MEYER: Florida Priority Protect The Football

There isn't any hocus pocus or secret formula in the game plan for the Florida Gators this week. When eleventh-ranked Florida squares off with tenth-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge Saturday, the one goal the Gators can't sight of is protecting the football.

That's been the main focus of Florida's game planning all week long as the Gators get ready for what amounts to a mid-season elimination game in the Southeastern Conference. Florida is 5-1 overall with a 3-1 record in the SEC East. LSU is 3-1 with a 2-1 record in the SEC West. The winner of this game will still have a leg to stand on in the divisional races that lead to the SEC championship game and the conference's automatic BCS bid while the loser will be pretty much be hoping for a date with the Outback Bowl.

LSU has turned the ball over 10 times in four games with eight fumbles and two intercepted passes. The Tigers are minus-1 for the season in turnover margin and ranked ninth in the SEC.

The Gators are second in the league in turnover margin at plus-8 with 16 takeaways and eight giveaways (five interceptions, three fumbles) but six of those eight giveaways have been in the last two games. Florida turned the ball over four times (three interceptions and a fumble) against Mississippi State.

Coach Urban Meyer knows that the key to any Florida victory has to be in taking care of the football. It's imperative that the Gators don't allow LSU to win the turnover margin but it's equally as important that Florida move the chains and keep the ball away from LSU's talented offensive skill people. Meyer knows that LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell has an NFL arm to go with NFL-type receivers in Early Doucet and Dwayne Bowe, but the Tigers also have a huge offensive line that loves to grind it out so that Joseph Addai and Justin Vincent can punish a defense.

"Take care of the football and you just can't be three and out, three and out, three and out," said Meyer Thursday after practice. "We're facing a very good defense so how do you do that? We've got to block the front. That's what I think has to happen."

Getting his oft-maligned offensive line ready to block LSU's talented front four has taken front and center on the priority list this week. Crowd noise was pumped in every single day to help the linemen, in particular, ready for the expected high decibel level of Tiger Stadium.

"We're going to have the crowd issue so we don't have the snap count advantage," said Meyer. "So it's going to be on silent which was obviously the advantage we had here at Tennessee. So we have to block their front in the run game and obviously, we have to protect the quarterback."

LSU's defensive front four is one of the best in the nation. End Melvin Oliver and Chase Pittman team with tackles Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams to bring plenty of heat. This foursome has combined for 10.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. As a team, LSU has 24 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in four games.

Oliver is the player who has particularly caught Meyer's eye this week in practice. He has 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks so far this season. The job of handling Oliver one on one will belong to Florida right tackle Lance Butler. Meyer made it perfectly clear that if the Gators are to keep Oliver from being a disruptive force, "Lance Butler has to have a great game."

INJURY UPDATE: Defensive end Ray McDonald, who has been practicing this week while coming back from knee surgery, couldn't practice Thursday due to soreness in his knee so his status is doubtful for Saturday's game.

"It's a game time decision and I would say it's 60-40 at best," said Meyer.

It's just the opposite for wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius, trying to get back into the lineup after a serious high ankle sprain suffered against Alabama two weeks ago.

"Jemalle practiced today," said Meyer. "He's still gimping a bit but I would way 60-40 he'll play."

Tailback DeShawn Wynn, who didn't practice last week because of soreness in his shoulder, dinged his shoulder Thursday but he didn't miss practice.

Meyer said that Wynn and Markus Manson will be the top two tailbacks Saturday.

REDSHIRT SITUATION: There is a possibility that true freshman wide receiver David Nelson will see his first action Saturday. Meyer said the staff is contemplating whether or not to burn his redshirt and play the 6-6, 200-pounder from Texas in the final five games of the season due to the critical depth situation.

"He's coming on right now," said Meyer. "We have to make a decision to burn his redshirt or not which is tough. He's doing a good job though. He kind of slipped away for awhile but he's starting to get stronger. He's a tall angular guy who's not strong but I'm glad he's here."

Meyer said the decision to take Nelson on the road trip to Baton Rouge would be made Thursday night after practice.

Another player who may have his redshirt burned is true freshman guard Ronnie Wilson of Pompano Beach. With the problems at guard, inserting Wilson into the lineup has been seriously discussed by the staff.

"That's crossed our minds a few times," said Meyer. "He's a talented, good player and he wants to play but you have to do what's right by the young man. It's tough to play the freshmen."


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