GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 10 Florida plays host to No. 4 LSU on Saturday in what coaches and players are calling a statement game. If the Gators (4-0, 3-0 SEC) beat the Tigers (5-0, 1-0) it will prove Florida has narrowed the gap between where the program was in the past two seasons and the league’s elite teams.
Here are five storylines for the game:
1. Be physical up front: This is the game in which we find out whether UF’s offensive line is indeed tougher and stronger than it was last season. LSU’s defensive line is one of the best in the nation -- with three potential first-round NFL draft picks -- and some are saying it’s the best in school history. The Gators have to get some push up front and create room for RB Mike Gillislee, which means LT Xavier Nixon/D.J. Humphries, LG James Wilson, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Jon Halapio and RT Chaz Green can’t get handled the way the line did in last season’s meeting. UF doesn’t have to rush for 200 yards, but the Gators can’t become one-dimensional and put the game on a young QB’s shoulders.
2. Rattle a young QB: LSU QB Zach Mettenberger hasn’t given the Tigers the upgrade they were expecting at the position. Part of the problem has been an injured and shuffled offensive line, but Mettenberger has held onto the ball too long, hasn’t looked comfortable in the pocket, and has already turned over the ball five times (two interceptions). Florida’s pass rush hasn’t been anything special, but the Gators will try to take advantage of LSU’s problem at left tackle (Alex Hurst and Josh Dworaczyk have struggled to replace injured Chris Faulk) to pressure Mettenberger. A rattled QB usually mean turnovers.
3. Jeff Driskel has to use his feet: We’ve already covered how good LSU’s defensive front is, so it’s likely that group will harass Driskel for much of the game, even if Florida's offensive line plays well. Driskel is going to have to get out of the pocket and make some plays, whether that’s scrambling for a first down or just buying more time to complete a pass. When UF coach Will Muschamp said he chose Driskel because of Driskel’s mobility, it was for this game. Driskel has done a good job through the past two games of making good decisions when he’s on the run. That has to continue against LSU.
4. Play good run defense: LSU is fourth in the SEC in rushing (182.0 yards per game) and the Tigers like to pound the ball between the tackles. It’s a physical running style using a group of backs, and it worked for 238 yards in last season’s meeting. UF’s defensive front is a bit deeper, which means the starters are able to get more rest and therefore be fresher in the second half and fourth quarter. That should mean the Gators won’t wear down.
5. Don’t get tricked: UF has been burned by a fake field goal and a fake punt by LSU in the past two seasons. That can’t happen again. The Gators have to be disciplined. They have to expect the unexpected, and not only on special teams. It’s one thing to get beat. It’s another to get fooled.