INSIDER PREVIEWS: How the offenses stack up

Unless you've spent the past week under a rock you know that LSU is the top rated defense in the country. But did you realize that four members of the Tigers front seven had no starting experience prior to the season opener?

by Mark McLeod


That's right- four sophomores received their first collegiate start when the Tigers opened the season on September 2nd. Left defensive end Tyson Jackson, mike linebacker Luke Sanders, and weakside linebacker Darry Beckwith saw significant action last year on special teams and/or as reserves. Defensive tackle Marlon Favorite only played in three games last season for the Tigers. That seemingly spells one heck of a coaching job by defensive coordinator Bo Pellini, defensive line coach Earl Lane, and linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto





The Gators are finally beginning to get healthy. Their projected starting guards prior to the season opener were Jim Tartt (6-3 315) and Ronnie Wilson. Both give Florida a physical, rather punishing presence. However, Tartt has been slow to return from shoulder surgeries. He still does not have the range of motion and seemingly experiences tightness in the shoulder. The sophomore has toughed it out at left guard where he has started every game. Once he regains full motion in that shoulder, the Florida coaches expect him to become one of the leagues dominating guards. He is a real road grader.


Florida lost Wilson (6-3 312) on August 12th to a broken ankle that required surgery. Wilson had performed very well throughout practice and like Tartt, displayed the nasty attitude that coaches love. Wilson has been practicing with the team and it appears ready to secure playing time, probably as a reserve, this weekend.


Florida's two best linemen are center Steve Rissler (6-3 306) and right guard Drew Miller (6-5 305). The pair played together at Sarasota Riverview High School. They were among the most sought after recruits in the state. Rissler is Florida's elder statesman with sixteen starts. The senior moved over from guard where he player last season. Rissler was named co-offensive player of the game after his performance against Tennessee and graded out very high against both Kentucky and Alabama. Miller, a junior, made a name for himself as an Olympic lifter at Riverview. He told me that helped him tremendously with the transition to the collegiate level. Miller has started fourteen games in his Florida career. He was also named to the champions club for his work against Kentucky and Alabama.


The loss of Wilson forced the Gators to move Drew Miller back inside from right tackle. They moved reserve Carlton Medder up to right tackle in an effort to get their five best linemen on the field.


Medder (6-5 315) was seemingly lost last spring. However, he noted that a change had to be made. The redshirt junior worked very hard in the weight room- the result being a stronger, more physical lineman. Medder graded out high against Tennessee, earning membership in the champions club. He had a most pleasant surprise on the front. However, he did not make the champions club the past two weeks against Kentucky and Alabama. His efforts in practice coupled with Ronnie Wilson's availability will determine his status to hold down the right tackle position.


Left tackle Phil Trautwein (6-6 308) entered the season with very limited experience. Five starts later, the junior who is charged with protecting Chris Leak's blind side has been singled out for praise by Meyer. In fact, Trautwein was named co-offensive player of the game by the Florida coaches for his effort against Tennessee. He graded out at 88% with seven knockdowns against Kentucky and also made the champions club for his play against Alabama.



Overview: The biggest plus for the Florida coaches is the potential availability of Ronnie Wilson, which should provide them with more flexibility. The Big Uglies did not fare as well opening holes for the backs against the Crimson Tide blitz package. The Gators have rushed for 167.2 yards per game, 4.7 yards per carry. For many years Florida has toiled with the finesse' label. This offensive line should not be confused with that label. There is no question they will try to knock people off the ball.


Running back DeShawn Wynn, who has been the Southeastern Conference's fourth leading rusher is doubtful for the LSU game. He'll be replaced by quicker, faster backs that won't possess Wynn's ability to pound for extra yardage. The offensive line has allowed nine sacks this season. Last season, a Florida offensive line that returned four starters had allowed 20 sacks after just five games.


Are the Tigers the best front seven the Gators have faced? You bet. Well-coached, big, very athletic, and quick pretty much describes the LSU defensive front. As I noted above, they don't have a tremendous amount of experience, but there is certainly not a lack of talent. The Tigers rank 11th nationally in run defense. They lead the SEC in sacks with 19, which is fifth best nationally.





Quarterback Chris Leak (6-0 207) is ninth in the nation in passing efficiency. He is 84-130 for 1,240 yards with an SEC high 14 touchdown passes, which is second best in the country. He has not put together a complete game in SEC play. He was sensational in the second half against Alabama last week and despite struggling a bit throwing the ball in the first half- brilliantly used the quarterback draw to provide the spark for the Gators. Leak has improved his decision making when running the ball. Obviously, Meyer took exception to Leak's slide short of the marker in the Tennessee game. I doubt that we'll see that once again. In the past, Leak seemingly always chose the wrong time, direction, etc when trying to leg out something positive when receivers weren't open.


"We can't have early turnovers or miscues in this game," Leak said. "Obviously great teams like LSU will capitalize on them and put points on the board. We have to make sure we stay on schedule and make plays that need to be made. LSU is a great team defensively. They have a lot of veterans. They are a disciplined defense and do a great job running to the ball. We will have to play our best football to be successful. This has always been a big game and a big game in the SEC. This is why you go to Florida to play in games like this."


True freshman reserve quarterback Tim Tebow (6-3 229) continues to impress everybody with his ability to run the football. Tebow brings a whole new aspect to the Florida offense that forces defensive coordinators to spend time preparing for him. Tebow is the Gators second leading rusher with 193 yards on just 32 carries, a hearty 6.0 yard average. He continues to work in the development of the Florida passing game. Tebow has completed 8 of 12 for 116 yards and an interception.


Senior DeShawn Wynn (5-11 238) has also been impressive. A senior who not nailed down the starting running back job a few weeks ago is the SEC's fourth leading rusher with 354 yards on 64 carries, a 5.5 yard average. However, he might have to sit this one out with a high ankle sprain. Sophomore Kestahn Moore (5-10 212) figures to receive the most playing time in Wynn's absence. Moore has run for 160 yards on 30 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per attempt. Both are also solid receivers out of the backfield.


The unsung hero of this offense is senior fullback Billy Latsko. He is an outstanding blocker who gives Leak additional time to throw, Wynn and Moore the ability to get past the linebacker, and is often spotted downfield knocking around a defensive back to clear a path for the Florida receivers. Latsko (5-10 232) provided a huge spark to the offense with a key 18 yard reception last weekend. He provides yet another headache for defensive coordinators.


Florida has a pair of athletic tight ends. Junior Tate Casey (6-7 240) has several starts under his belt and teams with Cornelius Ingram (6-4 225) to provide a terrific one-two punch. Casey is a big target who played baseball with the Gators baseball squad.


Ingram played basketball for the Gators and is one of the most athletic tight ends in the nation with speed and running ability galore. Ingram has hauled in eight passes for 100 yards. He picked up 38 yards on a big play against the Vols.



The Gators have one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the country. They can flat torch you when they opt to go four or five wide. The leader of the group is senior Dallas Baker (6-3 207) who leads the team with 27 receptions for 448 yards (16.6 ypc) and five touchdowns.


Fellow senior Jemalle Cornelius (5-11 185) has 14 receptions and brings a tremendous 20.4 yards per catch average with him. He has a lot of quickness and wiggle. The third starter is junior Andre Caldwell (6-1 203) who was lost for much of the season last year. Caldwell was a little rusty in the season opener against Southern Miss, but is now the Gators second leading receiver with 16 receptions for 150 yards and three touchdowns.


"They blitzed us a lot and pretty much challenged us to beat man-to-man coverage and we couldn't do it," Cornelius said of the 2005 Bayou Bengals. "We have to do a better job of that this year."


True freshman Percy Harvin (5-11 180) is expected to see significant playing time after suffering a high ankle sprain against Tennessee. Harvin has blazing speed and has hauled in eight catches for 145 yards (18.1 ypc), while rushing for 83 yards on just eight carries.


The Gators reserves don't have the experience, but aren't lacking in speed and talent. True freshmen Jarred Fayson (6-0 202) and Riley Cooper (6-3 206) have made an immediate impression and will see playing time. Both are fast, fluid, and usually have good hands.


Senior Kenneth Tookes (6-2 207), redshirt freshman David Nelson (6-5 206), and sophomore Nyan Boateng (6-1 204) are three other outstanding receivers who the Florida staff have confidence in playing.



Overview: Leak and his receivers combine to make-up a terrific blend of experience, speed, and talent. The running game which had been a big question mark before coming of age is now a question mark with the potential absence of Wynn. Florida desperately needs a spark from Moore, (reserve running backs) Brandon James, and Markus Manson, and the speedy Percy Harvin.


The LSU secondary has picked off nine passes this season, which is tops in the conference and fifth nationally. Meyer and company are well-versed in the competition.


"They have two very good corners," Meyer said of his western division rival. "I think their corners are as good as Alabama's. Their safeties are dynamic guys that play around the ball, and their numbers reflect that. They have a lot of interceptions and a lot of touchdowns."


This will be one more serious test for Florida's experienced receivers. The Tigers felt they could play man and get pressure on the quarterback. It's a new front for both teams, but the Gators skills positions players understand this game presents a tremendous challenge for them.



Intangibles: Tough stretch…Florida's next three opponents (LSU, Auburn, and Georgia) have recorded a combined 14-1 (93.3%) mark. The Tigers loss was to Auburn. All are ranked in the top ten.


Analysis: Obviously, the Gators must generate some offense. But, there are four things that simply must happen for Florida to beat the Tigers. The Gators must eliminate costly turnovers, stupid penalties, mental breakdowns, and win the field position battle. These first three are obvious by definition. The Florida offense has to help their defense by moving the football, which besides providing a scoring opportunity gives the defense a much needed rest and would force the Tigers to drive the ball themselves. Last weekend, Alabama ran 70 offensive plays. That is far too many opportunities. 


LSU has limited opponents to just 61 first downs all year. The Gators lead the conference with 111 first downs. They rank second in third down defense allowing 27.1%. They've only given up two touchdowns to opponents in nine trips in the red zone. Their 44.4 % average ranks second in the conference. The Tigers have also picked up 11 turnovers.


The greatest challenge is before the Florida offensive line. Everybody is talking about the Tigers defensive front. If they come out focused and have soaked up the lessons from the staff, they will win their share of battles within this war. They must become leaders in this one. 





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JaMarcus Russell



by Matt Deville


The LSU Tigers have had two weeks to lick their wounds after a physically trying and emotionally draining 7-3 loss at Auburn on Sept. 16.


The Tigers took out a little frustration on the likes of Tulane and Mississippi State and again scored 40-plus points in a pair of home games. LSU beat the Green Wave 49-7 and roughed up the Bulldogs 48-17. The Tigers have scored over 45 points in all four home games this season.


It is back to the real thing this week as LSU prepares to travel to Gainesville to meet the No. 5 ranked Florida Gators. The Tigers racked up 309 yards of offense at Auburn, but managed three points. LSU's defense rated No. 1 in the nation, allowed just 182 yards to Auburn, but still lost the game 7-3.


LSU struggled to run the football against Auburn, which proved to be its undoing. And while the Gators have one of the better defensive units in the land, the Tigers may not face another defensive squad as complete as that of Auburn three weeks ago.


Here we take a look at the LSU offense from top to bottom, examine its strengths and weaknesses and catch you up on whose done what so far this season.





Probably the biggest question mark coming into the season for the Tigers was the offensive line.


LSU lost three starters from last year's O-Line, including all-American Andrew Whitworth. Also lost were veterans Rudy Niswanger and Nate Livings. Replacing all three of those key players was to be the toughest task for Les Miles.


However, the cupboard wasn't totally bare for the Tigers as three players returned who had started games last season including all-American candidate left guard Will Arnold, center Brett Helms and right guard Brian Johnson.


Slated to fill in the vacant tackle positions were redshirt freshman Ciron Black on the left side and fifth-year senior Peter Dyakowski.


With what many thought to be a stable of talented running backs, the initial thought was the front five needed to merely pass block well allowing JaMarcus Russell time to throw the ball. The running backs would need only a crease here and there to make things happen.


However, the Tiger runners have stumbled out of the gate (ran for 42 yards at Auburn) and a portion of the blame has been on the offensive line. Miles said both the backs and linemen are at fault, but one thing is for sure, LSU is struggling to move the football on the ground.


As bad as LSU has been advancing the ball via the rush, the big men have done an excellent job protecting Russell. The 6-6 signal caller has been sacked only four times this season, including only one coming at the hands of the blitz-happy Auburn defense.


Coming into the Florida game, LSU will be hurting in a big way on the offensive line. Arnold severely sprained his right ankle against Mississippi State and is doubtful for Saturday. "Big" Herman Johnson is expected to step into his place at left guard.


Johnson returns to the lineup at right guard after missing the last two games with turf toe.



Overview: LSU has most definitely struggled running the ball and people want Miles and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher to throw the ball to set up the run.


With Arnold out of the lineup, this even further lessens LSU's chances of effectively running the ball especially against a Florida rushing defense that is giving up just 50 yards per game (4th nationally).


Johnson is a very capable replacement for Arnold and can move quite for a guy his size, 6-8, 340. Johnson is a seasoned veteran on the other side of center and he should be ready to go after nursing turf toe for the last two weeks.





While LSU has really struggled running the ball, the Tigers have tossed it around as well as anyone in the country.


JaMarcus Russell was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week this week after completing 18 of 20 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns versus Mississippi State last Saturday.


The junior from Mobile has shown tremendous presence and poise this season and is much more composed and mature from year's past. Russell no doubt wants to atone for the poor showing he made in his last visit to the Swamp in 2004.


"It's going to be a good one," Russell said of the impending SEC showdown with Florida. "And I promise you I'm a whole different person than from back then. It'll be a lot different, and I'm really looking forward to play."


Nearly two years ago that October night, Russell was 6-of-10 passing for 56 yards with two interceptions and the stat sheet also shows two rushes for minus eight yards.


My how things have changed.


Russell is currently ranked second nationally in passing efficiency. Completing 68-percent of his passes, Russell has connected on 83 of 122 passes for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has thrown just one interception this season, versus Arizona, and has gone 84 straight pass attempts without throwing a pick. Since throwing his only interception of the year, Russell has completed 59 of 84 passes (70.2 percent) for 889 yards and 6 touchdowns.


One of the big reasons for Russell's high passer rating is that he has arguably the best group of wide receivers in the nation. The Tiger wideouts are big, physical specimen blessed with lots of speed.


Dwayne Bowe (6-3, 217), Craig Davis (6-2, 200), Early Doucet (6-0, 206) and Brandon LaFell (6-3, 190) provide big, physical targets for which Russell to throw. Bowe is LSU's dominant receiver, but Davis has been Russell's favorite target with 25 catches for 394 yards and one touchdown.


Bowe has 21 catches. for 353 and three touchdowns. The Russell to Bowe combo ran their TD streak to 15 with a second quarter score against Mississippi State. The 15 touchdowns between the pair (Russell throwing and Bowe catching) ranks as the second most prolific scoring combo in school history. Russell and Bowe hooked up for 8 TDs in 2005 after combining for 4 scores in 2004. This year, the duo has combined for 3 touchdowns. They need seven more to become the program's all-time leading touchdown connection.


Doucet is coming into his own as a junior and actually leads all Tiger wide receivers with five touchdown catches. He has 18 catches on the season for 252 yards.


Freshman tight end Richard Dixon has became LSU's primary tight end. The true freshman has stepped in for senior tight end Keith Zinger, whose career might be over as he battles the abdominal ailment ulcerative colitis.


The running game has been the focus of most of the criticism from Tiger fans this season. LSU was supposed to be loaded to the gills with running backs, highlighted by the return of veterans Alley Broussard and Justin Vincent.


Both Broussard and Vincent suffered knee injuries last season, Broussard before the year even began. Vincent tore up his knee in the Peach Bowl win over Miami.


But with the acquisition of true freshmen Charles Scott, Keiland Williams and Richard Murphy, along with returning players Antonio Robinson, RJ Jackson and Jacob Hester, LSU was projected to be a run-dominated offense.


Not quite.


Both Broussard and Vincent have failed to return to full speed. Broussard is overweight and Vincent lacks the burst needed to hit the hole effectively. Robinson transferred to Northwestern State due to playing time while Jackson swapped positions to wide receiver because of the dearth of talent in the backfield.


Richard Murphy has decided to redshirt and Keiland Williams was late arriving because of NCAA Clearinghouse issues, has been used in mop-up duty and has proved to be a non-factor.


That leaves Scott, who has emerged as LSU's go-to running back. Looking very similar to a young LaBrandon Toefield, Scott combines an equal mix of size, speed and a slashing running style. His 101 yards against Tulane was LSU's only 100-yard rushing performance of the season. He leads all LSU rushers with 214 yards on 35 carries and five touchdowns.


Hester has been the Tigers only other successful player out of the backfield. Although the fullback/ tailback doesn't possess the necessary speed to be an every down back, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and provide a safety valve for Russell when the blitz is coming.



Overview: Fisher hasn't necessarily scrapped the running game totally, but the Tigers came out slinging the ball around against Tulane and Mississippi State. It seems the coaching staff has seen they must throw to set up the run after the offensive debacle at Auburn.


Russell has completed 35 of 43 passes in the last two games for 508 yards and five touchdowns. The Tigers have thrown on first down often, something they did not do in the earlier part of the season.


However, in bigger games like Saturday's, Miles has tended to go more conservative on offense (i.e. Auburn, Florida, Alabama in 2005 and Auburn in 2006) and allow his defense to try and win the game.


Without Arnold, LSU will be even more limited in what they can do running the football. Scott is a quality back and Broussard showed some signs of running with the authority he showed two seasons ago, but the Tigers must throw first to be successful.





Granted Mississippi State's defensive front isn't as bad as the Bulldog offense, LSU should have been able to squeeze out more than 108 yards. Auburn exposed the Tigers' ground game two weeks ago in LSU's 7-3 loss holding Tiger runners to a combined 42 yards. Charles Scott had a coming out party of sorts against Tulane, but he ran for just 27 yards on 11 carries against the Bulldogs. Coach Les Miles insists LSU is going to continue to try and pound the ball between the tackles, but Florida is likely going to make him change his mind. The Gators' defense ranks fourth nationally against the run allowing all of 50 yards per game. Florida held Alabama running back Kenneth Darby to 76 yards on 14 carries last week.


Folks around Baton Rouge have been screaming for Miles to allow offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher to open up the playbook more and allow quarterback JaMarcus Russell to toss the ball around. The offense has opened up more in the last two games, but with the Gators' sporting a pretty stiff run defense, LSU might look to the air more often. As good as Florida's rushing defense is, the Gators' pass coverage is very average. Florida ranks 64th in the nation against the pass, allowing 197 yards per game. If JaMarcus is given the opportunity to exploit the Florida secondary with Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Early Doucet, it could be long day for the Gators.

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