No. 1 LSU eager to test Gators' inexperienced QB
Tyrann Mathieu left little doubt about whether LSU's defense was salivating at the prospect of Florida fielding a first-time starting quarterback in Death Valley.
''We're licking our chops,'' said Mathieu, while discussing the likelihood that No. 17 Florida will start true freshman Jeff Driskel behind center in place of injured senior John Brantley.
''We just want to rattle that guy early, definitely confuse him,'' the Tigers' star cornerback said. ''So it's really about us just going out there and playing aggressive, playing physical and hopefully get him out of his game early.''
Top-ranked LSU (5-0, 2-0 SEC) is favored by nearly two touchdowns, a rarity in its annual rivalry game with Florida, which historically has been one of the Tigers' toughest games on the schedule.
This year's contest began to look more like a mismatch last weekend, when the Gators were handed a demoralizing 38-10 loss on their own field at the hands of second-ranked Alabama, who also knocked Brantley out of action at least through this weekend.
Now Florida (4-1, 2-1) must go into famously loud Tiger Stadium with an inexperienced signal-caller.
It looks like a nightmare scenario for the Gators. Yet offensive coordinator Charlie Weis suggested that Florida was not panicking and is eager to see whether the adversity could become a rallying point.
''We know it's a formidable opponent, they are ranked first in the country, they've got a great defense, you're playing them on the road, it's loud and you're playing without your starting quarterback,'' Weis said. ''Everyone knows that part of their responsibility with Brantley out is everyone on both sides of the ball and on special teams has to pick up some of the slack.''
Driskel struggled in relief of Brantley last week, but Weis said it would not be fair to judge the young quarterback on that experience alone.
''You devise a game plan really around John and when John goes down, you have to cut back in what you're doing,'' Weis said. ''Now, at least with knowing that John's out for this week, you can devise a game plan around less experienced guys.''
The key for Florida may have more to do with its offensive line than its quarterback. Last Saturday, Alabama was able to disrupt the passing game with pressure. Florida also struggled to run the ball, which is normally its strength, given the talents of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.
Rainey managed only 4 yards rushing on 11 carries against the Tide, while Demps had 4 yards on three attempts.
''We have to do a better job with our assignments as far as blocking the right guys,'' said Florida coach Will Muschamp, a former defensive coordinator at LSU.
Muschamp has declined to name a starter this week, stressing that he is also giving quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy their share of practice snaps. Yet Muschamp also conceded that Driskel is ''ahead because of the playing experience.''
While Brantley is more of a pocket passer, Driskel can make plays on the run, so Florida may be inclined to devise a game plan that favors that strength.
Driskel may need to run against an LSU defense that has 12 takeaways and 12 sacks, and which features the mayhem-causing Mathieu.
LSU deploys the 5-foot-9 play-maker on blitzes often, and he has already caused four fumbles, returning two for scores, to go with an interception and 1 1/2 sacks.
Meanwhile, Florida's defense, which allowed Alabama's Trent Richardson to run for 181 yards and two touchdowns, will have to do better this week against another strong running game. LSU has a handful of talented running backs, led by Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, who've combined to average 173 yards rushing.
Florida also must prepare for two LSU quarterbacks, now that the Tigers are working former starter Jordan Jefferson back into the game plan following his suspension stemming from an August bar fight. While Jarrett Lee remains the starter and the more effective passer, Jefferson allows LSU to run the option.
''We both bring something to the table,'' Lee said. ''I think we'll need that against Florida.''