Defensive end Marcus Spears leads the Bengals front seven. The 6'4 298 senior has 12 tackles, has 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack, broken up two passes, forced a fumble, and picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown against Mississippi State. Spears was also an incredible basketball player, who received numerous scholarship offers. Junior Melvin Oliver (6'3 274) will line up at right end. Oliver has outstanding quickness and has good strength. He has 15 tackles, including two tackles for loss. However, Oliver has yet to record a sack.
Right tackle Kyle Williams (6'2 295) has started since midway through last season. Williams leads the Tigers in tackles for loss with 4.5. He has also recorded 21 tackles and a pair of sacks. True freshman Glen Dorsey is starting at left defensive tackle. The 6'2 300 former high school All-American has racked up 12 tackles and a sack. Sharing duties at defensive tackle is JUCO transfer Claude Wroten. A 6'3 293 All-American, Wroten received acclaim from Coach Saban after the Tigers loss to Georgia. "Claude Wroten played extremely well defensively. He made some plays and played with a lot of effort" He has made 19 tackles, including seven against the Bulldogs. Wroten has three tackles for loss.
Middle linebacker Lionel Turner (6'2 260) leads the team with 41 tackles, including four tackles for loss and two sacks. Turner moved over from the Will two years ago. He is generally regarded as the Tigers leading hitter. Strongside linebacker Ali Highsmith (6'1 225) comes to Louisiana from Miami Central High School. The true freshman has recorded 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack, a fumble recovery, and an interception. Weakside linebacker Cameron Vaughn has made 26 tackles on the year. The 6'4 237 junior had his best game against the Gators last season with eight tackles.
Florida has continued to impress along the front. These guys appear to be gaining additional confidence each time out. They'll take the Tigers best shot on Saturday. This needs to be one physical Florida front come that first whistle.
Analysis: The Tigers have athleticism along the front seven. They lack experience. Leak should be comfortable with Randy Hand lining up in front of Marcus Spears. Hand has been outstanding, and he can expect to hear plenty of jawing from Spears.
The Bayou Bengals are led by All-American cornerback Corey Webster. The 6'0 204 senior has even been used by Coach Saban on the offensive side of the ball. He has accumulated 16 tackles, broken up five passes, and has an interception. Webster has one reception for six yards and a score. Webster has missed practice with a knee sprain this week. Former South Broward High School star Travis Daniels starts opposite Webster. Daniels (6'1 194) started six games at free safety last season, but made the move to corner where he has played ever since. He has recorded 19 tackles and broken up two passes.
Daniels move to corner was due in large part to the play of then true freshman LaRon Landry. The 6'2 187 had a big game in only his second career start versus the Gators last season. Landry recorded nine tackles, including a sack. Landry earned Freshman All-American, as well as, second team All-SEC honors. The super soph is the teams second leading tackler with 38. He leads the team with three sacks and has racked up 3.5 tackles for loss, two passes broken up, and an interception. Fellow sophomore Jessie Daniels is the starter at strong. He has 29 tackles and an interception which he returned 24 yards. He played in all 14 games as a true freshman last season.
Florida has Leak, Fason, Wynn, Latsko, Small, Caldwell, Jackson, Baker, and Cornelius playing behind a solid offensive front. Analysis: If the Tigers lose Webster and give up the number of big plays they allowed against Georgia, they're in trouble. Florida has playmakers aplenty, if they can just become consistent.
The Bayou Bengals are led up front by Remington Trophy candidate Ben Wilkerson. The four year starter was a consensus second team All-America selection in 2003. Wilkerson (6'4 297) is arguably the best overall center in LSU history. His strengths are making the line calls and his physical play. However, it is unknown if he will be full speed when the Tigers pull into Gainesville. He has spent the week in at practice wearing a non-contact jersey nursing a knee injury.
Andrew Whitworth is in his third year as the Tigers starter at left tackle. The 6'7 325 junior was a Freshman All-American selection two years ago, and has been a model of consistency at LSU since stepping onto campus. Lining up next to Whitworth is 6'4 329 redshirt freshman Will Arnold. The Gloster, Mississippi native is a powerful drive blocker with great strength. He needs to improve his pass blocking skills though.
Junior right guard Rudy Niswanger (6'5 293) moonlights in pre-med in his spare time away from Tiger Stadium. Niswanger is the most versatile member of the LSU O-Line, as he has played all five positions. However, he is debuting in 2004 as a full time starter for the first time. Niswanger did start four games after Nate Livings was injured last season. Livings is back at his natural tackle position this season. He was one of the Tigers five best offensive linemen last season and played guard. Besides, Wilkerson, Livings may be the best pass blocker among the starters at LSU. He has good footwork and possesses the quickness to fill in at left tackle should the Tigers have need. Livings is not an outstanding run blocker though.
Tight end David Jones is a good blocker, who on occasion will line up in the Tiger backfield in short yardage situations. LSU will also use Keith Zinger at tight end in obvious blocking situations. Zinger fires off of the ball well and has good technique.
The good news is that Florida has done a pretty good job of shutting down the run. The Gators are fifth in the conference in run defense, giving up 118.2 yards per game. The bad news is that Florida will face the best stable of backs they've seen this season. The good news is that since the Tigers have given up 12 sacks, the Gators could be in line to move out of the cellar in that category. The bad news is that the Florida front seven could be charged with loitering when the opposing quarterbacks drop back to pass. The Gators have recorded just three sacks through the first quarter of the season. Admittedly, the Gators have faced teams that utilize the short, controlled passing game, but they have yet to take advantage of their costly mistakes by gobbling up turnover opportunities.
Analysis: The Bayou Bengals have struggled to score on the road against quality SEC competition averaging 12.5 points per game in those contests. While I'm confident that Zook has surrounded this team with talent, I'm not certain that they are one of those quality teams at this point. LSU needs a healthy Ben Wilkerson at center. Florida needs to center their attention on getting some pressure on the quarterback.
The Tigers have a sound running game led by Justin Vincent, Alley Broussard and Joseph Addai. Sophomore Justin Vincent led the Tigers with MVP performances in both the SEC Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl, where LSU captured a part of the National Championship with a victory over Oklahoma. Vincent has run for 225 yards on 51 carries. However, Vincent has lost two fumbles twice so far this year. Fellow sophomore Broussard has run for 217 yards on 42 carries. The elder statesman Addai has run for 207 yards on just 24 carries. He had a 35 yard gallop against the Bulldogs. Addai and Vincent have combined for 12 receptions thus far.
The Bayou Bengals are led in receiving by Dwayne Bowe, who has 22 receptions for 362 yards and five touchdowns. LSU has 10 touchdown passes on the year. The 6'3 213 Miami Norland product sat out of practice this week because of an ankle sprain. Sophomore Craig Davis is the Tigers second leading receiver. Davis, 6'2 195, practiced this week with a redshirt jersey nursing a knee injury. All-American wide receiver Skyler Green, who has been nursing a sprained ankle, was able to go full speed against Georgia last Saturday night. Noticing a theme here?
Freshmen Early Doucet and Xavier Carter are earning more playing time as each becomes comfortable with the system. Doucet has eight receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown. Carter has hauled in just five passes, but has 118 yards to his credit, including a 67 yards strike for one of his two scores. The Palm Bay High School graduate is averaging 23.6 yards per reception.
Florida…Just when you think the secondary is getting better, the second half starts.
Analysis: Tailback by committee has worked well for the Tigers. However, they have turned the ball over 12 times, including 10 via the fumble. Futhermore, the Bayou Bengals have some injury problems. Most appear to be minor. If the Gators fail to cover, get pressure, or respond to coaching..it could make for another long second half. Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones effectively picked apart the Florida defense when the Razorbacks desperately needed a spark. Do the Gators have the ability to mix up the zone and various blitz package coverages as effectively as the Bulldogs did against the Tigers?