ACK: Gators Must Stop LSU Running Game

College football's midseason is here and nine BCS conference teams remain unbeaten. Eight of these teams will play each other --- or could play each other --- leaving us with the possibility of a one loss team playing for a National Title. This time last season we had thirteen undefeated teams and five would run the table. There will be no mid-major controversy this season and it looks like the big boys will be settling it on the field.

Here are some of the matchups that could take care of business for the unbeatens: Southern Cal-UCLA, Texas-Texas Tech, Virginia Tech-FSU in the ACC title game, Georgia-Alabama in the SEC title game. These teams also have to play a few worthy opponents along the way, teams like Notre Dame, Colorado, Auburn, Florida and Miami so there is no easy road to the Rose Bowl. Penn State will have to win at Michigan and Michigan State to remain unbeaten. If you are a fan of a one loss team there is still hope to get back into it. You may want to pull out your lucky rabbit's foot.

COMPUTER RANKINGS: Computer rankings create strange bedfellows. USC and Texas are in good shape because of the polls. Their schedules won't be rated as high in the computers but the polls are weighted more heavily. The teams they have beaten are no longer winning. Southern Cal opponents are 9-15 so far and Texas has two marquee wins over Oklahoma and Ohio State, teams that have combined to lose five games.

The other unbeatens need to root for teams that they have defeated to continue to win should it come down to the computers. To enhance its computer standing, FSU requires Miami and Florida to win while Virginia Tech will be cheering for West Virginia victories. Georgia and Alabama find themselves needing to cheer for the Gators and Vols when they are not playing them. This is strange isn't it? That is what confuses us about the BCS and it's zany system. Should we end up with multiple teams tied with similar records it will come down to the computers. Either way it will make for some interesting sports talk when the first BCS Poll comes out on Monday and that is why it was created. It gets people talking about college football and the need for a playoff at midseason. It also creates pressure and distractions for those teams who become consumed by it.

By the way, my top five are: 1. Texas; 2. Southern Cal; 3. Virginia Tech; 4. Alabama; 5. FSU.

GATOR DEFENSE: The Gator defense was shell shocked in its first real road test at Alabama. They gave up a couple of big plays that set the tone for the day and Florida was never in it after that. At Baton Rouge Saturday, Florida faces an LSU team that has plenty of playmakers so tackling will be at a premium. UF's defense bounced back last week against Mississippi State with six sacks and the Gators rank second in the SEC with eight interceptions. The biggest strength of the Gator defense will be tested this week by Joseph Addai and the LSU ground game. The Gators are only giving up 91 yards per game and it is essential that they make the Tigers one dimensional. Teams are averaging only 3.1 yards per carry versus UF and that includes the 76-yard run by Jerious Norwood a week ago. I think you will see Reggie Nelson on the field and he will be a major factor in the blitz package and containing Russell from scrambling out of the pocket. The Tigers turned it over four times a week ago against Vandy. Look for Florida to seize momentum by creating turnovers this week.

The Florida defensive line must play at a high level this week with Jeremy Mincey and Marcus Thomas being the key players to success. UF will try to keep Russell inside the pocket with edge pressure and Thomas and Steven Harris must get penetration to stop the Tiger ground attack. One player who needs to step up and have a big game is Earl Everett. He has been quiet the last two weeks and he needs to step up and make some big plays. I would not be surprised to see increased playing time for these Gators: Tony Joiner, Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson and Derrick Harvey.

LSU's offense is multiple in its looks and they can line up in the I-formation and the spread all in the same series. Russell is most comfortable in the shotgun and with pressure will throw you a free one. Addai is a big physical back who likes to bounce it outside. Gator defensive backs will need to wrap up and get him to the ground. The Tigers have plenty of big play guys at receiver so keep an eye on Early Doucet who will be a tough man to man match-up on the outside.

GATOR OFFENSE: I think there are some good signs for the Gator offense this week. First of all, the team did have a 480-yard performance in a conference game. This was a game in which two starters basically did not play (Wynn limited time and Cornelius not at all) and the starting quarterback did not practice the entire week. Chris Leak is much healthier than last week and did go through practice this week. I think Urban Meyer is looking for "rhythm" in his offense. Right now the offense is picking up first downs and controlling the clock but it's missing on big plays. Getting Cornelius back would be huge to go along with Dallas Baker and Chad Jackson in the passing game. Cornelius could not finish a practice this week and if he can't go look for Nyan Boateng to step up. Baker has finally arrived as a legitimate receiver in the SEC and I think Jackson will play with something to prove after being called out by Meyer last week.

The offensive line has a four man rotation at guard that includes Jim Tartt, Tavares Washington, Drew Miller and Steve Rissler. This unit did make some room against a Bulldog defense that shut down the ground games of LSU and Georgia. Florida will need to stretch the field every which way against the Tigers to slow down the speed of the LSU front four.

LSU's defense has picked up the pace the last two weeks including a stifling performance against Vanderbilt. The Tigers did not record a sack at Arizona State in the opener but have since gotten 15 with an array of blitzes and a strong defensive line. LSU's defensive line is salty and has 11 sacks this season. The formula against Florida has been to drop and cover but that would be something this LSU team has not been comfortable with. Look for LSU to blitz a bit more than other teams did against UF. The Tigers are very good against the run giving up only 62 yards per game and are led by mike linebacker Cameron Vaughn.

PLAN TO WIN: This week more than ever the Gators need to stick to the plan to win by Urban Meyer. The defense must make LSU throw the football and get three or four turnovers. The front cannot go without a sack like they did against Alabama. If LSU does keep guys into protect UF must "zone blitz" to get into the quick throwing lanes of Jamarcus Russell. Joseph Addai is very strong in the red zone area so look for him to get the ball when LSU gets down there. Three and outs will be important, especially after tough field positions and at the beginning of each half. Offensively the Gators must control the clock and Chris Leak needs to be error free. Chris has thrown four interceptions in the last two games and must not throw any for the Gators to win.

The Gator offense has struggled on third down the last two weeks and must get the number up to near 50 percent to win on the road. On first down, look for the Gators to wrinkle in some screens to their package to get LSU running horizontally. This should tire the Tiger defensive lineman and free up some running room on second down. UF must attack the Tiger secondary and use the play action passing game to find seams in the middle of the field. To do this however, the running game has to exist and that includes Chris Leak. UF must run its entire offensive package and try to move the chains to free up some big plays in the passing game. If LSU blitzes, they are playing into the one strength of this offense and that is the ability of Chris Leak to find one of the big three receivers man to man for a big play. If the offense can produce three long drives for scores the Gators can win the game.

STATISTICS: The Gators have outrushed all six opponents this season. UF is second in the SEC in time of possession at 33:20. Chad Jackson has touched the ball 59 times this season which is the second most by a receiver in the country. He has 12 carries and 47 receptions. UF receivers have carried the ball 20 times this season for an average of almost eight yards per carry.

Brandon Siler leads the SEC with three fumble recoveries. In the last two games the Gator special teams have blocked a kick and recovered two fumbles. The ten first downs the Gator defense allowed last week was their lowest total since 1998. Opponents have only had 15 trips into the Gator red zone all season. Florida has recorded 18 sacks, 14 turnovers and is holding teams to 15.3 points per game. Florida has had 15 scoring drives of over 50 yards for touchdowns this season and seven over 70 yards.

Marcus Thomas has made 18 straight starts at defensive tackle. LSU is last in the SEC in passing defense and first in the SEC in rushing defense. LSU's defense scored a touchdown, a safety and held Vanderbilt's offense to 138 yards last week. The thirteen sacks the last two weeks by the Tigers is a school record for consecutive games. Since 1960, LSU is 17-21-3 in day games at Death Valley. They are 30-6 overall since 2000 at Tiger Stadium. Florida actually holds the lead in the series in games played at Baton Rouge, 15-11.

HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?: I have gotten a lot of emails this week asking me not to pick Florida. LSU is a favorite at home and seems to be getting into a routine after the delay in their season with Hurricane Katrina. I think the key areas for the Gators this week are turnovers, time of possession and run defense. There is also one area that I would give UF an edge at in a close game and that is coaching. Both teams played tight games against Tennessee that hinged on coaches play calling and decisions and Meyer won while Les Miles lost. UF went on the road and got spanked at Alabama which was a learning experience for Meyer and I just don't think he and his staff will make the same mistakes twice. I also think there is more pressure on Miles whose team has national championship talent and fans who have already asked for his job after the loss to Tennessee. I think Meyer will coach this game to win while Miles will coach not to lose.

Florida should be able to loosen up the Tiger with the screens and shovel passes against there new pressure defense. I just don't see Bo Pelini (LSU defensive coordinator) sitting back in zone with a secondary that was shredded by Arizona State and Tennessee. It just does not fit their personality and that could play into Florida's hands. The Gators need to play error free football from the turnover standpoint and be able to manufacture three scoring drives. That will eat up clock and get the Gators in position to win. I think Chad Jackson will have a big game, bouncing back with at least one big play on offense. I also think the defense will avoid the giving up of multiple big plays to a speedy LSU offense.

If UF can finally score on its opening drive or just first in the game I think they will play much better than in Tuscaloosa. If they get down 14 early, I don't see them coming back and winning. LSU wants a track meet and the Gators probably want a fourth quarter game. LSU is good on special teams and it won the Arizona State game so those units will be a wash from the game changing standpoint. Key stat to watch: LSU is 3-12 since 2000 when they don't get 20-plus points in a game.

I give the edge to both defenses and with the special teams even I will take Urban Meyer to outcoach Les Miles and steal a 20-17 victory on a Chris Hetland field goal.

STAT OF THE WEEK: LSU's defense has held opponents out of the end zone for seven consecutive quarters.

GATOR GREAT: Ciatrick Fason is currently a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings. C-4, from Neptune Beach Fletcher High School, led the Gators in 2004 with 1,267 yards rushing. Many will remember his story from 2003 when as a sophomore he walked into the coaches' offices the week of the LSU ready to transfer out of Gainesville. He would decide to stay and turn in a strong rushing and receiving performance to help the Gators upset the eventual national champions, 19-7. Florida returns to the Bayou this week without Fason but with the memory of his great performance that helped UF to the big upset.


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