3:30 PM ET, October 6, 2012
BEN HILL GRIFFIN STADIUM, GAINESVILLE, FL
Lackluster efforts in victories against Auburn and Towson have fourth-ranked LSU needing to make an adjustment as it begins the heart of its SEC schedule this week.
The Tigers will take on 10th-ranked Florida at "the Swamp" in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday.
Coach Les Miles has been unhappy with the way his team has performed the past two weeks, a span in which LSU (5-0, 1-0) committed five turnovers and 19 penalties. Towson outrushed LSU by 30 yards due to a number of missed tackles.
"We need to play better," Miles said Monday. "We need to be consistent with our culture. We had uncharacteristic turnovers. I'm glad we're getting them out early. We can't afford them as we go forward.
"Our defense played like they are expected to play in spots (against Towson). But, we unexpectedly gave up a grind-out drive at the back end of the game. I am not happy with the penalties. This team understands how to play and the culture in our building. I suspect they will play well against Florida."
LSU has won its first five games for the fourth straight season and for the fifth time in Miles' eight years as coach. Florida, in its second year under coach Will Muschamp, has won its first four games.
"The Swamp is a great place to play," said Miles, who has a 1-2 record in Gainesville. "If you enjoy classic college venues and if you enjoy the SEC, the Swamp is as good as it gets. It's a quality opponent on the road and it's loud."
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger will make his second road start after struggling at Auburn, where he completed just 15 of 27 passes for 169 yards. He was sacked twice and lost two fumbles. For the season, Mettenberger has thrown two interceptions and lost three fumbles.
Miles believes that Mettenberger is not to blame for a passing game that is averaging slightly more than 200 yards.
"Our quarterback play, by and large, has been very good," Miles said. "The thing that he does is he tries to extend the play. That puts him in jeopardy. We are not looking for Zach to extend the play. We want him to get it out of his hands. We may punt it a little more, but we can take away negative plays.
"Zach shares in the responsibility, but he's not the one reason for our inefficiency in the passing game. It's the running backs, the offensive line and the receivers. Our passing game will improve. I like Zach. His energy and effort is good for this team."
Florida (4-0, 3-0) has bragged about its offensive line for months.
The Gators have repeatedly called the unit the strength of the team, a group of guys who have made steady improvement since spring practice in March.
How the line performs against LSU will either validate or negate all that chatter.
"You go block this front you've done something," Muschamp said. "They're very good. They've recruited well. They've got depth. They're big, fast and physical."
Defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are widely considered among the top pass rushers in the country, and mammoth defensive tackles Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson make it difficult for opponents to get much going up the middle. Together, they're a big reason the Tigers rank fourth in the country in total defense.
The Gators know they will have their hands full Saturday.
They also believe they're up for the challenge.
"Yes, we're going against some better athletes," center Jon Harrison said. "But we've come a far ways from last year. We're more meshed as a unit. We've been working this whole offseason for a situation like this."
Florida's offensive line certainly has progressed from last season.
The Gators were mostly mediocre up front in 2011, failing to consistently open holes for the running game and giving up almost as many sacks (23) as the offense scored touchdowns (30).
Things reached a low in late November when Muschamp called his team soft -- clearly taking a shot at the O-line -- following an embarrassing loss to rival Florida State.
Through four games, the line has looked considerably better.
The Gators are averaging nearly 225 yards on the ground, and that includes three games against conference opponents. Senior Mike Gillislee ranks second in the league in rushing, averaging a little more than 100 yards and giving Florida a more versatile ground attack than diminutive backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps did the last two years.
And although Jeff Driskel has been sacked 12 times, eight of them came at Texas A&M on Sept. 8 and most of those were the quarterback's fault and not on the line.
But LSU will provide the ultimate measuring stick.
"It's not that maybe they're sacking you all the time, but it's just moving you around in the pocket," Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "When you start having to move, your eyes become different as a quarterback on where you're trying to focus and throwing on time and rhythm. It's disruptive."
The Tigers dominated last year's meeting in Baton Rouge, holding Florida to 213 yards, getting a sack, intercepting two passes by freshman Jacoby Brissett and winning 41-11.
The Gators, who have lost two straight in the series, failed to sustain drives and didn't get much going on the ground until the game was out of reach. If things are going to be any different Saturday, Florida's offensive line could be the key.
"They're way more physical," Gators defensive tackle Omar Hunter said of his teammates across the line. "They come off the ball and they will hit you. They will definitely hit you. I think they'll match up pretty well. LSU has a great defensive line. Our offensive line has been prepared well and they're really ready for this game."
Hunter and the Florida defense should get a boost Saturday. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who missed the last two games with a broken right thumb, is expected to return.
Top 25 Overview
This is one of the most anticipated games in The Swamp in a while. The Gators come in refreshed from a needed bye, while LSU hasn't looked very comfortable on offense against lesser opponents for the past two weeks. With two stout defenses out there, this one could come down to which team runs the ball the best.
Can the Tigers capitalize on their talent advantage versus the Gators?
|Avg Points Allowed||12.8||11.4|
Jeff Driskel has at least one rush that gained 20 yards or more in each game this season. Driskel gained two of the four 20-yard runs on bootlegs. For the season, Driskel is averaging 11.1 yards per carry on designed running plays and 9.4 yards per rush on scrambles.
LSU's opponents have completed 30.1 percent of their passes thrown 10 yards or more downfield since the start of last season. No team has completed more than half of their 10-yard throws against the Tigers and only Alabama, in the BCS Championship Game, and Auburn in Week 8 completed half.[+]
Throws of 10+ yards
LSU has improved throwing the ball downfield this season with Zach Mettenberger at quarterback. Mettenberger has completed 60.7 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield, and has been under 50 percent in only one game (Auburn). The Tigers are 13-0 since the start of 2010 when they complete more than 50 percent of their throws of 15 yards or more.[+]
Throws of 15+ Yards
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