Game Day Headquarters: Florida @ LSU

The game that was supposed to be played a month and a half go is finely here and there is a lot more on the line, really for both teams. Florida heads to Baton Rouge when they should be playing Presbyterian at home. The stakes are high and so is the frenzy for the contest.

#18 Florida Gators (7-2, 5-2 SEC) vs.  #14 LSU Tigers (6-3, 4-2)

Saturday November 19, 2016; 1 P.M. (EST)

Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Death Valley

TV: SEC NETWORK

 

IT JUST DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS

There are more storylines than we can name here in the next 2,000 words, but we are going to try.

Florida heads to Baton Rouge Saturday in the ‘Cane Contest’ or the ‘Joe Alleva Bowl’ or the ‘DBU Deathmatch’ or… well you get it. It’s enough to make your head spin if you are actually participating in the contest, yet by all accounts the players at Florida have been focused squarely on the competition this week and all the other stuff is being ignored.

A quick look back at how we got here. Florida was scheduled to play LSU in Gainesville on October 8. Hurricane Matthew was barreling along the coast in an unpredictable pattern midweek and looked to be past the state of Florida by game time, yet the damage would be just a guessing game and Florida couldn’t host a game not knowing what emergency personnel would be available for the contest.

Florida was also not willing to put the players and coaches on the road during the storm and have their heads elsewhere while they were trying to prepare for a game, nor were they willing to pack up and travel with a possible storm track that could go awry.

The game gets postponed and the LSU faithful, media, and wacko Athletic Director start raising suggestions that Florida was evading the contest and not wanting to play a team that had just fired their head coach two weeks earlier.  Yeah, okay?

A week and a half passed as LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva would not budge on playing a game at a later date away from Death Valley. It came apparent that LSU and their administration were willing to forfeit the chance to play in the SEC Championship if they got the chance rather than play this game. Florida, not willing to do that, decided to cave to the plan. Of course LSU won’t be there no matter what happens on Saturday, a win by Florida and the Gators play in Atlanta.

So the Tigers have been calling the Gators chickens for cancelling the original game, the Gators are calling the Tigers chickens for them being afraid to play the game where it was supposed to be played.

Are we having fun yet?

And while all of this drama unfolded, Florida got themselves back in shape after a loss to Tennessee to contend for the SEC East title. They play Saturday and as mentioned, if they win, they’re in the Championship game two weeks later.

There is also the ‘DBU’ thing. Florida and LSU are two of the schools with the most defensive backs in the NFL and two of the most prominent schools with a history of great All-SEC and All-American secondary personnel. The Gators and Tigers secondary spent a lot of the offseason chirping on social media about who is better and even more chirping when the game was delayed. It’s a friendly but fierce competition that will likely make a difference in the game on Saturday.

We also have the two former Purdue quarterbacks that will be playing. If the two teams matched up in October, the Gators would have likely strolled out Luke Del Rio at quarterback. He was due back after injury. Now, Austin Appleby is at the helm of the offense after transferring from Purdue in the offseason. LSU settled on Danny Etling early in the season. He also transferred in from Purdue in the offseason. It’s an oddity that has gotten a lot of media play this week.

Even one more story line includes that of current interim head coach Ed Orgeron. While it is widely believed that there is a back door deal already done with Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher to be the head coach at LSU next year, Orgeron may have been the favorite heading into the Alabama game a couple of weeks ago. The shutout loss had the natives turning on Orgeron in a big way as they have been itching for an offensive coach. The Louisiana born gravelly voiced coach has another chance against one of the better defenses in the country on Saturday. There is nothing to say that Fisher won’t back out again, so this is an important game for Orgeron.

Is that enough to spin your head for an early kickoff Saturday? It should be.

TOP 5 THINGS FLORIDA NEEDS TO DO TO WIN

In reverse order, here are the things that the Gators need to do in some shape or form to win in Death Valley.

#5 No Turnovers from Appleby  - Austin Appleby completed 17 of 21 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. His 81% completion percentage in the game was the most by a quarterback since Rex Grossman against Georgia in 2002. There was a downside to his game. Appleby threw an interception just before half as the Gators were looking to add another field goal before the intermission. He also fumbled the ball inside the ten yard line as the gators were set to score a touchdown in the second half. It was the second time this season (Vanderbilt game) that this happened. He has to stay away from the turnovers Saturday.

#4 Take the three –The odds makers have LSU at a 14 point favorite and the over / under in the game is at 38. That translates into a 26-12 LSU win. Depending on the other things on this list, I think the scoring will actually be pretty low overall. That is why I think it is important for the Gators to take the field goals they can get when they get the chance. Florida has failed four times inside field goal range when going for it on 4th down this year. Trust the defense, take the points.

#3 Take the ball away – As important as it is for Appleby not to turn the ball over the gator defense needs to help themselves by taking the ball away. LSU has fumbled eight times and coughed up six interceptions, both teams are +1 in turnover margin and the Gators have taken the ball away 15 times this year. Florida’s defense needs to get their hands on the ball.

#2 Gators rush for 130 yards – It’s kind of a random number, but they can’t be shut out running the ball like happened against Arkansas when they ran for 14 yards on 12 carries. Appleby has added a nice wrinkle to this with the quarterback run game and certainly LSU likes to pursue the ball quickly and can be taken advantage of. Jordan Scarlett has emerged as the leading rusher for Florida and this could be a nice stage for him to try and outshine the stars on the other team. That won’t be easy or expected at all, but if the gators can effectively run the ball during the game they will help themselves on both sides of the ball.

#1 Slow the LSU running game – I don’t know if this would be the top category for any other team the Gators play or played this year. This is a different animal when you are talking about Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice.  To me the issue is likely more with the guys up front on the offensive line. The LSU offense is fourth in the SEC in rushing at 234 yards per game while the Florida defense is second in the SEC giving up just 111 yards, something has to give. Despite those lofty numbers, a few teams have been able to gash the Gators right up the middle and with injuries to linebackers Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis along with Marcus Maye who sometimes plays in the box.  The numbers are depleted and less experienced up front. It isn’t a shocker, but this is the biggest worry in the contest for me.

The Matchup: Appleby and the offense have had a really good week of practice. That said, things are just going to be difficult for a team that hasn’t played well on the road this year. I think they stay away from the turnovers, but find it hard to get in the end zone, which is usual for this team. The Gators are last in the SEC in red zone scoring hitting on a 70% clip where LSU hits at an 84% clip.

In the end I think the Tigers grind it out on the ground and a single turnover could be the difference in the game.

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION:  GATORS 13    TIGERS 16

 

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