Fightin' Gators Question: You've obviously watched all of LSU's games this year closely. In your opinion, if UF controls Leonard Fournette and LSU's ground game, does LSU have enough of a passing attack to still win, given UF's dominant secondary play?
Ben Love: "The first thing I’d say is this isn’t exactly the desperate situation at quarterback for LSU that it’s been in years past with players like Anthony Jennings and Jordan Jefferson. Brandon Harris is a step up in terms of talent and arm strength. He absolutely still has plenty of strides to make in the way of pocket awareness, internal clock and things of that nature, and when he misses he tends to miss high, which is not ideal. But he’s capable of throwing for 150-200 yards on an SEC defense and has been a part of the Tigers’ rushing attack as well."
"What’s been interesting this season is that the supposedly improved receiving corps is still going through periods of inconsistency with dropped balls, routes that aren’t terribly crisp, etc. The offensive line, which is terrific run-blocking, has also struggled at times in pass protection. So, when looking at the passing game as a whole, there are certainly deficiencies for LSU. Could the passing game alone beat Florida on Saturday? Probably not. Then again, the notion of totally and utterly controlling Fournette and the ground game is a bit of a pipe dream. Limiting, perhaps. Controlling, doesn’t seem likely."
Fightin' Gators Question: I caveat this by saying I haven't finished watching the game, but it seems like South Carolina gave your OL a lot of trouble before wearing down. I think most would agree that UF has a much better defense than SC, do you expect a different style/plan of attack in your rushing game this weekend?
Ben Love: "It’s funny, but I’ve been doing my best not to read a ton into how LSU performed running it against Auburn or South Carolina because both defenses are just so bad. The Gamecocks did a solid job in the first half, but the Tigers did end the game with 396 yards rushing. And it’s 100% part of Les Miles’ game plan with this group – to wear teams into submission and throw over the top when necessary."
"An important note here – starting LSU fullback J.D. Moore went out early in the first quarter against South Carolina, and from that point until halftime, the Tigers rushed it 20 times for 83 yards. After half not only did LSU wear down the ‘Cocks, but it figured out how to rush it better by spreading it out more and using less fullback. Moore is questionable at best for the Florida game, meaning there may be more of the same with 3-4 WRs. If not, LSU’s backup at fullback is a true freshman and converted tight end from the high school ranks."
"Finally, I think LSU is learning how to have more success running it horizontally with backs not named Fournette. So I suspect we’ll see jet sweeps to the likes of receiver Travin Dural and freshman back Derrius Guice. That not only opens up lanes back inside for Fournette, it allows Harris to get involved from his quarterback slot keeping off fake jet-sweeps."
Fightin' Gators Question: In watching several of your games this year, I've noticed that Harris has a real problem (IMO) making progressions in the passing game and has a strong tendency to lock on to his receiver from the snap. IF UF has some success in stopping LSU run game (and that's subjective of course), do you feel like LSU can win if they have to depend on Harris to do it?
Ben Love: "This is a very similar question to the first one, but I do think you’ve hit on an interesting notion with your first statement. And I couldn’t agree with you more. The debate I have with reporters in Baton Rouge is this: Is LSU limiting where Harris can go with the ball because they know he’s not capable of going through progressions (so basically telling him pre-snap on certainly plays where to throw)? Or are they giving him the full menu and that’s just what he spits out?"
"Kind of a “chicken or egg” type of quandary, but the result is that he absolutely does lock in on targets. That benefits a veteran and extremely talented Florida secondary. Plus with the fact LSU is allergic to throwing to tight ends, there end up being a number of plays where it’s only likely to go to one or two guys pre-snap anyway when you just look at LSU’s formation/personnel. Limiting factor in the passing game, for sure."
Fightin' Gators Question: Just how fast is Fournette?
Ben Love: Quite. Saw somewhere earlier this week where a website dissected his 87-yard run against South Carolina, and they concluded that from the time he broke through the defense’s second level, he ran his next 40-yard split in 3.9-something seconds. The kid is a burner at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds. It’s frightening, really. Took him a while as a freshman to learn to run with some patience, but he’s doing that now and repeatedly running away from defensive backs when he hits their level.
Fightin' Gators Question: Florida has had issues this year with depth at linebacker and on special teams. I'm curious to know if you think LSU is superior in these categories than Florida is? Some of my LSU neighbors here in Baton Rouge are not liking their kick coverage and linebackers ability to cover -- like say a 3 tight end formation.
Ben Love: "This is far and away the worst special teams unit in the 11 years Les Miles has been at LSU. So, in all honestly, it’s impossible for me to imagine Florida being worse than LSU on special teams. The Tigers have been laughably bad on punt and kick coverage; senior punter Jamie Keehn has been the team’s most inconsistent player; punt returner Tre’Davious White did bring one back for six at Syracuse but he’s also fielded at least three I can think of inside the 10 and fumbled another; and, the most unforgiveable in my opinion, LSU abandoned the deep kickoff versus South Carolina and, seeming timid and scared, starting squibbing every time, conceding field position at the 35- or 40-yard line."
"So, unless there’s a major turnaround this week, it’s advantage Florida in the game’s third phase."
"As for linebackers in coverage I’m not as down as many on LSU’s guys. Kendell Beckwith is more of a run-stopper, there’s no question, but he’s improving and as much as a 255-pounder can, the guy assists in coverage. The other primary starter, senior Deion Jones, is lightning quick and has two picks on the season. Not too shabby there. The main reality: LSU prefers to be in a base nickel look (4-2-5) this season to get its best players in the secondary on the field. So there are usually only two ‘backers out there instead of three. If it’s a liability, it’s hidden pretty well by scheme."
Fightin' Gators Question: Do you think more LSU fans would rather win a 'ship than an individual award? Tim Tebow won the Heisman in '07 when Florida had the best players, but LSU had the best team and Florida lost at night in Tiger Stadium. Do you feel the roles reversed this year and without a win this weekend that LSU might be headed to a Citrus Bowl appearance against Michigan or Ohio State?
Ben Love: "I see where you’re going with that comparison, but I’m not sure it works for this year. Time may prove me wrong on that one; it’s just how I see it right now. Sure, I get the Fournette is Tebow part, but I’m not sure Florida has a better team than LSU this season. My understanding is offensive line is still a pretty big area of concern for the Gators at times, especially in pass protection. And LSU’s pass rush, a big problem for the program the past few years, has gotten markedly better in year one under D-Line coaching guru Ed Orgeron."
"So, we’ll see, that’s why you play the games between the lines. But, minus Will Grier, the Florida offense feels like a different animal. Maybe with him the rest of the way, with all the momentum UF has been gaining this fall, what you’re saying would hold weight. The simple fact is, though, that Treon Harris – and a relatively cold Harris at that, not having thrown a pass in four weeks – doesn’t scare too many people. (Now the defense and secondary, much different story.)"
Fightin' Gators Question: What odds would you put on the following West teams making it to Atlanta based on what we know now about each team?
Texas A&M: 3-to-1 … "Fournette is the best player in the SEC, but Myles Garrett is No. 2 in my opinion (and Vernon’s probably three (so don’t throw tomatoes at me just yet). John Chavis has improved that defense, but the personnel outside of Garrett isn’t exactly top-notch. Have a feeling that ‘D’ will eventually let the Aggies down in a big game or two. Still, I see their chances as almost being neck-and-neck with LSU’s atop the West. Giving the Tigers a slight edge because that game Thanksgiving weekend is played in Baton Rouge, not College Station."
LSU: 2.5-to-1 … "A flawed team, to be certain, but they have the league’s most unstoppable force and, frankly, the offense showed signs versus South Carolina of evolving and being more creative with its use of personnel and athletes not named Fournette. The defense could use another stud at end and really needs a healthy Jalen Mills back in the secondary. But, like I said above, none of those are as big a concern as special teams. Really think it could cost LSU a game down the stretch, during a brutal four weeks in November (at Alabama, vs. Arkansas, at Ole Miss, vs. Texas A&M)."
BAMA: 4.5-to-1 … "This isn’t your slightly-older-brother’s Alabama team. There are some studs on defense, but the secondary is still susceptible if you bring a legitimate passing game to the table. Plus, I think we’ll find as the season goes on that the Georgia win, though demonstrative, won’t be as impressive as it felt based on UGA’s ranking at the time. Think there’s a fair chance ‘Bama loses at Texas A&M this weekend. If that does indeed happen, count the Tide out. Think the West representative in Atlanta has only one conference loss."