Florida has become a make or break weekend in LSU’s annual bid for a title run.
In a 2007 bout that turned into one of the most exciting games Tiger Stadium has ever produced, LSU overcame a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to take down Florida, 28-24. Three months later, LSU was matched up with Ohio State in New Orleans for the BCS National Championship game.
The last two seasons took Miles and his Tigers in a different direction.
LSU was 5-0 headed into last season’s 13-3 loss to Florida. From there, they stumbled to a 4-3 finish. In 2008, LSU was 4-0 going to Gainesville, and a 51-21 loss started the downward spiral for Jarrett Lee. That time they couldn’t get above .500 on the backstretch, going 4-4 the rest of the way.
Perfect once more, Miles isn’t downplaying the rough road to 6-0.
“Since the start of the century, it’s the two programs that have led the conference and historically they’ve been very, very good,” he said. “Our guys really look forward to playing them. It just seems that every time we see them they improve.”
The message from Florida head coach Urban Meyer to his locker room: this week’s test is no different than the last (Alabama).
“I don’t want to short change anyone else, but when you see that team jogging out of the tunnel, it’s as good as any team there is,” Meyer said. “It’s the quality of player and athlete.”
On Wednesday, the majority of the both Miles’ and Meyer’s conference calls surrounded the play of their quarterback – or in this case, quarterbacks.
Florida starter John Brantley took a shot to the ribs in Saturday’s loss to Alabama that kept him back from a full workout on Sunday. The team took Monday off, and Brantley returned to practice on Tuesday. He is expected to play this weekend.
“He’s sore, but he practiced,” Meyer said. “He’ll practice (Wednesday), if he feels better.”
Whether Brantley is slowed or is ready for a full slate of work, expect to see backup Trey Burton. The freshman has thrown only two passes, one for a 42-yard gain and the other for an interception. But his running ability – highlighted by a five carry, five touchdown effort against Kentucky two weekends ago – will keep Meyer looking to bring No. 8 into the game more often, even though he only managed five yards on four attempts against the Crimson Tide.
“In ’06 we set the standard with Chris Leak and Tim (Tebow),” Meyer said. “We’re trying to get that right now with Johnny and Trey. The biggest thing is practice time. You can stop a running quarterback and a throwing quarterback, but it’s the ability to get it all practiced in a two-hour practice. It’s causing a lot of reflection on how much we have on each package, because you can’t practice everything.
“We got behind a little and forced to throw the ball all over the place (against Alabama),” Meyer said. “(Burton) just didn’t have any opportunities against a really good defense.”
On the other end of the line was Miles, whose quarterback shuffle has turned into a head scratcher. An offense once operated by Jarrett Lee, a 2008 season gone awry saw the keys handed to Jordan Jefferson. A year after Jefferson's reign began, it’s back to square one.
Jefferson hasn’t thrown for a touchdown or over 100 yards since the first week of the season, and he was 3-of-10 with two interceptions in the near-loss to the Volunteers last weekend. Lee, the name expected to get the majority of the passing snaps against Florida, finished 16-of-23 for 185 yards and an interception.
“We need them both and we’re going to play both,” Miles said. “Both quarterbacks will have a pretty balanced menu.”
Though Jefferson will get the start, Miles didn’t deny the connection that Lee flashed with the offensive playmakers when he was let into action against Tennessee.
“I think the receiving corps enjoys when Jarrett is in, to a certain extent,” Miles said. “They recognize that he throws a ball that they’d like to put their hands on. I think (Jordan) Jefferson throws a stiffer pass, both of which are very capable and very efficient.”