This wasn't supposed to be a big game.
Not this year. Not this time. Florida was returning four offensive linemen from last year's team. Not four starters, four linemen. You are not supposed to be able to build a functioning offense with an offensive line filled out by tackling sleds and some fat guy you found standing in line at the university dairy store.
And for the first few weeks, Florida looked the part of a rebuilding team. After struggling to beat East Carolina, Florida managed to outlast Kentucky due to the Wildcats inability to score touchdowns from inside the 10 yard line. Then, they benefited from yet another Tennessee late game collapse.
Despite not playing all that well, Florida found itself at 2-0 in the SEC. Then, the Gators suddenly became the team their record said they were. The Gators have won their last two games by a combined score of 59-13. They destroyed Ole Miss, and essentially played keep away from Mizzou for a half.
All of a sudden, Jim McElwain isn't rebuilding, the Gators are already built. Yes, Florida experienced a big loss when Will Grier got his hand caught in the PED jar. Grier was near perfect against Ole Miss, throwing for four touchdowns and only five incompletions.
Before Tiger fans all start celebrating that Florida is now going to be an easy win, let's all remember why Florida is a good football team, and it ain't the quarterback. Florida ranks 11th in the conference in yards/game in SEC-only games. Their 4.92 yards/play in SEC games also ranks 11th. Yes, Florida had a pretty good passing offense with Grier under center, but this team's calling card is defense.
They rank 14th in the nation in yards/play, and 16th in total defense. They allow under 100 rushing yards per game at an average carry of 3.05. This ain't Auburn's defense. If Fournette is going to run for his usual 150 yards or so, it's going to come against one of the most stout defenses in the country. This is when guys earn their Heisman hype.
In SEC play, Florida's defense ranks 2nd in the conference in Total Defense. Know who ranks first? Any guesses? I'll wait.
That's right. LSU. For all of the hand wringing and teeth gnashing over how terribly our defense has played, the Tigers currently sit atop in the SEC in Total Defense in SEC games. Yeah, they haven't played anyone. So what? This is where I refer you to that part a few paragraphs above, where it says that Florida ranks 11th in the SEC in total offense.
Know what else has been pretty awesome? LSU's offense. For as much freaking out as there has been over the defense, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the same regarding the offense. And our terrible, no account, worthless offense currently ranks 1st in total offense in SEC only games. LSU also ranks 1st in scoring offense in SEC play.
Yes, that's right. LSU currently has the top ranked offense and defense in SEC play. Now, of course there are some serious schedule effects going on here. But let's be honest, there was no chance this would have happened last year even with the benefits of an easier schedule.
Now, putting up over 600 yards on a hapless South Carolina team certainly helps, and it's highly unlikely we see a repeat performance this Saturday. But this is all Tiger fans have asked for: a competent quarterback to go with an amazing running game and our defense.
The stats aren't all rosy. While LSU's offense ranks 1st in scoring in SEC play, the defense ranks 6th in scoring. That doesn't cut it. Also, yards/play is a more useful measure than yards/game, though not as fun in this case. LSU allows 4.95 YPP in SEC play, ranking 4th in conference. The offense averages 6.92 YPP in SEC, which still ranks 2nd. So while LSU loses its brag of 1st in offense and defense, both units still fare quite well in yards/play. Know who ranks 1st in defensive yards/play in SEC play? You got it. Florida, at 4.56. Now we've come full circle.
This game was supposed to be nothing, and now it is a matchup between two top teams, both currently on pace to meet again in Atlanta, regardless of the outcome of this game. So far this year, the response to LSU's success has been understandably muted. The Tigers have enjoyed social promotion in the polls not so much due to their own accomplishments, but the constant shake-ups at the top.
A win this weekend changes all of that. LSU isn't the team that's enjoyed a soft schedule while all of the other contenders couldn't take care of business, LSU becomes a bona fide contender with a top ten win under its belt. The winner of this game will find itself in the glare of the national spotlight as the SEC's designated contender.
It's time for our close up. Hunting season starts now.