To illustrate how well the gathering went, even the much maligned and serene quarterback Chris Leak stood up and delivered a message. That message was met with conviction and unification. The words were simple, move forward and leave behind what has happened. The one thing this team has lacked is leadership and because of the vast arrangement of upperclassman and freshman it has been difficult to identify just one. This team needs to trust one another and that trust will be the glue that holds them together. One of my favorite quotes is "strength is the product of struggles" and this team should be able to find plenty of strength.
LSU is 5-0 and playing with something Florida longs for, confidence. The Tigers have dispatched of four unworthy opponents and mighty Georgia in a terrific game in which Billy Bennett missed several field goals. LSU has not won back-to-back games against UF since 1986-87. The Gators are clinging to the stat that says seven of the last eight participants in the title game have had two conference losses. Most fans would just take a win right now but at least the team still has goals. When the season is half over and you have no goals left on your board, motivation becomes a big challenge. The Tigers are first in the conference and 4th nationally in total defense and their offense is much more efficient than a year ago with the conference's top passer in Matt Mauck. Florida has won 13 of 15 in the series but the two losses hurt Gator fans a lot. The two losses were last year in the Swamp and on national television and in 1997 at Death Valley when UF was ranked number one in the country.
Last week UF didn't find the endzone in the second half and for one and a half games of their SEC schedule they have not found the endzone.(1st half vs TN,1st Half vs KY, 2nd Half vs Ole Miss). The offense which did get out of bad field position on it's initial possession got no points after having first and goal at the seven. The Ole Miss secondary came into the game struggling and UF wanted to limit Chris Leak's number of throw for two reasons - he still makes some bad throws that result in interceptions (his 23rd, 25th and 27th pass attempt was intercepted and the injuries on defense forced UF to shorten the game. UF did not want Eli Manning to get into a rhythm and stay on a roll like he had been in the first four games. This plan would have worked if not for two things. First, to come away with just three points after having first and 10 at the Ole Miss 16 and Ole Miss 7 on two possessions really hurt. You should at least get six more than likely 10 points. Secondly the field position changed the momentum of the game. After the Gator got off their own 2 yard line to get into scoring position they started the next two drives on their 2 and 12 yard lines.
Finally UF made some pre-game decisions on some personnel based on practice, discipline and injury. Taurean Charles would have seen his most significant action of the season Saturday if not for a cut on his leg on Thursday. Dallas Baker was benched in an effort to send a message to work ethic and route running while Ciatrick Fason (who they could have used in the redzone) was held off the offense for breaking a team rule. He will be ready this week and did participate on special teams a week ago. Combine that with the loss of Channing Crowder, Todd McCollough and Kenny Parker and the Gators were not a full strength. I think the offensive line is struggling a bit and did not do a good job against the four man twists of Ole Miss. Lance Butler who battles and usually gives great effort struggled while Max Starks did not perform at a high level. He has been battling an ankle injury but really had an off day by his standards. The bottom line is that this team cannot afford to lose the turnover battle, squander scoring opportunities and play void of emotion. I keep saying this and that is this team has a slim margin of error because of a young quarterback, talented but inexperienced receivers and a young and inexperienced interior on defense.
LSU is 20-4 at home under Nick Saban and is looking to get off to a 6-0 start. The Tigers have a six game winning streak against the SEC East. LSU leads the SEC in scoring at 40.2 points per game. It is a balanced attack that averages roughly 250 yards per game in the air and 150 yards plus on the ground. Defensively they are big, strong, fast and aggressive. It is the type of defense that can force an offense to quit because of the way the come after you. The Tiger defense has held 4 of it's 5 opponents to less than 240 yards. LSU is ranked No. 6 in the country and has designs on finishing the season in New Orleans and the National Championship Game.
This and That:
Much was made about Texas Tech and their passing attack against the Rebels. Against Ole Miss the Red Raiders completed the same pass 34 times in 44 pass attempts. They also riddled the Texas A&M defense this past week. Mike Leach has receivers and a big-armed quarterback who have been in the system for four years. The Rebels will not win the West but they do have the best quarterback in the West. It is amazing how much better a "Manning "looks when he has a running game to set up his play action passes. The Gator underneath coverage of linebackers and nickel backs continues to struggle in zone coverage allowing to many easy "dig route" completions. Charlie Anderson and Jesse Mitchell of Ole Miss will play on Sunday's in the NFL. Anderson wore out Randy Hand and Max Starks. The Rebels just look like they wanted it more and the Gators were just looking around waiting for someone to make a play.
The Gators will try to put a plan together that will help counter act the speed and rush of the Tigers. Chris Leak is going to get hit this week a lot so it will be important for Ingle Martin and Gavin Dickey to get a good mental week of preparation. The option could be back in the package as an added weapon to combat the Tiger speed and aggressiveness. The screen package and quick game will also be major components of this week's gameplan. I also think you could see Leak under center some to set up the play action passing game and free up Ben Troupe down the middle of the field. Defensively UF may be able to attack this game with three linebackers and a strong safety. Guss Scott will be a major factor in this week's gameplan. The corners will have to be able to play man coverage at least 50% of the time this week. I expect UF will mix in linebacker "run blitzes" this week to try and disrupt the Tiger run game. The kicking game is solid but not great for the Tigers and UF must try to come after punter Donnie Jones.
Last week's front seven for the Florida Gators had 37 career starts. LSU's front seven has 92 career starts, including 71 by the defensive line.