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Florida Preview

I'm going to just come out and say it.  We don't need to win this game.  A win would be a big boon to the team's psyche.  It would put us firmly in the media spotlight and make people talk about us as a true national championship contender, but we in no way, shape, or form need to win this game.  Win or lose, we control our destiny in the SEC West race.  We will win the West if we win out after Florida, and we probably need to win out regardless of what happens this week.  We are generally expected to lose, and our press reports suck out loud already, so unless we get blown out we aren't going to suffer in the media.  All that combines to tell me that this is probably the least important game on our schedule.

On the other hand, a win sure would be great.  A loss represents only a lost opportunity for a win, rather than a genuinely damaging result for the team.  It's rare you can say that about a game, but this is one of those.  We can come out and play a game against a good opponent with really no pressure on us to actually win.  That's what the win against Georgia did for us.  It gave us license to go into the Florida game loose, playing like a team with nothing to lose and everything to gain, because this time it is true.

Also, we hate to make predictions here, but let me break from type just for one paragraph.  I predict that Tim Tebow is not playing against us.  Everything I know about concussions, and everything I saw about the hit Tebow took against Kentucky tells me that it is simply unrealistic for him to even think about returning this week.  Next week is probably unlikely as well.  I wouldn't expect him back before the October 24 game against Mississippi State.  Any sooner than that, and Tebow would risk doing substantial, permanent damage to his brain.  Nothing in the world is worth that.

This means one thing when it comes to previewing Florida.  We know very little about what we're going to see when Florida has the ball.  It would be incorrect to say that Florida has been a one-man offense; they have good players sprinkled throughout their offensive lineup, but everything about the Florida offense for the last 2 1/2 years has revolved around Tim Tebow.  Tim Tebow throws.  Tim Tebow runs.  Tim Tebow executes the option.  Everything is either Tim Tebow taking the ball himself, or Tim Tebow deciding what to do with it.  The plays in which Tim Tebow is called upon to simply give the ball to someone else without having to make a decision about it first has probably accounted for less than 25% of Florida's plays in meaningful situations since Tebow became their starting quarterback.  Since the loss of Percy Harvin to the NFL, it has probably been more.  If he is really out, and I would be shocked if he isn't, the entire character of the Florida offense will have to change to accommodate a quarterback with a completely different skill-set.

What of John Brantley?  He has completed 73% of his passes this year, with a 7.73 yard average per attempt, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and 44 yards rushing in 10 attempts.  Certainly admirable statistics for a backup quarterback, but most of those stats were accumulated against Charleston Southern and Troy.  It is not like he has faced an opponent on the level of an LSU yet.  What's more, he will have to do it with a receiver corps that is coming under fire for not making enough plays, even with Tim Tebow throwing to them.

To take nothing away from John Brantley, who is a promising young quarterback in his own right, the Tebow-less Florida offense is an offense that can be stopped if we play up to our ability, especially if we can discover a pass rush.  There is not a traditional running back, as pint sized speedsters Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey are 1st and 3rd on the team in rushing yards, respectively, with Tebow sandwiched between them.  Tebow is their power back, a role that would have to be taken up by Emmanuel Moody, which will make Florida's offense highly dependent on personnel groupings and rob Florida of the unpredictability that they have used to advantage in the past.  

Let's be clear.  The Florida offense without Tim Tebow is still dangerous.  There is still a very good offensive line there, and fast running backs, and Aaron Hernandez, and Riley Cooper, but Tim Tebow is not called arguably the best college football player in a generation because he's so easily replaced.  So you can throw Florida's #1 rated scoring offense and #1 rated total offense out the window and officially say that we don't know how good this offense will be.

The defense, however?  Tim Tebow had no effect on that defense, at least not directly, and it's the #1 rated scoring defense and #1 rated total defense too.  Then again, they've done it against arguably the weakest competition any SEC team has faced so far.  Charleston Southern, Troy, a Tennessee team that appeared only interested in beating the point spread, and Kentucky.  That is far from a murderer's row to start the season, and I feel OK saying that LSU is a lot better than any of those teams, despite our well-documented problems.

But make no mistake, there are some outstanding players on that defense, starting with middle linebacker Brandon Spikes.  Of course, we remember him from his interceptions last year.  Their secondary, which was so young two years ago, is now filled with fully developed NFL prospects like Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins, and Ahmad Black, which has led to the Gators having the #1 pass defense and the #1 pass efficiency defense in the conference.

If there is a weakness there, you can consider that, like LSU, Florida is not getting the sacks on the quarterback.  We're giving them up, and Florida's not getting them, so something has to break there.  Then again, Florida is getting almost twice as many sacks per game as we are: 1.75 per game vs. 1 per game.

So strangely enough, the #1 team in the country and defending national champion comes to Baton Rouge as a bit of a mystery.  We don't officially know if their All-American quarterback is playing, though we can make an educated guess that he isn't.  Without him, we're not sure what kind of a team they bring onto the field when they have the ball.  On defense, they are certainly very good, but it's hard to say with any confidence that they are great.  We will have to see, but whatever happens, the season continues on with full confidence.  I could not have said the same thing last week.