BATON ROUGE, La. — The Coach O Show couldn’t have started on a better note for LSU as the Tigers set a school record for total offense in an SEC game with 634 yards in a 42-7 win over Missouri.
But as good as it felt for everyone in the stadium, an encore performance will be tough to come by this weekend in The Swamp.
Florida ranks atop the SEC in total defense, pass defense, scoring defense and is second in run defense. Last week’s magic will have to be rebottled and then some against the Gators.
Here are 5 things that promise to be important if LSU is to pull off the feat of beating Florida for the fourth straight year.
1. Wake up
Sounds pretty elementary, right? But in all sincerity, both of these teams are accustomed to playing late afternoon or night games, so a noon kickoff is out of the regular pregame routine. That’s especially true when they play each other — no LSU-Florida game has teed up before 1 p.m. since 2000.
Whichever team is able to break from its regular routine and bring the fire for the early start will have an edge.
Oddly enough, there won’t be much adjustment for LSU quarterback Danny Etling, who routinely played in 11 a.m. games at Purdue. The same can be said for Florida counterpart Austin Appelby, though Luke Del Rio is expected to reclaim the starting role this week.
2. Contain Antonio Callaway
Despite missing a game due to injury, wideout Antonio Callaway has accounted for 30 percent of Florida’s receiving yards this year. He is to the Gator offense what Leonard Fournette is to LSU’s — only the Gators have no version of Derrius Guice in their receiving corps.
If Florida is able to beat LSU by feeding receivers other than Callaway, you tip your hat to a job well done. But he has to be the focal point of the defensive gameplan.
Fortunately, cornerbacks Tre’Davious White and Donte Jackson should be up to the task after limiting Missouri star J’Mon Moore to one catch for 16 yards last week. To show just how good they were: Moore still ranks third in the league with 90 receiving yards per game despite that performance.
One of the two players ahead of him? Calloway, who is averaging 92.8 yards per game.
3. Make a makeshift offensive line work
Barring some breakthroughs in modern medicine, the LSU offensive line will be without left guard Will Clapp this week. It will also be the third straight week without starting right tackle Toby Weathersby, though Maea Teuhema is filling in nicely.
The absence of Clapp, Weathersby and also right guard Josh Boutte wasn’t much of an issue against Mizzou. But Florida is allowing only 90 yards per game on the ground and has combined it with a league-high 19 sacks.
Fortunately for the Tigers, the Gators are dealing with injuries of their own along their dominant defensive front — a whopping four D-line regulars could be out or limited against LSU.
4. Win the game between the 20s
As was the case at Auburn, touchdowns will come at a premium. Thus, both offenses should look at trips to the red zone the same way they would usually view trips to the end zone — every scoring opportunity counts, and 3s are a lot more likely than 6s and 7s.
As awesome as LSU’s defense was in the red zone against Auburn — they didn’t allow a touchdown in six Tiger trips inside the 20 — LSU still lost because of Auburn’s edge in the kicking game. Gators kicker Eddy Pineiro is no Daniel Carlson, but with a long of 54 he has very good range.
So, this week bend-but-don’t break won’t be good enough for the Tiger defense. And on the other side of the ball, LSU either needs to score or at least get to midfield before punting. Keep the Gators bottled up on their side of the field, prevent Callaway from explosive plays, and you should win.
5. Win the turnover battle
Florida leads the SEC with a plus-5 turnover margin. The Gator secondary is very active with a league-leading eight interceptions.
Danny Etling has only thrown one interception, a long pick-off in the end zone by Jacksonville State that was essentially a punt. He has not been asked to make many high-risk throws, but against a defense like Florida’s, at some point offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger may try to roll the dice. (Like the old adage goes, “Somebody’s band will be playing after this one.”)
The Tiger defense has no shortage of playmakers, so opportunities for takeaways will be there. But just like at Auburn, the LSU offense cannot afford negating any of them with giveaways of its own.