Top 10 Storylines for LSU and Florida
The second year for Will Muschamp has started the same way as his inaugural season did a year ago with an identical 4-0 start. However, the manner in which these wins have come is strikingly different than the 2011 campaign’s first four games. Two wins on the road vs. SEC opponents was followed up with a home win vs. Kentucky giving the Gators three wins in conference already.
When Florida faced LSU last season they were in a stretch of playing five ranked opponents in a six week span, and lost all five of those games by a combined 78 points. Optimism is high this season and the Gators have momentum on their side after their confidence building games vs. their SEC brethren.
LSU went on to an undefeated regular season after throttling Florida and an made an appearance in the national game and enter this game as the #4 ranked team after dropping from #2 two weeks ago and #3 this weekend.
Winning ugly has penalized Les Miles and his squad this season, but a win over the #10 Gators on Saturday in hostile territory will be anything but ugly if LSU is able to leave Florida with a win.
These are the 10 players/storylines you need to pay attention to on Saturday at 3:30 eastern time.
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Les Miles and Will Muschamp
The chess match between these two coaches will be fun to watch as both are fiery competitors and both bring a great deal of passion and enthusiasm to the sidelines. Muschamp and Florida has had two weeks to prepare for the Bayou Bengals and that certainly should be a competitive advantage that Florida will need in what should be a close game. The extra time for preparation could prove invaluable.
Driskel did not play in last year’s matchup because of an injury and while he comes into this game completely healthy, he will need his offensive line to give him time in the pocket to step into his throws and find his receivers in stride. Driskel ranks fourth in the conference in passer rating, but could see his spot in the rankings dip if his offensive line cannot keep him upright. LSU boasts a defensive line full of future professionals and will look to pressure Driskel on every drop-back
Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo
The two defensive ends give LSU one of the best set of bookends in all of college football and undoubtedly will both be top 10 picks in next April’s draft. Florida’s tackles and tight ends will have their hands full trying to contain each of these freakish athletes, and if they can’t Driskel is in deep trouble
The best way to keep Montgomery and Mingo from pinning their ears back and rushing Driskel with reckless abandon is to feed the ball to Gillislee who ranks fifth in the conference with his 402 rushing yards. Last year Gillislee led the Gators with 56 yards, and that only came on nine carries. Look for Gillislee to get fed the rock at least double that to keep the LSU defense off balance.
In his first year as the starting quarterback Mettenberger has done everything that has been asked of him and his team is undefeated. However, many of the questions that surrounded last year’s quarterbacks still plague this team and that is whether this team can make explosive plays in the passing game.
Odell Beckham and Russell Shepard
Two receivers that will need to connect with Mettenberger to give the LSU offense the threat of a deep passing game are Beckham and Shepard. Beckham leads the team in receptions and yards and will need to be the security blanket for Mettenberger. The former top recruit in the nation, Shepard has been a rousing bust at LSU, but will be counted on making use of his running and receiving skills Saturday.
Florida's Front Seven
Florida has suffered enough injuries that would cripple most other schools, but their depth is being put to the test this season after a season ending injury to Ronald Powell and the injury to Jelani Jenkins that has cost him the last two games, but could possibly play with a protective cast on his thumb vs. LSU. In his absence Antonio Morrison has filled in admirably and the freshman from Bolingbrook, Illinois has looked like the next dominant Gator defender. The front seven will need to rush Mettenberger so he cannot find Beckham on deep routes and contain a stable of Tiger backs.
LSU Running Backs
The tigers come at you in waves and feature up to four different running backs that each offer a slightly different skill set. This year’s leading rusher, Kenny Hilliard is averaging nearly seven yards per carry and has a nose for the goal line with six touchdowns; triple that of the next closest back. In last year’s game it was Alfred Blue and Spencer Ware doing the damage against Florida who combined for 179 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries.
Replacing Tyrann Mathieu
The Honey Badger was a Heisman finalist a year ago for his penchant for making the big play on defense and on special teams and in a game that figures to come down to the final minutes I wonder if LSU has someone with a proclivity for the clutch moment as much as Mathieu who made a big interception in last year’s game while contributing to the shutting down of the Florida passing game that netted only 100 yards on nine completions.
The x-factor in this weekend’s SEC clash could be the home field advantage that Florida will have at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, affectionately known as The Swamp, where signs displaying “Gator bait” will be in full force and if the home team gets a lead 80,000-plus will be doing the “Gator Chomp.” LSU is no stranger to hostile environments, but if they fall behind early, they may find The Swamp to be an unforgiving and ruthless atmosphere.