Florida Gators Football Preview: Five Keys To Defeating LSU
The Florida Gators are approaching the biggest game of the 2016 college football season. Here’s how Jim McElwain’s crew can defeat the LSU Tigers.
The Florida Gators are approaching what could be easily be described as the three biggest games of the year. Jim McElwain has Florida off to a strong 7-2 start to the season, but each of the next three games project to be against top-flight programs.
That begins on Saturday, November 19, when Florida will travel to Baton Rouge to take on the rival LSU Tigers with more than bragging rights on the line.
Florida may be 7-2, but a loss to LSU would create the wrong type of momentum with so much on the line. The SEC East still hasn’t been clinched, as the Tennessee Volunteers are 5-3 with the advantage of having defeated Florida in the head-to-head.
Tennessee’s final two games are against Missouri Tigers at home and the Vanderbilt Commodores on the road, while Florida will play LSU and the Florida State Seminoles—both on the road.
A win over LSU would provide the Gators with an invaluable form of momentum entering what’s certain to define the season. Florida has a chance to make the SEC Championship Game, but this encounter with LSU could define its season.
The question is: can the Florida football team clinch the SEC East against the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge? Hera re five ways to make that happen.
5. Winning The Turnover Battle
The Florida Gators are one of the best defensive teams in all of college football. Florida is No. 3 in total yards allowed per game and passing yards allowed per game, No. 5 in points allowed per game, and No. 12 in rushing yards allowed per game.
The defensive key to defeating the LSU Tigers on the road, however, will be winning the turnover battle against a favored home team.
Florida currently has 12 interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. The Gators rank No. 21 in the country in interceptions, No. 7 in interceptions returned for touchdowns, and have an additional four fumble recoveries.
Florida has also thrown the third-most interceptions in the SEC and have committed 14 fumbles, including five lost.
Bigger than the accumulated numbers is the reality that SEC games are often won and lost by the turnover battle. Traveling to LSU will be difficult enough, but giving the offense momentum and the crowd reason to be loud and infectious would be the worst case scenario.
The following slide will outline just how the Gators can do that—and the fact that they have the personnel to do so.
4. Getting After Danny Etling
Danny Etling has done an admirable job under center for the LSU Tigers, but he’s the player whom the Florida Gators can exploit. In eight ae’s thrown for 1,378 yards, seven touchdowns, and four interceptions with an additional rushing score.
Outspoken cornerback Quincy Wilson isn’t terribly concerned with the challenge of facing Etling.
Quincy Wilson asked about facing LSU QB Danny Etling. Wilson: Appleby told us "he beat him out at Purdue. That's all we need to know."
— Ian Cohen (@icohenb) October 4, 2016
Like all things in life and college football, containing LSU’s quarterback will be easier said than done.
Wilson, as well as Teez Tabor, form the type of dynamic duo who can lead the Gators’ defensive attack. They’ve combined for seven interceptions in 2016, with Marcell Harris pulling down two to bring Florida’s tally to nine interceptions between just three players.
With one of the best pass rushes in the country, the Gators have the talent and personnel to create a nightmare for Etling.
Led by Jabari Zuniga, the Gators have recorded a total of 27.0 sacks—good for No. 27 in the country. That should make life difficult enough for Etling, who has thrown three interceptions over the past four games.
The best chance Florida has of beating LSU is to turn defense into offense by winning the turnover and field position battles.
3. Keep The Chains Moving
The Florida Gators have converted 46.3 percent of their third downs in 2016—No. 23 in the country. For all that’s been rightfully said about a rather sporadic offense, Florida has done a solid job of converting on the down that often matters most.
The key for the Gators against the LSU Tigers will be to convert on third down and keep their own defense off the field.
During its lone losses of the 2016 season, Florida went 6-of-16 on third downs against Tennessee and 1-of-11 against Arkansas. That translates to marks of 37.5 percent and 9.1 percent, which simply aren’t acceptable.
It’s no coincidence that the issue that plagued Florida in both games was an inability to establish the run against a high-quality SEC opponent.
Florida ran the ball 31 times for 106 yards against Tennessee, which translates to 3.4 yards per carry. It ran for an indescribably poor 12 yards on 14 attempts against Arkansas, which translates to 0.9 yards per carry.
In those same games, Florida gave up 223 rushing yards to Arkansas and 179 rushing yards to Tennessee—well above its average of 111.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 12 in the country.
Simply put: Florida must keep the chains moving in order to keep Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice off the field.
2. Austin Appleby
Statistically speaking, Austin Appleby has played rather well for the Florida Gators in 2016. He has five passing touchdowns to two interceptions, as well as an efficient completion percentage of 65.6 percent.
Beyond the numbers, however, is the uncertainty that Florida has entered almost every game with in 2016.
Appleby completed 23 of his 39 pass attempts for 296 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception against the Tennessee Volunteers. He also ran for 24 yards on seven carries, but the truth about that start is that it was unpredictable and inconsistent.
Appleby threw two of his three touchdowns in the first half and got the third with Florida down 17 points with roughly four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
In his other two featured appearances against Vanderbilt and South Carolina, Florida scored a combined 33 points. He was efficient with his throws, but again started hot and essentially stopped producing in the second half.
If Florida is going to defeat an LSU team that can put up points in a hurry with a superstar running back, then Appleby must play well for a full four quarters.
Honorable Mention: Contain Derrius Guice
We’ll get to Leonard Fournette in due time, but the LSU Tigers have more than a two-headed monster. He may not be as decorated as Fournette, but the second running back on the roster is one of the most explosive players in the country.
Containing Leonard Fournette will be difficult enough, but it’s Derrius Guice who has been the X-Factor for the Tigers in recent weeks.
Guice has run for at least 150 yards in four different games during the 2016 season. That includes the 252 yards and two touchdowns he ran for against the Arkansas Razorbacks just last week—the same Arkansas team that held Florida to 12 rushing yards.
Thus far in 2016, the Tigers are 5-0 when Guice scores at least one touchdown and 1-3 when he fails to find the end zone.
Containing Fournette is the far more pressing concern, but both of these players deserve a slide of their own. They aren’t a 1-2 punch that will hurt teams because of the way they’re balance on another; they’re two star-caliber players who can hurt you individually.
Guice has 811 rushing yards, nine rushing touchdowns, and an average of 8.7 yards per carry. Beware.
1. Contain Leonard Fournette
Injuries have taken away his Heisman candidacy, but LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette may be the best player in the country. It’s astonishing when he struggles and par for the course when he dominates.
If the Florida Gators are hoping to defeat the Tigers in Baton Rouge, then one of Jim McElwain’s primary goals must be to contain Fournette.
Fournette trampled over the Wisconsin Badgers for 138 yards on 23 carries, but failed to find the end zone a single time. He ran for 101 yards and no scores against the Auburn Tigers and was held to 35 yards and no touchdowns by the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Fournette also has games of 147 yards and two touchdowns, 284 yards and three touchdowns, and 98 yards and three touchdowns.
In the six games Fournette has played, the Tigers are 3-0 when he scores a touchdown and 0-3 when he fails to. Thus, the key for Florida will be to keep Fournette out of the end zone and make Danny Etling become the deciding factor.
The Gators don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with LSU if Fournette goes off as he’s so clearly capable of doing.
The question is: can Florida pull out the biggest win of the season?