Friday, October 5, 2012
LSU bracing for Florida attempt at payback
By Gary Laney
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The tough part of beating an elite program like Florida by 30 points, which LSU did a year ago, comes the next time you meet.
LSU's 41-11 win last year at Tiger Stadium, a game most remembered for Tiger punter Brad Wing's fake punt run for a touchdown that was called back because he was flagged for taunting on his way to the end zone, was the most lopsided LSU win in the history of the series.
Last season, LSU punter Brad Wing (38) scored on a fake punt that caught Florida's defense napping. But it was called back because of a taunting penalty on Wing.
It was that kind of day for the Gators -- so bad, so one-sided, that even the LSU punter was having fun and their expense.
A year later, Florida, 4-0 and ranked No. 10 in the AP poll after a string of SEC wins over Texas A&M, Tennessee and Kentucky, has No. 4 LSU again on Saturday, this time at Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
"That won't happen no more," Florida linebacker Lerentee McCray declared, looking back at last season's loss. Nose tackle Omar Hunter added that "guys are a lot tougher, mentally and physically. Guys are much more mature."
None of the talk coming out of Gainesville is a surprise to LSU (5-0), which has anticipated a motivated Florida out for revenge.
"Yeah, the coaches have talked to us it," cornerback Tharold Simon said. "They are going to be looking for payback and we're going to be getting their best shot. We just have to prepare our best."
Three things to watch
1. Crossroads: A season ago, Will Muschamp's first Florida team went 4-0 in September before losing four straight, starting with losses to Alabama and LSU by a combined 79-21 score. It led to a disappointing 7-6 finish. This season, Florida is again 4-0 after September. LSU's season is also at a crossroads, off to a somewhat shaky 5-0 start heading into a stretch where its next five opponents are a combined 21-1.
2. Power vs. Power: LSU (229.6 yards per game) and Florida (224.5 yards per game) are two of the SEC's top three rushing offenses and their defenses are among the top six in the league in stopping the run. On both sides of the ball, it will be strength vs. strength. "On the inside, we'll have to play strong," LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said.
3. The Real Tigers? LSU has often been sloppy while generally manhandling a weak early schedule, with the exception of a close win at Auburn. The Tigers did play well in a 41-3 rout of Washington, the best team on their schedule so far. Does LSU rise to the occasion against better teams or is the sloppy play simply what the Tigers are this season?
Three Tigers to watch
1. QB Zach Mettenberger: The embodiment of LSU's "potential vs. sloppiness" issue. He completes 60 percent of his downfield passes, but has also had three red-zone turnovers and three turnovers that led to opponents' scores. Against the tougher upcoming schedule, the junior has to make more big plays -- especially if Florida gears up to stop the run -- and he has to avoid those disastrous turnovers.
2. DT Bennie Logan: Against Florida's power running game, the talented middle of LSU's defensive line is going to have to play to an elite standard. Logan, one of the nation's best, will team with Johnson to try to get that job done.
3. FB J.C. Copeland: A week ago, most of Tiger Stadium thought the 270-pound lead blocker had a seriously injured knee. Turns out, he's fine and ready to start and LSU will need the 270-pound fullback's brutally physical lead blocking if it wants to establish its running game.
Three Gators to watch
1. RB Mike Gillislee: The SEC's second-leading rusher (402 yards in four games), Gillislee's hard-nosed, straight-ahead style has given Muschamp the physical running game's he's been looking for.
2. QB Jeff Driskel: He's not passing for a ton of yards, but with Driskel under center, Florida protects the ball (just two turnovers, only one Driskel interception) and has a physical running presence at QB. At 237 pounds and with good speed, he has rushed for 148 yards.
3. LB Jon Bostic: He has 22 tackles, including four for loss, and is a key figure in Florida's desire to slow down the LSU running game.
Florida LT Xavier Nixon or D.J. Humphries vs. LSU DE Sam Montgomery: Montgomery could be a difference-maker in this one. Florida struggled so much at left tackle last week, Nixon was benched at halftime for Humphries. Either will have trouble with Montgomery, one of the nation's most disruptive defensive players. If Florida has to constantly leave skill players in to help block linemen, it would kill the Gators' offensive creativity.
By the numbers
7: LSU's winning streak vs. the SEC East, a streak in jeopardy with No. 10 Florida and No. 6 South Carolina looming.
15: The number of true freshmen who have played for LSU this season, the most in Les Miles' tenure.