an efficient, albeit un-sensational, group. They've struggled to put up points, despite holding a strong advantage in ToP. No offensive coordinator is against scoring points, but UF seems to play the finest game of keep away in the nation. This team will be perfectly content to grind out first downs in small chunks, eat away at the clock and allow the sweat to dry on Mettenberger's forehead while he sits on the sideline.
LSU has proven to be a defense that allows drives to be extended. It's a trend that needs to stop. The Florida offense doesn't feature a ton of explosive playmakers. Solomon Patton is probably the most reliable of the bunch, but these aren't the days of Percy Harvin, Chad Jackson, Aaron Hernandez and Andre Caldwell. What they do have is a couple of tough-sledding running backs that will lower their shoulders and drive for extra yards. The LSU defense doesn't need to be perfect to contain Florida, but if they don't start to tackle better, they could be in for a long day.
5) Win the 4th Quarter
I doubt, very highly, that this game will be out of hand, in either direction, by the 4th quarter. We open as 7.5 favorites, and while Florida is introducing an inexperienced QB into the fires of Tiger Stadium, I'm not hustling to lay money on LSU, despite the fact that I am picking them to cover.
We've been plagued by miserable second quarters all season long. Most of them seeming like lapses of focus after we jump to already insurmountable leads against inferior opponents. A little second quarter bleeding can be overcome, even against opponents as good as Florida. But in a game that's as close as this one likely will be, LSU dominating the 4th quarter may be just enough to win and move on. If the Tigers enter the 4th quarter with a double-digit deficit, that may be enough to let the game slip away against a ball control offense and smothering defense. Dominate the 4th quarter and you likely win this game.