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LSU vs. Florida: What to Watch For

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LSU has hit rock bottom. But can they climb out of The Swamp?

Syracuse v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The loss to Troy is going to leave a scar on this program for a while. But that’s done with. It’s there, plain as day. Can’t ignore it.

But it’s time to move on. The only question for LSU is how, and hey, it’s only the Florida damn Gators in the way right?

It’s almost like we spent so much time hating ourselves this week that we all done forgot what’s going on.

Here’s hoping the players didn’t.


What to Watch For On Saturday

Finish Them

GET IT?

LSU can’t dwell or pout or do anything but put last week behind them, because you can bet your bottom dollar that Florida will be out to put a hurting on the Tigers and rub their nose in it this week.

It’s easy to forget how ugly all of this was. Kind of like how Jim McElwain finds it easy to forget to floss.

Anyhoo, there’s an odd symmetry to this matchup that David discussed on Wednesday — LSU has been more efficient at moving the football on offense than you probably think, but struggles at turning those yards into points; Florida has issues moving the ball, but cashes in when they get the opportunity. Bill Connelly’s Five Factors tables display this remarkably well in both LSU and Florida’s advanced stat profiles.

The Gators on the year have been perfect in the red zone — having a very good kicker in Eddy Pineiro certainly helps — but they’ve also only made it inside the other team’s 20 nine times. LSU has more than double the red zone appearances (20) but has only cashed in 15 times (and touchdowns on 13 of those possessions).

The good news is that yardage and efficiency tends to pay off for most teams, and if LSU can continue to find ways to move the ball, in spite of the problems that we’ve seen, that should lead to more points.

Although there’s no guarantee it happens this week.

Still, what it does mean is that the Tigers just need to take that one extra step. And this is not a Florida offense that wants to get caught playing catch-up.

BIG STICK

In all the talk over the last week about who’s running whose offense, and tempo and shifts and all of that, it just feels like this team has gotten away from the identity of being a tough, physical running team. That isn’t to say that the shifts or motions are a bad thing — far from it. But early on against Troy, LSU was able to have some success running Darrel Williams straight ahead in 12 personnel groupings (one back/two tight ends).

I believe Matt Canada would be wise to get back to that for a number of reasons. For one, it’s an easy way to work around the limitations of the youth on this offensive line; Saahdiq Charles and Ed Ingram are still big, strong kids — don’t ask them to think too much, just ask them to move the guy in front of them. For another, all of the shifts, motions and unbalanced sets are ultimately designed to complement that base running game as a central constraint. The jet-sweep/inside-zone combo is still one of the best plays this team runs, and there’s no reason to believe that mixing that combination of plays together can be an effective starting point for this offense to move forward over these final seven games.

For another, it happens to set up pretty well for a Florida defense that has been as vulnerable as any Gator unit in recent seasons. This year’s group is currently allowing 5.7 yards per play, 12th in the SEC, and 4.2 yards per carry, a figure padded by mediocre rushing teams like Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Michigan ran for more than 200 yards on this group in week one, and Tennessee’s John Kelly had some 141 yards himself, and surely would have had more with a competent OC feeding him the ball.

Florida replaced outgoing DC Geoff Collins with longtime Miami coach Randy Shannon, who runs a much more simplified, buttoned-up style that prefers a cover-two shell look behind a 4-3 “over” front.

Shannon comes from the Jimmy Johnson/Dave Wannstedt/Butch Davis school of defense that wants to keep a scheme simple and allow players to react quickly without thinking through too many reads and assignments. It worked pretty damn well at The U with players like Ed Reed, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, Sean Taylor, Vince Wilfork, so on and so forth. But it’s been a while since Shannon has had anything close to that success level, and it doesn’t look like this Florida outfit is going to be one to remember.

This group is really missing the talent Will Muschamp brought in over the years, particularly up the middle and in the back seven. Defensive ends CeCe Jefferson and Jabari Zuniga are talented enough to give LSU a lot of trouble out on the edge, but Canada should be able to make some hay up the gut. And with the jet-sweep action occasionally holding the backside end or Will linebacker, that “bubble” in the B-gap between the left guard and left tackle could be pretty inviting.

In short, run the damn ball. Establish play-action, and that should open up some of the quick throws for Danny Etling, which is more his strength as a passer, and can mitigate any pressure that Shannon may decide to unleash.

The Way of the Fist

LSU can’t win this game in the first quarter, but if there’s one thing that we’ve seen this year, it’s that they might be able to lose it. In both of this year’s losses to date, an early setback has had a completely deflating affect on this team and contributed to a hole that the Tigers struggled to get out of.

And you can bet that Florida’s offensive staff is aware of that.

The Gator offense has its limitations, so don’t be surprised if they pull out some sort of gadget or trick play to pop something early, get ahead and get their crowd involved. Watch for freshman Kadarius Toney, whom has taken a few Wildcat-type snaps.

Conversely, LSU could have the opportunity to land a similar blow if they can strike fast themselves. We know that Florida fans are pretty chock-full of dissatisfaction themselves — and trust me, the Swamp drains nearly as quick as Tiger Stadium does when the going gets tough.

The team that can generate a big play and a scoreboard swing early is going to be in good shape Saturday.

McElwain can jury-rig an offense as well as any coach I’ve ever watched, and with tailback Malik Davis possibly establishing himself as a playmaker, look for the Gators to start aggressive, and then do whatever they can to move the ball with little risk for Felipe Franks, and chew up clock.

Franks is every bit the big-league arm-talent LSU’s previous regime envisioned when they recruited him, but you can see that he still struggles with a lot of basics. Ideally, I think Florida would prefer he be on the sidelines, but Luke del Rio’s injury and Malik Zaire’s disappointment have forced Franks onto the field. He can definitely sling it — the kind of arm strength that can pull a big play out of nowhere if LSU’s defense takes its foot off the gas. But if the Tigers can find a way to take control of the game on their own terms, it could lead to Franks compounding the Gators’ troubles with mistakes.

Seven years ago, we watched an LSU team go into Gainesville with their backs up against the wall, and fight through to steal a win in the final minutes. This team isn’t going to quiet too many doubters in one week, or even pull itself out of what looks like a pretty deep hole. But they can take that first step at least.

We’ll see if they have that in them.