By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
ORLANDO, Fla. – No. 17 Florida’s enters its 2013 showdown with LSU looking very similar to the 2012 Gator squad that handed the Tigers a 14-6 defeat. The Gators look improved in the passing game thanks to junior quarterback Tyler Murphy, but the foundation of their success continues to be stout defense and a run-first offensive approach.
On the other hand, the 2013 edition of LSU football bears little resemblance to the 2012 version.
Unlike the past two seasons, the Tigers are not among the nation’s elite defensive teams. After a mass exodus of defensive talent in the 2013 NFL Draft, the LSU ‘D’ is allowing over five yards per play for the first time since the 2008 season. Without a stalwart defense to lean on, it has been the LSU offense leading the way to a 5-1 record thus far in 2013.
Led by new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, LSU quarterback Zack Mettenberger has flourished into one of the nation’s best passers. With half of the regular season in the books, Mettenberger is on a record- breaking pace for the eleventh-ranked Tigers, who have crossed the 30-point plateau in each of their first six games while also manufacturing over 400 yards of offense in each game – both firsts for the program.
“I just think he’s more effective in taking the football,” Florida head coach Will Muschamp said of Mettenberger. “He’s more accurate with the ball. I think he has a better understanding of the passing game.”
Cameron has been the catalyst behind LSU’s offensive transformation, molding Mettenberger into one of college football’s most improved players. The Tigers are using many of the same offensive weapons they had a season ago to light up the scoreboard at an amazing clip.
Two of those weapons are wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who have been the top pass-catching duo in college football this season. The pair has combined for over 1,300 yards this year to go along with 13 touchdowns, and that has opened things up even more for LSU’s typically strong rushing attack, which is led by Jeremy Hill (7.5 yards per carry and nine TDs).
“They do an outstanding job offensively,” Muschamp said. “They’re very balanced right now in what they do. Cam Cameron’s come in as offensive coordinator and has done an outstanding job.”
While the LSU attack appears to be clicking on all cylinders, the Gator defense has been the best in the Southeastern Conference and, arguably, the nation.
Florida’s defense ranks second nationally in total defense (217 yards per game) and yards per play (3.83). Mettenberger and company will be throwing against a secondary that has allowed just 4.6 yards per pass (third in the country) with elite corners anchoring on the outside in Loucheiz Purifoy and Vernon Hargreaves III.
The Gators also have the horses up front to matchup with LSU’s running game. Through five games, Florida has been the SEC’s best run defense by a long shot, limiting opponents to just 65 yards per game on a stingy 2.7 yards per carry. The second best run defense in the SEC (Alabama) currently allows 20 more yards per game on the ground than the Gators, and the second-lowest yards per carry allowed in the conference (also Alabama) is 3.11.
“I think Florida has a combination of both athleticism and great schemes,” Mettenberger told reporters on Monday. “They have a great defensive coordinator, but they also have tremendous athleticism on the defensive side of the ball. They have big guys that can run, linebackers that can cover and corners that cover very well.”
Outside of Michigan State, no one in the country plays defense quite like the Gators. One stat, in particular, illustrates just how good Florida has been: UF has held SEC foes under 20 points in its last 12 conference games. The next longest streak in that department in the conference belongs to Alabama at one game.
“They lead in all major defensive categories,” LSU coach Les Miles said at his weekly press conference. “A very sound scheme. They don't give up big plays. Again, Will Muschamp does a great job with that defense.”
This weekend will pit strength versus strength – elite offense versus elite defense. This weekend’s contest will provide each unit with an opportunity to make a statement on a national stage.
LSU, which enters the game at 2-1 in conference play, knows the importance of this weekend’s game in the conference and national title picture. The Gators, who still have dates with Georgia and South Carolina in the Eastern Division, are looking to remain perfect in SEC play and on the inside track to Atlanta in early December.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
Saturday will mark the 60th meeting between Florida and LSU…The Gators hold a lead in the all-time series at 31-25-3…The series has been evenly matched over the last decade, with each team winning five times in the last 10 meetings…Florida has won 16 of the 30 games played in Baton Rouge, as this year’s edition will be.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2012 – Florida 14, LSU 6 (Gainesville, Fla.)
2011 – LSU 41, Florida 11 (Baton Rouge, La.)
2010 – LSU 33, Florida 29 (Gainesville, Fla.)
2009 – Florida 13, LSU 3 (Baton Rouge, La.)
2008 – Florida 51, LSU 21 (Gainesville, Fla.)
A LOOK AT THE LAST MEETING
Florida overcame a 6-0 deficit inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville to down LSU by a final score of 14-6. A pair of field goals put the Tigers out in front, but the Gators were able to adjust at halftime and ride running back Mike Gillislee to the finish line. Gillislee scored two rushing touchdowns in the second half, capping off scoring drives of 85 yards and 77 yards, respectively. Florida finished the afternoon with 176 yards on the ground, 146 of which came from Gillislee on 34 carries. The win for Florida snapped an 18-game regular season winning streak for LSU, and was the first of three wins that the Gators would record in 2012 over top-10 teams.
PLAYMAKERS – OFFENSE
LSU – Odell Beckham Jr., Wide Receiver, Junior
The LSU offense has been elite, and Beckham Jr. has played a large part in the unit’s success to this point in 2013. Along with Jarvis Landry, Beckham Jr. is one half of the nation’s best receiving tandem and the junior currently leads the nation in all-purpose yards with 228.2 per game. A tremendous athlete, Beckham Jr. has proven to be a jack of all trades for LSU, impacting the game at wide-out, kick returner and punt returner. On 65 total touches this year, he’s amassed 1,369 all-purpose yards, an average of 21.1 yards every time he gets his hands on the football. Beckham has been a go-to target for quarterback Zack Mettenberger, hauling in 35 passes for 686 yards and six scores through six games. He is fresh off a 179-yard, two-touchdown outing at Mississippi State last weekend, and he has already recorded four 100-yard receiving performances this year alone. Florida will pose the biggest challenge yet for Beckham Jr. and the Tigers’ offense, as the Gators currently rank sixth in the nation against the pass and second in total defense.
Florida – Solomon Patton, Wide Receiver, Senior
Patton, Florida’s leading receiver, has proven to be the Gators’ biggest offensive threat. The senior has played big for the Gators, recording two 100-yard games so far against Miami and last week against Arkansas. Against the Razorbacks, Patton sparked the UF offense by hauling in six passes for 124 yards and a pair of scores. Both of Patton’s TDs came in explosive fashion, the first covering 51 yards on a strike from Tyler Murphy and the second on a 38-yard connection that put the Gators in front 24-7 in the fourth quarter. Patton has provided a steady target for his relatively inexperienced quarterback, and he will have opportunities to make plays on Saturday against an LSU defense that allows nearly seven yards per pass attempt through its first six games.
PLAYMAKERS – DEFENSE
LSU – Front Seven
As mentioned previously, LSU lost a load of talent to the NFL Draft – most notably from the D-line and linebacking units, which had five players drafted – following the 2012 season, and the Tigers have felt the sting of those losses in 2013. The unit is allowing 5.4 yards per play and the run defense has been particularly suspect in allowing 160 rushing yards or more in four of its first six games after allowing only three such performances in 2012. While Tyler Murphy has been an effective passer for Florida since taking over for the injured Jeff Driskel, the Gators still prefer to control the clock and attack primarily on the ground – UF has run at least 41 times in every game this season. If LSU is not able to stymie the Gators on the ground, it will have a tough time beating Will Muschamp’s squad, which has no problem grinding out low-scoring wins with its elite defense. Add in the fact that the Gators are fresh off another confidence building, 30-point offensive showing, and addressing the run becomes even more important to LSU’s hopes this weekend.
Florida – Cornerbacks Loucheiz Puriofy and Vernon Hargreaves III
LSU boasts the top receiving duo in the country with its one-two punch of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, which has combined for 77 catches, 1,302 yards (16.9 yards per catch) and 13 touchdowns in the first half of the season. Luckily for the Gators, they possess two of the premier corners in the conference in junior Loucheiz Purifoy and true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III. The duo has combined for four interceptions this year (three from VHIII and one from Purifoy) to go along with eight passes defended and a forced fumble, and Florida has allowed just 4.6 yards per pass attempt in 2013 (third-best in the nation). Purifoy provided a wake-up call for Florida last week with an early pick-six that got the Gators on the board after a strong start by Arkansas. Hargreaves III has lived up to lofty expectations after earning the designation of the top high school cornerback in the country last year. These two will have their work cut out for them as they go head-to-head with the two-headed monster of Beckham Jr. and Landry this weekend in Death Valley. The receiving duo is a big reason that Zach Mettenberger is on a record-setting pace for LSU, but the Tigers have not seen a pair of cornerbacks like Purifoy and VHIII to this point in the season. Keep your eyes on this matchup on Saturday afternoon.
• LSU, which has scored 30 points or more in every game this season, has won 35 of its last 36 games when scoring 30 or more. The only loss in that sample was suffered at Georgia on Sept. 28.
• Florida’s defense has been downright dominant under Will Muschamp. The Gators have not allowed an SEC foe to score 20 points in its last 12 conference games. No other team in the league has a streak of more than one such game intact (Alabama).
• LSU’s Zach Mettenberger has thrown for over 300 yards in back-to-back games, making him just the fourth Tiger quarterback to accomplish that feat. (Tommy Hodson in 1989, Rohan Davey in 2001 and Matt Flynn in 2007 are the others.)
• Mettenberger has started 19 consecutive games for LSU, the longest streak in Baton Rouge since Herb Tyler made 37 straight starts from 1995-1998. Mettenberger is 15-4 as the Tigers’ starter.
• UF is 7-of-11 scoring TDs in the red zone in the last three games and 10-of-11 scoring after starting year 4-of-12 (TDs) and 6-of-12 (scoring) in its first two games.
• Florida has a current streak of seven consecutive games with a TD pass, the longest stretch under Coach Muschamp and the longest for UF since it threw one in 11 consecutive games from Oct. 31, 2009 (Georgia) to Sept. 18, 2010 (Tennessee).
• Saturday’s game will mark the 10th straight year that Florida and LSU, which are permanent cross-division rivals, both enter their showdown ranked in the top-25.