No. 1 Florida Gators (4-0) vs. No. 4 LSU Tigers (5-0)
What Happened Last Week
Florida did not play, as they were on a bye week that couldn't have come at a better time for the Gators.
Despite starting the season 4-0, the Gators have had a rash of injuries, both nagging and season ending—a teamwide bout with a flu-like virus, a brutal concussion to quarterback Tim Tebow, and a growing shadow of doubt over the rest of the season.
LSU escaped Athens, Georgia, with a last-second 20-13 win over Georgia. The win took some big plays from running back Charles Scott and a horrible call from the officials to end in a fourth-quarter win.
Florida Will Win If…
Florida establishes the running game early
With the possibility of Tim Tebow not playing and John Brantley possibly getting his first significant playing time, Florida is going to have to establish the running game to ease the pressure on whichever quarterback is in the game.
It is imperative that Florida ease the early onslaught that LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis will throw at the Gator offense.
Florida has two home run speed threats in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, with an inside runner in Emmanuel Moody. All three of them will need to maintain a consistent pace when Florida's offense is on the field.
LSU is 41st in the nation in rushing defense, while Florida boasts the top running offense in the nation.
LSU's defensive front is nowhere near the dominant unit that people have come to expect from them. To compound things, the pass rush that has only generated five sacks this season has come against offensive lines that aren't of the same caliber as Florida's
Florida's Defense is Dominant
Brandon Spikes, Major Wright, Joe Haden, Dustin Doe, A.J. Jones, Jermaine Cunningham, and Wondy Pierre-Louis—most Gator fans instantly recognize these names as members of Florida's defense.
However, after a closer look, all seven were either freshman or sophomore starters on the defense that let the 2007 game slip through their fingers.
Remember now? The game that saw LSU go 5-of-5 on fourth down, including 3-of-3 in the fourth quarter. Florida couldn't stop them and LSU knew it.
Fast forward to this year. A defense with long memories and fueled by a desire to be absolutely dominant is mixed with an LSU offense that hasn't blown away an opponent.
It could be a bad mix for the Tigers.
The defense is going to have to pressure LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson in a variety of ways and get him off balance. The running game hasn't been very effective for LSU, and Jefferson has played pretty well in comparison with the production LSU got from its quarterbacks last season.
Florida has not played up to its full potential on defense this year, and a huge game on the road against LSU will go a long way towards building up for a title run.
Florida Will Lose If…
Florida's quarterback situation determines their offense
Tim Tebow may or may not play. John Brantley hasn't played anything other than mop-up time. Tim Tebow is a Heisman Trophy winner and arguably one of the most competitive athletes in any sport. John Brantley has mostly held a clipboard and run the scout team in practice.
The offense cannot be radically altered based on who is in the game. When Brantley is in the game, the offense will feature some sets that Florida utilized when Chris Leak was the quarterback. When and if Tim Tebow is in the game, there probably won't be as many designed runs for him.
LSU is going to come after both of them, hard. Florida's coaching staff needs to keep the offensive changes to a minimum and trust whoever is setting up behind center.
The X-Factor Will Be…
Florida quarterback John Brantley
For everyone who is waiting until Tim Tebow leaves to see what Florida will look like on offense, Saturday night is going to be a good indicator. Nevermind the fact that John Brantley's first possible start is on the road in Death Valley. The true indication is going to be how he reacts to real, fast, first-team football from the opening kick.
One advantage John Brantley has is his young receiver corps. For the past two years, Tim Tebow has spent the majority of his time throwing to Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Cornelius Ingram, and Riley Cooper. With the exception of Cooper, everyone else is gone.
John Brantley has spent his time throwing to all of the younger receivers that Florida has counted on to step up this season and haven't—yet.
Brantley probably knows their tendencies a little bit more—how they break out of their cuts, where they want the ball placed, how much air to put under it on deep throws.
This will play into an advantage for Florida, especially when they go with four and five receiver sets.
Florida 34, LSU 17