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LSU vs. Florida: What to Watch For

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Well, this one won’t be pretty.

Who's it gonna be?
Who's it gonna be?
Kevin C. Cox

Not a whole lot to bloviate about. This is probably going to be on ox's-asshole-ugly football game. But it is one LSU needs to win.

What to Watch For on Saturday

We're Going Streaking?

There's no two ways about it -- LSU needs a win here. Just find a way to get one. Pretty, ugly, it doesn't matter. Florida's not a great football team. Certainly not the caliber of Auburn or even Mississippi State right now. But this team needs to log something positive on its ledger and it needs it now. Cleanse the system of as much of the bad juju as you can get out.

Will it mean that all of the problems this team has demonstrated will be solved? Hell no. But it's a step in the right direction, and a step towards bowl eligibility. And if there's one thing a team this young can use, it's the extra practices that come with a bowl appearance.

I still think LSU can beat any team remaining on this schedule, but it's going to have to start getting some positive momentum and confidence swinging its way, and quick. Florida, and Kentucky next week, are probably the most winnable games left.

Thing is, Florida's basically in the same spot here. Yeah, they won last week. But whatever goodwill that game generated with freshman Treon Harris coming in for Jeff Driskel gave way on Monday when alleged charges of sexual assault for Harris came down, and he was suspended (Ed. Note: UPDATE -- charges against Harris have reportedly been dropped, what that means is anybody's guess). That means it's going to be Driskel's show again on Saturday, and he and his teammates will be looking for his first signature win since the 2012 Sugar Bowl season. In another twist, the suspension of Georgia's Todd Gurley means that Florida just might be back in the race for the SEC East. Especially if they can avoid another conference loss here.

In a lot of ways, being on the road is probably a good thing for LSU. It gets them out of the toxically negative environment Baton Rouge becomes after losses. Yeah, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in this conference, but given Florida fans' combination of disgust and general apathy for the Will Muschamp Era, it's also a stadium that could get real quiet if the home team falls behind early. The first team to open a double-digit lead in this one will be sitting pretty.

You Again?

In terms of the matchup, Florida doesn't present the best one for LSU because, well, they're another up-tempo, spread-to-run offense. First-year coordinator Kurt Roper is a long-time student of David Cutcliffe -- who ran a classic, but very effective, pro-style offense for a long time before adapting more of a pure spread attack at Duke.

Roper's style meshes well with what Brent Pease was already trying to do, combining some spread misdirection stuff with power and unbalanced looks. Florida pretty consistently stays in the shotgun, but isn't afraid to pull guards and come downhill. Last week versus Tennessee, they were able to have some luck using motion to cross up the Volunteer linebackers and running Driskel on zone-reads and pure QB runs out of empty looks.

Just what we want to see, right?

What Florida does bring is a slightly different look at running back. Matt Jones is much more of a pure power runner at 6-2, 235, without the speed of a Melvin Gordon, Josh Robinson or really even Cameron Artis-Payne. When they want to get him on the edge, they'll throw him or the other backs (Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor, who are both similar players) some screen passes. The primary receiving target is DeMarcus Robinson, a big-bodied receiver who had a really hot start in games one and two but has kind of cooled off in recent weeks with a couple drops.

Of course Driskel himself remains probably the offense's biggest weakness. He's still pretty good athlete, and the matchup of him running the ball scares me given what Dak Prescott and Nick Marshall have done, but he also doesn't have nearly the same speed.

And he's a much, much worse passer. To date Driskel is completing just 54 percent of his passes for 5.0 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and six interceptions. For a point of reference, neither Jordan Jefferson nor Jarrett Lee ever had a yards per attempt lower than 6. So not only is Driskel not completing many passes, the majority of them have been quick screens, swing passes and shallow crossing routes.

Touch and timing have been Driskel's major issue, and there's a solid chance that there will be a couple balls up for grabs for LSU's defensive backs.  A big problem for Driskel last week in Knoxville were a number of very dangerous passes that were just close enough to a receiver for them to tip up in the air. Another subplot to watch here with Harris' suspension is that Driskel might not be 100-percent healthy, either. Meaning that Florida could be stuck either with walk-on Skyler Mornhinweg, or true freshman Will Grier, who would have to burn a redshirt.

Still, look for Florida to try and make their hay just where Mississippi State did -- in between the tackles. One thing that simply cannot happen again is LSU linebackers vacating the middle trying to spread out with the offense. But overall, the gameplan for LSU doesn't change. Man-to-man outside, bring down a safety, and try to stop the run as best you can. Maybe without as much of a big-play threat in the backfield, the Tigers can take advantage of some of the first-down successes they had last week.

It Has to Start Somewhere

Whenever you're dealing with wounded, backed-down teams, momentum can be huge.

LSU isn't going to be able to fix all of their issues on defense in one week. Hell, remember last season when we thought shutting down Florida was a sign of turning a corner? But if somebody, anybody, can make a play and help this unit get some confidence, I think we'll start to see some good things happen.

Make tackles when you're in the alley. Get your hands on a ball when you have a chance. Don't let Driskel slip away from sack opportunities. If LSU can get Florida in obvious passing situations, that should play really well for the Tigers. It's pretty much the last thing anybody wearing orange and blue wants right now.

One potential X-factor to watch: special teams. Florida's Kyle Christy might be the best punter in the league, and Andre Debose is shockingly spry on returns for a 40-year-old.

Matchup Poker

On the other side of the ball, Florida's a bit young and a little more vulnerable compared to the defenses we've been used to from Muschamp's Gators. The run defense is stout, with only Alabama getting more than 80 yards. The pass defense, on the other hand, is near the bottom of the league in both yards and efficiency.

Vernon Hargreaves is still really, really good -- maybe the best college corner I've seen since Patrick Peterson --  but his teammates haven't exactly been holding up their end, although freshman nickel corner Jalen Tabor is coming off an SEC Defensive Player of the Week performance against Tennessee.

Film study suggests that the Gators can be vulnerable to short, quick throws, although they will squat down on those routes after a while. Which means that double-moves can be valuable later on. When the Gators stay in their base alignment, slot receivers can get open on the safeties.

Up front, "Buck" defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. is a fast, athletic playmaker that can run plays down. And while he's only got 1.5 sacks on the year, he's helped to set up his teammates on them a couple of times. Something to watch -- a year ago, LSU's offensive staff felt like they could frustrate the Gator defensive front with the running game. That the linemen were so intent on exploding into the backfield that they would lose gap integrity. I'm curious to see if they try a similar approach this week.

Piece it Together

Much in the same way LSU's defense needs to try and get something going downhill, the LSU offense just needs to try and combine the bits and pieces that have worked at different times into something consistent. Don't think big, think small.

My best guess is that Anthony Jennings will get the start, not just because of Brandon Harris' meltdown (and aside from his obvious overthrows, Harris also called the wrong play in the huddle a couple of times, missed some run checks at the line and looked off a couple of open primary reads), but also because of his ankle injury. Miles has indicated that Harris has practiced in full this week and split reps, but y'all know how he is about injuries. If Harris is in fact healthy, and is needed for a spark, we just might see him. But until the relaxed, effortless playmaker that we saw in recent weeks shows up, I think the coaching staff will start Jennings. Who knows, maybe that will even be a calming influence on the freshman if he does get in.

In terms of the gameplan, I'd prefer to see LSU start with some short, quick throws on early downs to try and spread out the defensive front and create some running lanes. However, if LSU can get the same kind of push on first down that we saw last week in Auburn I say run the crap out of the ball. Consistently create second- and third-and-short opportunities, and LSU WILL move the ball. Of that I am confident. Neither one of these quarterbacks are starting 3-of-14 again in that situation. And If LSU can string together long drives that get points and make this a multi-score game, I think we might see the same quit we saw out of the Gators last year once the margin hit 11.

But first and foremost, the offensive staff has to be responsive and adapt quickly to what is or isn't working. If that's I-formation running, who cares? But if it's not, spread the field some. Quick throws to the slot will focus a lot on Trey Quinn and John Diarse, but all of LSU's top four will line up in that position occasionally. And LSU does have enough targets outside that the quarterbacks should be able to avoid testing Hargeaves too often. I don't think there's a Jarvis Landry around to just out-muscle him for the ball.

In terms of the backs, it's time for this team to really give Leonard Fournette a chance to be featured. Yeah, he's still led LSU in carries in most of the last few games, and the other backs have their uses, but he just needs to get some touches. Especially on the edge. A few quick throws to him or option pitches might help get the quarterbacks in rhythm as well.

If the Tigers can get that momentum going, there will be plenty of chances to work the other backs in. It doesn't just keep fresh legs in the game, it keeps the main workhorse's legs fresh as well. But it's time for Fournette to be what we recruited him to be.

It's going to take time for this offense to really get cooking, but that's never going to happen if there's no spark.