The injury news may be grim for Florida.
And, for LSU, issues with injuries seem to get better by the day.
But head coach Les Miles was still wary of the talent possessed by No. 17 Florida as the Gators prepare to come to Tiger Stadium to challenge No. 1 LSU Saturday.
“(Florida) is as talented as any team we’ve seen so far,” Miles said. “That’s pretty easy to say.”
And it’s saying a lot given the schedule that has allowed LSU (5-0) to climb to the top of the Associated Press poll. The Tigers have beaten three ranked teams, all away from Tiger Stadium, including No. 9 Oregon and No. 16 West Virginia.
Yet, Miles didn’t hesitate to put the talent level of the Gators right there with any team LSU’s seen.
“They have good players at every position,” he said.
But there’s a reason why LSU will be a heavy favorite Saturday against Florida (4-1). In last week’s 38-10 loss to No. 2 Alabama, Florida quarterback John Brantley was lost to what has reported to have been a high ankle sprain. At Florida’s weekly news conference Monday, Florida coach Will Muschamp said he will miss at least a week.
After Brantley went down, true freshman Jeff Driskel came into what had been a close game and struggled, completing just 2-of-6 passes.
But when asked about Driskel, Miles said he didn’t see a struggling true freshman. What he saw was the player who was rated as the nation’s top prep pro-style quarterback last year.
“(Driskel) will give them every opportunity to compete,” Miles said.
Florida also has the option of using Trey Burton, who moved from quarterback to running back this season and is a threat as either a runner or a passer. Burton has carried 16 times for 82 yards this year and he’s also thrown two passes. Driskel is 7-for-16 with two interceptions and no touchdowns. Saturday will be his first college start.
As Florida is dealing with what to do with its injury situation, Monday’s LSU news conference brought good news on the injury front.
Miles said running back Spencer Ware, who left Saturday’s 35-7 win over Kentucky with a hamstring injury will “prepare this week, fully,” with the possible exception of some of Monday’s practice. He also said offensive guard T-Bob Hebert, who missed the Kentucky game with an unspecified leg injury would likely return for Florida
LSU has had its share of injuries this year, but hasn’t had the singularly devastating injury like the loss of Brantley to Florida. When Ware left the Kentucky game, not only did Miles say he was healthy enough to return later in the game if needed, LSU was able to go deep into the bench to third-string running back Alfred Blue, whose 16-carry, 72-yard effort was the best game of his career, Miles said. True freshman Terrance Magee also had promising moments.
LSU also scrambled a bit on the offensive line against Kentucky with Josh Williford starting on the line instead of Hebert. But after a couple of what Miles deemed “rookie mistakes,” that led to a slow start in the running game, the Tigers adjusted and ran better as the game wore on.
Miles said it had everything to do with an insistence that LSU has that young players, even true freshmen, be prepared to play.
“Every year we’ve looked to play quality freshmen, especially at tailback and at defensive back,” he said.
Florida will have its quality true freshman at quarterback trying to figure out LSU’s defense, which Miles noted is statistically among the nation’s top 10 in pass efficiency defense (tenth at 97.91), third in rush defense (60.4 yards per game), ninth in scoring defense (12.8 ppg) and ninth in total defense (262.2 ypg).
“Suffocating,” is how Miles described his team’s defense against Kentucky, which only avoided a shutout with a meaningless fourth-quarter scoring drive.
Defensive end Sam Montgomery, who had six tackles, two for loss and 1.5 sacks, was named the SEC’s defensive lineman of the week for the Kentucky game.
Miles also talked about quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who took seven snaps in his first game of the season against Kentucky.
He said there was no set number of snaps for Jefferson last week and it was too early to say if and how he’ll figure into the game plan against Florida. He said the senior showed “very little rust” when he returned to practice last week.
He also said fans who booed when Jefferson entered the Kentucky game were misguided. He said if the boos were for play calling (Jefferson’s first snap of the season was on a fourth-and-goal at the Kentucky 1), Miles doesn’t hear crowd reactions to play calls. And if the boos were for Jefferson, “Jordan didn’t put himself in the game, I did,” he said.
Miles said he was satisfied with the progress of wide receiver Russell Shepard who he noted had a couple of catches that were “just exceptional,” against Kentucky.
He also expressed pleasure that his team was ranked fourth in the nation in turnover margin (plus-1.80 a game).
“I think it’s the most significant statistic to predict victory,” he said.
A big reason for the positive turnover margin has been the ball-hawking play of defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who twice this year has scored touchdowns off fumbles he forced. He’s also returned an interception to an opponents’ 1-yard line. Miles was asked about the possibility of the sophomore becoming a Heisman Trophy candidate.
While he noted that post-season rewards will have much to do with the team’s eventual success, he also added that “a defensive back with the skills and ability Tyrann Mathieu has should be considered for national awards, if not the Heisman.”
Speaking of names being mentioned in lofty circles, Miles found his own name thrown out there Monday.
He was asked about his name being mentioned as a possible NFL coaching candidate and he said, while he’s flattered, “I’m awfully happy where I’m at.”
Miles also said with Texas A&M coming into the league, he’d be for ending permanent cross-division rivals in the SEC. That would mean the end of an annual game between LSU and Florida.
He also said Florida is more diverse than it has been in the past under first-year offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss.