Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers – 2016 Preview

Spread the love

Do you remember the scramble in Gainesville around Hurricane Matthew and the postponement of the LSU game? Both schools were at fault and playing the blame game. It took some clever rule interpretation from the SEC and the concession of two home games by Jim McElwain to get the game rescheduled. Look where we are now. The Gators head to Baton Rouge on Saturday with a chance to clinch the SEC East against a rejuvenated LSU squad under interim coach Ed Orgeron. We’ve waited long enough for this one; let’s get down to it.

Here’s my Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers – 2016 Preview.

Better Offense with Appleby?

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 12: Austin Appleby #12 of the Florida Gators in action during the first quarter of the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, FL – NOVEMBER 12: Austin Appleby #12 of the Florida Gators in action during the first quarter of the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Against Arkansas two weeks ago, Florida looked like the same team from the second half of the 2015 season. The offense was a disaster, limiting and even disheartening a defensive unit with elite talent.

Last week, Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby replaced Luke Del Rio due to injury for the third time this season when the Gators beat South Carolina. He looked good, going 17 of 21 for 201 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He added 34 yards on the ground and provides a wrinkle with his feet that Del Rio just didn’t offer. Appleby is no Jalen Hurts, but his mobility will be important with a banged up offensive line, which I’ll cover later, facing an LSU defense that’s recorded 24 sacks this year. Arden Key and Kendell Beckwith, the Tigers’ top linebackers will have to account for Appleby’s feet and that will allow Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier to move the pocket on passing downs.

If Appleby can continue to be accurate on a few deep balls and efficient overall, it will keep LSU from stacking the box and make the offensive line’s job easier. Creating room for Jordan Scarlett and the rest of Florida’s running backs should be Florida’s number one priority. After all, SEC football is won and lost in the trenches. In two of LSU’s three losses this season they’ve been out-gained on the ground they’ve yielded at least 130 rushing yards in all three of them. The Gators will need to hit that 130-yard mark to have a chance in Death Valley.

Injuries Chomping the Gators 

October 15, 2016: Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain looks on while training staff check on Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) during the NCAA football game between the Florida Gators and the Missouri Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field in Gainesville, FL. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
October 15, 2016: Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain looks on while training staff check on Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) during the NCAA football game between the Florida Gators and the Missouri Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field in Gainesville, FL. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Gators will rely on a slew of backups this week after suffering injuries to several starters. Here’s the not so short list:

Offense:

  • QB – Luke Del Rio
  • OT – David Sharpe
  • C – Cam Dillard

Defense:

  • DE – Bryan Cox Jr.
  • LB – Jarrad Davis
  • LB – Alex Anzalone
  • S – Marcus Maye.

Del Rio is the least of the Florida’s concern on this list. On offense, the Gators will have to shuffle the entire offensive line with no one playing the position they’ve taken the most snaps at this season. That does not bode well for hitting 130 yards since it will undoubtedly throw off the timing and development of running lanes.

Davis, Anzalone, and Maye were on track to make All-SEC teams and their leadership and impact will be missed. While the defensive line and secondary are deep units, playing without both starting linebackers against LSU is a daunting challenge.

 Slowing Down Fournette and Guice

<> at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama.
<> at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama.

LSU averages 6.43 yards per rush behind the dual-headed monster of Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. Florida likes to play a 4-2-5, but without Anzalone and Davis, look for them to line up in more traditional 4-3 and sell out to stop Fournette and Guice. If the Gators get an early lead or show they can stop the run early, Appleby’s Purdue transfer counterpart, Danny Etling, might give the Gators a gift trying to throw at Teez Tabor or Quincy Wilson.

That will require the three freshman linebackers to step up in the absence of Davis and Anzalone. David Reese, Kylan Johnson, and Vosean Joseph will be charged with slowing down Fournette and Guice at 235 and 230 pounds respectively. Don’t be surprised to see several screen passes attempting to get offensive lineman up the field to overpower the Gators’ young backers.

Nickel back Duke Dawson or safety Marcell Harris will need to play big parts this week. Expect both of them to roll down into the box and fill the alleys frequently. Defensive Coordinator Geoff Collins could also opt to stick with his 4-2-5 or play either as the third linebacker to get more experience on the field. The dilemma here is that neither weighs more than 215 pounds and would easily get washed if LSU’s O-linemen, all of whom weigh at least 300 pounds, reach the second level. Nevertheless, Collins will have to take that risk if the freshman linebackers aren’t sure on every call.

Stopping Fournette and Guice may be too tall a task for the depleted Florida defense but they can hope to avoid giving up big plays and make LSU move the ball methodically. Doing so would give the Gator secondary opportunities to take advantage of Etling, whose touchdown/interception ratio on the year is only 7/4.

 Wrap Up

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 17: Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers runs for a first down past Marcus Maye #20 of the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
BATON ROUGE, LA – OCTOBER 17: Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers runs for a first down past Marcus Maye #20 of the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The Gators will need a quick start and a fortuitous bounce or two to overcome the onslaught of injuries. They’ll also need Appleby and the offense to avoid three-and-outs to keep the defense well rested. Otherwise Fournette and Guice will have a field day behind their mammoth offensive line and things will get ugly.

Florida played in early kickoffs the last two weeks while LSU played two night games. Tiger fans will be a little sleepy and slow to enter the stadium for an 11a.m. local-time kickoff, even in a highly anticipated rivalry game. There’s a chance the team will be as well. Even if that were to happen, these teams average the fewest snaps per game in the SEC – Florida at Gronk’s favorite number, 69, and LSU at 60 — so a slow start for LSU won’t hurt much unless the Gators can move the ball or capitalize on a turnover early.

This game will be a grind in the trenches and could ultimately be decided by which Purdue quarterback transfer that started the season as a backup makes the fewest mistakes. The Gators are playing to clinch the SEC East and their second consecutive trip to Atlanta but they’ll need to play an almost perfect game to make it happen.

Prediction

Florida: 17

LSU: 24