No. 6 LSU is set to host No. 8 Florida this Saturday night, so don’t even get us started on which school is the real “Reporter U.”
We put our totally real Twitter feud aside and asked Nick de la Torre, a Florida beat writer for Gator Country, to join us for this week’s installment of Pick 6. You can follow Nick on Twitter @NickdelaTorreGC and read his work here.
1. Florida went from being picked to finish fifth in the East to looking like the clear frontrunner in a matter of six weeks. How did the Gators sneak up on everyone like this?
Florida and Jim McElwain are definitely a year early on the rebuilding process, that’s for sure. What the new coaching staff has done an excellent job of is finding what the players on the roster do well, what they don’t do well and are putting players in positions to excel based off of their skillset. That’s a far cry from the past coaching staff where you asked a spread option quarterback in Jeff Driskel to go under center, take five and seven step drops and go through progressions behind an offensive line that was as porous as a sponge.
Also, despite losing talented pass rusher Dante Fowler, the defense is playing as good as any in the country right now next to Michigan and their three consecutive shutouts. Florida hasn’t allowed a touchdown in either of their SEC road games this season and the defensive unit is what is really driving this team. It probably helps that the offense has been competent enough to not churn out three-and-outs like a factory and are giving the defense time to catch their breath on the sideline, something Florida’s defensive players have spoken out about this season.
2. With QB Will Grier suspended, Treon Harris will get the reins of the offense again. How confident are you in his ability to run the offense, especially in what will surely be a hostile environment?
Treon Harris is a good quarterback who can do a lot of the same things that Will Grier did at the position. Treon is a more natural runner but, at times, relies on that too quickly rather than letting the play develop. Harris actually has a stronger, more accurate arm on deep passes but isn’t as accurate in the short to intermediate passing game.
With Florida’s offensive line still gelling and maturing (they play three true freshmen on the line in their regular rotation) the short to intermediate passing game has been their bread and butter. That is part of the reason why Grier won the starting job.
As far as handling the crowd, Harris came in last year at Tennessee and led two scoring drives to beat the Volunteers 10-9 in his first career road game. Saturday night at Death Valley is an experience that cannot be replicated, though. Being from the same area as Harris, I can say that he did not grow up in a good area of Miami and there aren’t too many things that will happen on a football field that will rattle the young man.
3. Speaking of the environment, the Gators haven’t really faced an atmosphere this season like they’ll see Saturday. It’ll be a sold-out night game in Tiger Stadium — how will the team handle all the fanfare and noise?
I made my first trip to LSU two years ago and was disappointed that it was a 2:30 kickoff, wanting to experience the true night game atmosphere in Baton Rouge.
Honestly, there is no way to truly prepare for it. Florida has been using their indoor practice facility to prepare for road games. They can close the doors in there; crank up the crowd noise and music and try to replicate a noisy environment for the offense as much as possible but there really is no way to truly replicate what 100,000 crazy Tiger fans will sound like this Saturday for a top-10 matchup of undefeated teams.
There’s a reason Les Miles says Death Valley is where hopes and dreams go to die.
4. Florida has the 12th-best rushing defense in the country, allowing less than 100 yards per game. This will be by far the best defensive front Leonard Fournette has faced, so how frustrating can the Gators be for the Heisman hopeful?
I remember meeting Fournette in Beaverton, Oregon at The Opening and thinking, “I need to see a birth certificate, this kid can’t be in high school.” He rushed for 140 yards against Florida last year at 5.19 yards per rush, so he’s done it to them before.
Florida has had one game (Tennessee) where they missed upwards of 30 tackles on Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd, but they have been stout against the run and as fundamental as you can be tackling since then.
Florida’s defense is a very prideful bunch and they’ve been hearing about Fournette since media days back in July, so I know this is a game that they have had circled on the calendar for a while. They’ll be ready to tackle him but Fournette is the kind of player that you get tired of tackling pretty quickly. I don’t think Fournette will rush for 200 yards but I do expect him to get over the century mark, for sure.
5. LSU has a pretty stout rushing defense of its own, coming in just behind Florida at No. 13 nationally. What can the Gators’ rushing attack, which ranks in the bottom three of the league, do to create running lanes and move the chains?
Starting Treon Harris adds an extra dimension to the Florida rushing attack. Will Grier was an adequate rusher but Treon is a more natural runner and is more apt to making defenders miss. Kelvin Taylor has finally blossomed into the kind of back that Florida fans expected him to be when he enrolled at Florida three years ago and he’s been the bell cow back there for the Gators. Florida’s rushing game has struggled somewhat behind the offensive line that couldn’t get a push and create a new line of scrimmage against much lesser defensive lines like ECU and Kentucky.
It will be interesting to see how the Gators use Harris and the option game to try and get LSU’s front seven running east-west early on to try and tire them out to be able to hit something between the tackles as the game wears on.
6. The ‘DBU’ debate aside, Florida has the second-best pass defense efficiency in the SEC. QB Brandon Harris and LSU’s passing game finally showed signs of life last week, so how crucial will that matchup be?
To me, LSU went to the air against South Carolina for two reasons. First, South Carolina’s defense is putrid and they knew they could have some success throwing the ball and possibly get Harris some confidence in the process. Second, they wanted to put it on tape so that Florida would have to prepare for it. I think LSU is a very one-dimensional team offensively, but that one dimension revolves around the best player in college football.
If you look at Missouri quarterback Drew Lock against South Carolina, the freshman completed 75% (21-28) of his pass attempts and threw two scores. Against Florida he completed just 41% (16-39) of his past attempts and threw two touchdowns.
I think LSU will really struggle to get the passing game going unless the Gators start to cheat down to stop the run and get beat with a play action.
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