Gators prepared for two LSU quarterbacks

The LSU quarterback position has become a mystery since the loss at Auburn last week.

Freshman Brandon Harris earned the start at Auburn on Saturday, but it didn’t go well. The quarterback went 3-14 for 58 yards, adding 36 rushing yards. Anthony Jennings, the sophomore that started the first five games of the season, replaced Harris in the third quarter on the way to a 41-7 loss.

So now what?

That’s the question Les Miles hasn’t answered this week. It’s unlikely that the LSU coach will release that information before Saturday’s game. The Gators have no choice but to prepare to see both Harris and Jennings on Saturday night in The Swamp, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.

If there’s good news for the Florida defense, it’s that they see a lot of similarities in Harris and Jennings.

“They have similarities in terms of both guys can scramble really well,” Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “Both guys have very strong arms. They’ve made a lot of big plays down the field. Those are things we’ve gotta be cognizant of and aware of, I think they’re probably making their determination of who they feel can run the offense the best. We know both those guys are very dangerous and we’ve got to be prepared for both.”

The Florida secondary got torched for 449 yards through the air at Alabama but made some changes with a bye week before Tennessee. The Volunteers were held to just 205 passing yards, and the Florida defense forced two interceptions by Justin Worley.

Harris and Jennings have plenty of upside at the position, but it hasn’t translated to the field this season. Jennings has completed 50.5 percent of his passes this year, the lowest number of the 13 qualified quarterbacks in the SEC. Harris has completed 56.8 percent, which would put him 11th in the league.

“Both of them have live arms,” Muschamp said. “They can throw it. Any throw you need them to make, they both can make all the throws. They are athletic. They do have legs -- that always concerns you in that situation when you play against a quarterback like these two guys. They’re two talented young men.”

Even with the low completion percentages for the two quarterbacks, when the Tigers do complete a pass, it usually goes for big yards. Jennings’ 8.8 yards per attempt is the fourth best in the SEC, and Harris’ 10.3 yards per attempt would tie Alabama’s Blake Sims for the best in the league.

The Tigers receivers have a lot to do with those numbers. After losing Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry following last season, LSU replaced them with a group of tall, physical receivers that can make plays down the field. Sophomore Travin Dural leads the group with 574 yards and five touchdowns on just 22 catches, averaging 26.1 yards per reception. Freshman Malachi Dupre is averaging 24.9 yards per reception with four catches.

“Those guys are big and athletic,” Durkin said. “They’re very talented players. They’re going to take shots down the field, play action pass and hit it up top. They have the guys that can go up and get it. They’re big, long receivers. When you look at that number of yards per catch, it’s pretty astonishing. That’s something we have to obviously prepare for and handle those shots down the field. Our guys understand that and will be ready.”

When the Florida staff turned on the film Sunday morning to start preparing for LSU, nothing in the run game came as a surprise. The Tigers are a lot like what Miles has done on offense in recent years. There are multiple backs that will carry the ball.

It’s much different than what the Gators have done in the running game. Matt Jones has carried the ball 72 times, and the only other running back with more than seven carries is Kelvin Taylor (30). For the Tigers, there are four backs between 66 and 37 carries.

Freshman Leonard Fournette leads the group with 66 carries and 5.5 yards per carry. Kenny Hilliard, Darrel Williams and Terrence Magee will also be involved out of the backfield.

“Magee’s a guy that’s been there a long time but a heck of a football player obviously,” Muschamp said. “A very unselfish player, does a lot of things for them on special teams, really enjoy watching this young man play. Leonard Fournette outstanding player. Darrel Williams we recruited him as well. Kenny Hilliard we recruited as well. Whoever’s in there, they’re physical, they compete, they run it hard. They have great ball security and they take care of the football.”

It’ll be a different look for the Florida offense than what they’ve seen through most of this year. Florida spent two weeks of practice before the Tennessee game spread for Butch Jones’ spread attack. They’ve also faced a spread offense against Kentucky and Eastern Michigan. The Alabama offense is more pro-style but does include some spread elements under Lane Kiffin.

There’s no doubting what Florida will see on Saturday in The Swamp. The Tigers are a two-back, pro-style offense that will lean on the running game. The Florida coaches estimated playing 85-90 percent from the nickel in recent weeks, leaving just two linebackers on the field to play the run. That won’t be the case against LSU.

“You’re playing a different style of offense, so we’ll be in some different personnel packages,” Durkin said. “The main thing no matter who we’re playing every week is to win at the line of scrimmage. They obviously do a great job of that week in and week out over the years. That’s always something I believe that they hang their hat on, and we do as well. That’ll be what the game comes down to.”

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