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Battle in The Swamp

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Les MIles and the Tigers hope they are celebrating on Saturday evening

There have been some memorable games in this series, but unfortunately, not too many have come from a trip to the Swamp.

The Tigers have won just three of their last 11 trips to Gainesville, including a thriller in 2010 when Josh Jasper and Derek Helton executed an over-the-shoulder bounce pass on a fake field goal with less than a minute to play. Even then, it took a Jarrett Lee to Terrence Toliver touchdown pass with six seconds left to escape with a 33-29 victory.

Les Miles cemented his nickname as the ‘Mad Hatter’ in the minds of national and local media in 2007 when he rolled the dice five times on fourth down and converted all five attempts to defeat Florida, 28-24.

A lot of storylines have come out of meetings between the Tigers and Gators over the years. Heading into this one, Tiger fans are looking to see if this year’s Tigers are contenders or pretenders.

LSU climbed to No. 2 in the AP Poll after convincing wins over North Texas, Washington and Idaho. The last two weeks have not been as kind as LSU has dropped a spot in the polls each week after squeaking past Auburn, 12-10, and defeating Towson, 38-22.

If fourth-ranked LSU is going to contend for a conference championship and a BCS crown this year, the Tigers have to get their act together.

With No. 10-ranked Florida, No. 6 South Carolina and Texas A&M looming over the next three weeks, there are no more gimmes on the schedule.

Needless to say, Saturday will not be easy.

Florida got good news that Jelani Jenkins can play on Saturday

When LSU Has The Ball

LSU averages 39 points a game and is sitting at No. 5 in the SEC in scoring offense. The Tigers average 432 yards a game, which is also good for fifth in the league. Toss in the conference’s No. 2 rushing offense at 229 yards a contest and things on that side of the ball look much improved compared to last year.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem lies with a passing game that is 12th in the league at 203 yards a game, and an offense that has shown very little creativity and fire from the players the past two weeks.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the players, and coaches, were looking ahead the last two weeks to this showdown in The Swamp. It’s inexcusable, but certainly plausible.

Now the time has arrived, meaning it’s put up or shut up when LSU’s offense takes the field against a defense that allows the same number of points a game as the Tigers.

Florida’s secondary has allowed only two touchdown passes on the year and has picked off opposing quarterbacks six times.

Those numbers are identical to LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who will have to protect the football and avoid costly turnovers that have hurt him at times this year.

Odell Beckham needs to come up with a big game in the Swamp

Mettenberger has shown flashes of brilliance, but more times he has looked like someone who has made just five collegiate starts - and only one on the road.

The passing game has had its' share of big plays on the year. But to date, Mettenberger and his receivers haven’t put it all together.

Saturday would be a perfect time for Odell Beckham, Jr. to make the kind of plays he made against Towson, and for LSU’s receivers to all come together and have a solid outing.

Both teams received some good news on the injury front. LSU fullback J.C. Copeland looks like he will be able to go after injuring his knee against Towson. On the other side, Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins has been cleared, along with defensive tackle Sharif Floyd.

A semi-healthy Copeland means a lot to LSU’s running game. But if the Tigers’ backs put the ball on the turf four times like they did last week, the end result will not be the same.

LSU’s offensive line struggles have been well documented. While this was a matchup concern against Auburn, it will not be as big of one this week.

If Copeland is not hindered much by his knee, LSU should be able to have some success running the ball. That is assuming that the line plays with more fire and intensity than it played with the last two outings.

LSU’s entire offense needs to play with some passion and get out of the gates early so the crowd doesn’t become a bigger factor than it already will be.

LSU's defensive ends have played well in 2012

Mixing in some play-action on first down and keeping Florida off balance will be key as the Gators will load the box with eight and nine men and dare Mettenberger to beat them. He will have some opportunities to make plays in the passing game, and the quarterback and wideouts have to start connecting more routinely.

LSU will not abandon the run game, and they shouldn’t. Their backs are too good and too deep.

The Tigers should have success on the ground and Michael Ford could be a big factor with his ability to get the ball outside on the perimeter. Then a healthy dose of Spencer Ware and Kenny Hilliard between the tackles could make for a long day as this is by far the best rushing attack Florida has faced all year.

When Florida Has The Ball

Florida’s offense has improved every week, but the defenses it has faced are less than stellar. Texas A&M is ranked seventh in the SEC in total defense, while Kentucky and Tennessee pull in at No. 11 and 13, respectively.

Jeff Driskel continues to make strides as the Gators’ triggerman, and each week he looks better and more confident with what the coaches are putting on him. We will see just how improved he is, though, as now he has to do it against a unit that yields only 217 yards a game.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis is going to dial up pressure on the young sophomore signal caller, but the Tigers have to keep him contained and not just pin their ears back and get up field. Driskel is UF’s second leading rusher with 148 yards, so he can hurt teams with his legs.

LSU’s depth along the defensive front could really come into play on Saturday and there hasn’t been much of a drop-off, if any, between defensive ends Sam Montgomery, Lavar Edwards, and KeKe Mingo.

Anthony Johnson and Bennie Logan have both been effective, and both will need to bring their A-game to keep Florida’s offensive linemen off the second level so the linebackers can make plays.

Florida’s run game ranks third in the conference and averages only five yards fewer a game than LSU. Once again, though, you have to look at the competition and ask yourself is that an inflated stat?

Regardless, Florida’s offense is centered around Mike Gillislee, who is second in the league with 402 yards and has found the end zone five times.

Just like Florida will load the box against LSU, Chavis will do the same to try and stop Gillislee and force Driskel into passing situations.

LSU played more base 4-3 last week than it had all year with Kwon Alexander at linebacker. Expect even more of that this weekend since Florida’s receivers haven’t made many big plays all year. LSU’s secondary should have a big advantage.

LSU’s linebackers will have to be aware of tight end Jordan Reed, who is UF’s leading receiver with 16 receptions for 193 yards and a score. In the past, tight ends have given LSU’s linebackers problems, and Reed could present some matchup problems.

Predictions

Sonny’s Call: Last year’s route in Baton Rouge was uncharacteristic of the way these games go, and I certainly don’t expect to see another one this year. These two teams are the most penalized in the SEC, and this one will be sloppy. LSU gets a decent game from Mettenberger, but a turnover in the third quarter allows Florida to get back in it. The Tigers score early in the fourth to go up by nine points, but a late Gator score cuts it to a two-point lead. LSU’s offense can’t convert on a late third down and the defense has to come up with a stop……..LSU 20, Florida 18

Shea's Call: I think this one plays out a lot like the Auburn game did for LSU. The Tigers go up early, then Florida makes a charge and takes the lead at halftime. The crowd gets going and LSU is truly tested for the first time.
I see the running game stepping up big in the second half, then Mettenberger taking the Tigers on a drive that defines his short time in Baton Rouge, scoring the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. LSU adds a field goal late to hold onto a very close win in The Swamp..……..LSU 20, Florida 14

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