Florida football: 5 bold predictions for the Gators' game against LSU
Florida and LSU renew one of the most fun annual contests in the SEC when they face off Saturday in Baton Rouge (noon ET, ESPN).
While the game does not feature the big storylines or the national attention of the past few meetings, it’s still a massive game for both schools, with LSU head coach Ed Orgeron fighting for his job and Dan Mullen trying to keep his Gators program on a path back to national relevance.
A season ago, unranked LSU pulled off one of the season’s biggest upsets when it toppled a top-5 Florida team on Senior Night in The Swamp. Florida isn’t a top-5 outfit entering this game, but it is a 10.5-point road favorites at the time of this writing, meaning another LSU victory would be considered a big upset.
Here are 5 bold predictions for Saturday’s game.
1. Florida eclipses 250 yards rushing
One thing that is fascinating when comparing this game to last season’s is that once again, it appears to be a huge mismatch in favor of Florida. A season ago, Florida took the No. 1 passing offense in the country into its home finale against LSU, which ranked an abysmal 127th against the pass. LSU was playing without its best cover corner in Derek Stingley Jr., and even though Kyle Pitts would not play, the matchup figured to be overwhelmingly in the Gators’ favor. Instead, the Tigers won, paced by a pick-6 by corner Eli Ricks. Kyle Trask did rally Florida and throw for 474 yards, but his 2 interceptions were huge, and the result was a great reminder that games aren’t played on paper.
This year, both Ricks and Stingley are out for the Tigers, but the big mismatch is Florida’s prolific run game against LSU’s anemic run defense. The Gators rank 1st in the country in yards per rush and rushing success rate, and they will face an LSU defense that slots in at 77th against the run nationally and 82nd in success rate limiting the run.
Making matters worse, while UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who led the Bruins to a Week 1 win over LSU, is a willing runner (242 yards at 3.5 per carry), he’s nowhere near as prolific with his legs as Emory Jones (479 yards at 6.4 per carry). LSU will need to account for Jones on most every snap, and that should help Florida open holes elsewhere for its 3-headed monster of Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce and Nay’Quan Wright to exploit. This is as diverse a running game as LSU has faced this season, and that will spell big trouble for a Tigers team that has been bullied a bit at the point of attack.
2. A breakout game for LSU WR Malik Nabers
The loss of All-America candidate Kayshon Boutte is a brutal blow for LSU as the Tigers move into the most difficult portion of their schedule. Boutte is tied for the national lead in receiving touchdowns (9), and his rapport with Max Johnson makes them among the best duos in college football.
To “replace” Boutte, LSU will need to rely on a trio of freshman receivers in Jack Bech, Brian Thomas Jr. and Nabers. Of the 3, Nabers is the most intriguing. He has only 106 yards receiving this season, but he’s averaging more than 15 yards per reception. He’s big, fast and capable of making spectacular plays like this one against Kentucky:
Malik Nabers would not be denied this TD 😮 pic.twitter.com/UbKEhF3qZj
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 10, 2021
Florida’s pass defense has been prone to at least 1 big breakdown a game, and it will have one that Nabers exploits Saturday.
3. A dominant performance from Florida’s run defense
Florida’s ability to slow the run has been a big part of the Gators’ vast improvement on defense.
The Gators held Alabama under 100 yards rushing (a season low) and limited a powerful Kentucky run game to just 137 yards (a season low). Overall, the Gators rank 22nd in limiting yards per rush this season, a number that’s good enough for 4th in the SEC and an 8-spot improvement over last year.
LSU did manage to get the run game going (finally) a bit against Kentucky, with Tyrion Davis-Price gaining a season-high 147 yards. Perhaps that was a sign the offense was shifting back to the run-first style the Tigers deployed under former offensive coordinator and current analyst Steve Ensminger. Perhaps it was just a good day on the ground for LSU.
Either way, the Gators will be ready for both Davis-Price and his backup, Corey Kiner, who piled up 130 yards in games against Central Michigan and McNeese State but has just 41 yards in SEC play.
Expect the Gators to keep LSU under 100 yards on the ground and make the Tigers beat them over the top and in the air.
4. 300 total yards from Jones for the 3rd time in 4 weeks
Jones produced 313 total yards (rushing and passing) and 4 touchdowns in last weekend’s 42-0 victory over Vanderbilt. He produced 353 yards and 2 touchdowns in Florida’s win over Tennessee last month.
Against a struggling LSU defense missing multiple stars and starters (Stingley, Ricks, Ali Gaye, Andre Anthony), expect Jones to have a huge day. If he eliminates the turnovers (7 interceptions!) that have plagued him throughout his 1st campaign as a starter, Florida has a chance to run away with the game. After all it was the turnover battle, won 3-0 by LSU, that made Marco Wilson’s shoe toss matter so much a season ago.
5. A close game in the 4th quarter
Maybe this isn’t so “bold.”
After all, the last 7 LSU-Florida games have been 1-possession games entering the 4th quarter. Something interesting always happens late in these games.
One was decided on a goal-line stand:
Another was decided on a pick-6:
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) May 16, 2020
Another was decided because Stingley and Joe Burrow are both really good at football:
SEC countdown take 2: SEC football returns in 54 days!
Florida was knocking at the door of an upset in Baton Rouge last season until Derek Stingley stepped up and forced this turnover.
The next series, Joe Burrow connected with Ja'Marr Chase on this 54-yard touchdown to end it pic.twitter.com/oXGukoPfEm
— that SEC podcast (@thatSECpodcast) August 3, 2020
And then there was the “shoe game.”
This game tends to be a classic. I know LSU is banged up and mediocre. But it was last year, too, and it beat a really good Florida team in Gainesville. This game will be Orgeron’s Alamo, the final stand for a coach who just 2 years ago stood atop the college football mountaintop screamin “Geaux Tigeaux” and “We Comin’!” I don’t think he goes down without a fight.
Expect an epic 4-quarter game again Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.