LSU: Defense and Les Miles
Hating the Florida Gators just ain’t what it used to be. After fourteen seasons of bowing to the Gators by some pretty hefty margins – save one glorious Saturday in the fall of ’97 that landed us on the cover of SI – LSU has taken three of the last four contests, including two straight in Gainesville. Even the one year we did manage to lose to UF in that stretch, 2003, we won the national championship, rendering that loss eminently more bearable. Meanwhile, the annual give-and-take with Auburn has spurned a far more intense rivalry, at least for the time being – and I really hate those guys. Add to that the rise of the impossible-to-hate, prodigiously-hilarious Every Day Should Be Saturday blog, and aww shucks, I’ve almost got a soft spot for those Gators and the impending “Urbanification” of the SEC.
Almost. I still hate their guts. And no doubt about it, despite the Gators’ home field dominance having waned a bit since the Spurrier regime, few victories for any SEC team carry greater satisfaction than a win at Florida. This year’s no different, with the Gators ranked fifth, having earned that spot with an enormous victory at Tennessee last month.
That said, we LSU types can’t help but see some chinks in the armor and hold out with pretty high hopes given our year thus far. Conventional wisdom is that these Tigers, while among the most talented teams in the land, will forever be hamstrung by the fact that one Les Miles is our coach. Given, among other things, the change-of-possession timeout Les frantically requested on national television during last year’s implosion at home versus Tennessee, and we Tiger fans can certainly understand the world’s skepticism.
But brace yourselves, because I dare say it – maybe this year is different? The Tigers enter this game ranked #1 in the nation in total defense, and #2 in scoring defense. Disregarding a garbage time touchdown allowed against Mississippi State, the defense has allowed one touchdown all season, and none through the air. We know this group can play, and it may be our best group ever. On the other side of the ball, we’ve outscored our opponents 66-0 in the first quarter this year, and are 10th in the nation in scoring offense. Jamarcus Russell, meanwhile, is second in the nation in passing efficiency.
Now, aside from the Auburn game – which most any casual observer would tell you was an intensely hard fought battle between two elite teams – we’ve clearly had a cupcake schedule. But that said, each and every week this year, Les has brought the Tigers to play – which is more than can be said of his team last year, or several of Nick Saban’s Tiger squads. The bottom line is, myriad questions enveloped this team in the preseason – namely, offensive line cohesion, defensive line ability, quarterback controversy, running back injuries, dropped passes, and sloppy play in the form of turnovers and penalties – and almost all have been answered with resounding success. From this fan at least, kudos to Les Miles and his staff.
The one thing that remains to be seen is whether the Tigers can get a reliable running game going, and failing that, whether the coaching staff is astute enough to determine when to throw in the towel and commit all out to winning the game through the air. The LSU passing game has been flawless for the most part, yet has oddly been unable to open up the running lanes for the various backs shuffled in to take carries. A ray of hope has emerged in recent weeks with the running of freshman Charles Scott, so we Tiger fans have our fingers crossed that can continue into this week. I’m inclined to believe it won’t, but I’m also inclined to believe that were we to open up the field and challenge the Florida DBs to stop us, they absolutely deserve to win the game if they can.
Florida has opened their games fairly slowly, to say the least - up only 14-7 at the half vs Southern Miss, 12-7 at the half vs Kentucky, and embroiled in a one-point battle with Alabama into the fourth quarter, a win that Gator coaches tried to amplify by trying to put the ball in the endzone with a fifteen point lead and under a minute left. Here me now – Karma sees all, Urban!!!
I know Gator fans aren’t particularly enthused that they haven’t put four full quarters together yet this year, and it’s difficult to believe that this Saturday will be any different. I’m loath to pick my team in big games like this for fear of tempting the aforementioned karma gods, but with Florida RB DeShawn Wynn questionable, our defense playing as well as it is, my newfound faith in Les Miles, and Florida’s continual struggle to assemble a solid four quarters, I’m going to sack up this time:
LSU 21, Florida 17.