Though No. 17 Florida (4-1, 2-1) doesn’t play No. 10 LSU (5-1, 2-1) until Saturday, we already know the Gators’ elite defense can shut down the Tigers’ high-powered offense. The proof is in Florida’s dominant defensive performance in Week 2 against Miami.
The Gators suffocated the Hurricanes, yielding only 21 points (though one Miami scoring drive started on first-and-goal following a fumble), 10 first downs, 212 yards and one conversion on 11 third-down attempts. Those totals are all well below half of Miami’s season average.
The Gators lost 21-16 to Miami, largely because of five turnovers, but on Saturday night, Florida’s defense gets its second crack at a top-notch offense. Not to mention an opportunity to win a huge game with SEC title implications.
Florida kept LSU in check last year, yielding only two field goals in a 14-6 win in The Swamp, but this year’s Tigers offense is an animal of a completely different breed.
Led by new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, LSU quarterback Zack Mettenberger has flourished into one of the nation’s best passers. He is on a record-breaking pace for the Tigers, which have scored at least 30 points in each of their first six games while also manufacturing over 400 yards of offense in each game – both firsts for the program.
And he has two dangerous weapons to throw to in wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, who have been the top pass-catching duo in college football this season. The pair has combined for more than 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, who is averaging 7.5 yards per carry and has nine touchdowns.
“They do an outstanding job offensively,” Florida head coach Will 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 SEC and, arguably, the nation through the first six weeks of the season. Florida is tied with Alabama for fourth in the nation in scoring (12.2 points) and ranks second in total defense (217 ypg), sixth in passing (152 ypg), and second in rushing (65 ypg).
The Gators are also second in yards per play, first in opponent QB rating and second in opponent third-down conversion percentage.
LSU’s offense undoubtedly has a tall task in moving the ball and scoring on this unit, but so too does Florida’s defense have an equally challenging chore in stopping the Tigers. At this point, however, we only have tape on one of the units against another elite competitor – Florida’s defense vs. Miami’s offense. LSU’s offense hasn’t faced a unit ranked inside the top 30 in scoring or total defense.
Here’s how LSU’s offense compares to Miami’s, which Florida held to by far its lowest output of the season:
Scoring: LSU (45.5), Miami (45.2)
Yardage: LSU (488.8), Miami (488.6)
First downs: LSU (23.2), Miami (20.2)
The one area in which the Tigers’ offense holds a distinct advantage over the Canes is third-down conversions. LSU is converting a whopping 58.3 of its third downs, good for third best in the country, while Miami is only converting just under 39 percent of the time. And that’s not an insignificant stat, as how well a team can move the chains on third down is a key indicator of success against a tough defense such as Florida’s.
The Gators’defense did so much damage to Miami’s offensive production that the Hurricanes’ statistical averages for its other four games easily surpass what LSU has accomplished thus far. In those games, Miami has averaged more than 51 points, 557.75 yards and 22.75 first downs.
If the Gators are to escape Death Valley with a win this weekend, they will likely need another dominant performance on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not a question of whether or not the Florida defense can stop LSU, but rather will it be able to.