REPORT CARD: LSU vs. Florida

Doesn't it seem strange?

LSU has won four of its last five games against Alabama, including two wins in Baton Rouge where the Tigers have enjoyed little success against the Crimson Tide in the last 30-plus years.


LSU has now taken three of its last four from the Florida Gators?


That's right, Saturday's 21-17 victory was the Tigers' second straight win over Florida and third victory in the last four meetings against the former SEC Eastern Division powerhouse.


It was the first win at home against the Gators since LSU defeated No. 1 Florida in 1997 and just the third win in Tiger Stadium since 1979. LSU hadn't beaten the Gators in back to back games since 1986-87.


But that was the case as LSU, despite a plethora of penalties and a ton of turnovers, seemingly dominated a frustrated Florida squad still searching for its identity under first year head coach Urban Meyer.


Meyer, anointed the Gators' savior after leading Utah to an undefeated season a year ago, has struggled to implement his "Spread" offense in Gainesville. Former all-SEC quarterback Chris Leak has spent more time picking himself up off the ground than throwing touchdowns, something he did 29 times a year ago. This season, he has managed only 10.


Plus, the ex-Heisman Trophy candidate was sacked only twice last year. This season, through six games, he has been drilled 21 times.


Alabama exploited Meyer's system three weeks ago when the Crimson Tide popped the No. 5 ranked Gators 31-3. Some wondered if Alabama was really that good or was Florida maybe not-so-good. It may be a little of both.


For most of the afternoon on Saturday, LSU dominated Florida in all phases of the game. The Tigers raced out to a 14-0, first quarter lead before penalties and turnovers resulted in the Gators seizing a 17-14 lead in the second half. LSU managed to rally in the fourth period and escape with a 21-17 win, a victory which should have been much worse than the final score indicated.


The LSU offense had its moments by way of a dominating rushing attack with Joseph Addai or impressive catches by Dwayne Bowe, Early Doucet and even Bennie Brazell. But fumbles and interceptions combined with penalties made for an ugly affair on that side of the ball.


The defense bailed out the offense time and again and seems to be coming into its own putting forth another championship quality effort. The Tigers' stoppers held the Gators to a mere 206 total yards of offense.


Many will talk about Addai's career-high rushing performance, but the game's most valuable player was probably Chris Jackson and a number of near-perfect punts.


Overall, the Tigers are getting closer to where they need to be, but the mistakes leading to turnovers and a lack of discipline resulting in stupid penalties will continue to hold this team back until they fix the problem.


The question still remains ‘how good is this team?' The real question is ‘how good could this team be?'


Time will tell.



The Offense:


Like in the first quarter of the Arizona State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt games, JaMarcus Russell came out firing against the Florida Gators.


Equipped with a cannon for an arm and pinpoint accuracy, Russell dissected the Florida secondary completing two, first quarter touchdown passes to Bennie Brazell and Dwayne Bowe. The pass to Brazell – covering 43 yards – was thrown perfectly allowing Brazell to cradle the ball in full stride for his first career touchdown.


The pass to Bowe was underthrown on purpose, which allowed Bowe to come back and get the ball in the end zone for the Tigers second TD.


If Russell was graded on the first quarter alone, he might have gotten an ‘A.' But that is why the game consists of all four quarters. For the rest of the game, most especially in the second and third periods, Russell made several poor decisions including an ill-advised pass that was intercepted on LSU's initial drive of the second half. He took a sack on the Tigers final possession of the first half, on which LSU might have scored at least a field goal.


A pass on third and four to early Doucet late in the third quarter was tipped and intercepted leading to a DeShawn Wynn touchdown run that put the Gators on top 17-14.


Joseph Addai put together the best game of his career rushing for 156 yards on 32 carries (also a career high) and the game-winning touchdown with 12:35 left to play. However, Addai's second quarter fumble allowed the Gators to score their first touchdown of the game.


Why did Addai get that many carries?


Justin Vincent fumbled on his first carry of the game, squandering an opportunity for LSU to get points late in the first quarter at the Florida 30. Shyrone Carey carried three times for three yards, but had an impressive 19-yarder called back on a penalty.


The Tiger receiving corps had an impressive day with Russell hitting Brazell and Bowe on touchdown passes. The play of the game came early in the fourth quarter when Russell found Bowe on a 31-yard pass to the Florida 12 for the second of two third downs converted on the game-winning drive.


The offensive line was flagged four times for holding penalties and suffered several more bumps and bruises throughout the day. While the line did allow Russell to be sacked five times, they did do a good job opening holes for Addai.


It was a somewhat effective day for the offense in terms of scoring enough points to win the game, but turnovers and penalties kept LSU from putting the game away early and winning easily by at least three touchdowns.


Grade: C+



The Defense:


For all of those folks who were doubting Bo Pelini's defensive system following the Arizona State and Tennessee games, those people are no where to be found now.


The Tiger defense has finally found its identity shutting down the SEC's top two offensive teams in successive weeks. Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler was the SEC's leading passer followed closely by Chris Leak. The Tigers held Cutler to 133 yards passing two weeks ago and brutalized Leak in a 107-yard effort last Saturday.


LSU sacked Leak four times (which makes 19 in the last four games for the Tigers, good enough for sixth in the nation) and consistently pounded him when he didn't have the ball. The front four of Chase Pittman, Melvin Oliver, Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams were consistently holding court in the offensive backfield. Reserve defensive end Ryan Willis made two impressive plays on back-to-back downs batting down a ball and registering a sack.


The Tiger linebacking corps contained Florida's rushing attack and for the fifth straight game did not allow a 100-yard rusher. DeShawn Wynn managed 93 yards on 16 carries, but 72 of those yards came on three plays.


The most improved aspect of the LSU defense is the secondary. Ronnie Prude and Chevis Jackson have begun to prove themselves as quality cornerbacks and their replacements are carrying the torch as well. While LSU was flagged for pass interference three times, they surpassed that number with impressive plays on the ball. Miles has admitted he doesn't mind "effort" penalties; it is the mental mistakes that are most frustrating.


The only negative mark on the defense was LaRon Landry dropping a sure interception in the second quarter. The defense did allow two touchdowns, both coming on big plays by Wynn. But take into consideration the defense was placed in such a bad position resulting by turnovers by the offense.


Grade: A



Special Teams


One name is all you need to remember – Chris Jackson.


While Jackson ranks only 30th in total punting nationally with a 42.6 yard average, you will be hard pressed to find a punter anywhere near as accurate.


Jackson has dropped 13 of his 25 punts inside the 20, doing so four times on Saturday consistently pinning the Gators deep in their own territory. Jackson also managed to get off a punt from the Tigers own end zone under heavy pressure by the Gators.


Against Florida, Jackson punted seven times for a 45.7 yard average and hit a long of 54 yards. Following LSU's final touchdown with 12:35 left, the Gators had the ball four times, but never got past their own 40 due to poor field position stemming from Jackson's kicks.


At last count, Colt David has been perfect on extra points since his minor hiccup against Miss. State. Florida made sure they would not give up any huge returns to LSU's Skyler Green. The Gators' Eric Wilbur constantly knuckle-balled punts in Green's direction resulting in the SEC's top punt returner logging one punt for one yard.


In all, it was Green's only touch in the game. He did not catch a pass.


Grade: A





One will say that all of LSU's mistakes lie on the shoulders of the coach.


Les Miles does assume all responsibility for the Tigers' 11 penalties and five turnovers, but he also gets credit for coaching LSU through those setbacks and to a victory. Miles' game management was better against Florida and despite the crowd's disapproval of attempting to run out the clock to end the first half, it was the right choice.


Did anyone seem to notice all points were score in the south end zone? That is because there was a pretty stiff wind blowing from the northeast. At the end of the first half, you can bet Miles was happy to be leading 14-7 and would rather go into the locker room with the lead and get the ball to start the second half than to have Russell throwing into that wind.


Pelini had an excellent plan in place to combat Meyer's "Spread" offense. It is a shame to watch so much talent go to waste as Leak and Co. struggle with the new system, but Pelini exploited Florida's misfortunes much the way Alabama did - and did so in dominating fashion.


But in the end, penalties, turnovers and the inability to get Green involved leads to lower marks than those deserved.


Grade: B-

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