Three of the five teams LSU has faced this season have played more than one quarterback during significant game action. On Saturday, Florida will be the fourth team, but the starter for the first three games may be healthy enough to play against the Tigers.
To find out more about Florida, we welcome back our Pick 6 series – a Q&A with a beat writer covering LSU’s opponent – for another week. Nick de la Torre, who covers the Gators for GatorCountry.com, kindly joined us to answer our questions about LSU’s permanent cross-divisional opponent.
1. Let's start things off with a simple question. How important is quarterback Luke Del Rio's return from injury to Florida's offense?
Del Rio’s return is very important for the Gators. Purdue transfer Austin Appleby was an adequate replacement but the offense really hasn’t looked the same since Del Rio went down with an injury. Appleby lit up Tennessee in the first half (10-16, 213 yards 2 TD, 0 INT) but has cooled off considerably in the next six quarters (32-51, 227 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). Del Rio isn’t an All-SEC/All-American caliber quarterback but he is efficient, smart and not prone to turning the ball over.
2.) Florida coach Jim McElwain seemed to think Florida lacked physicality at the line of scrimmage in a 13-6 win against Vanderbilt. The Gators averaged only 2.6 yards per carry against the Commodores. How much is offensive line play a concern against LSU's veteran defensive line?
Offensive line play was a concern against the mighty Mean Green of North Texas, so you can imagine how Florida feels about the line heading into the game this week. I asked Appleby what the identity of the offense is and he told me, “We want to pound the football. And from that, we want to get into our play-action pass kit and use our tight ends and throw the ball deep to our weapons on the outside. But it starts up front.”
That’s Florida’s blueprint: run the football to set up the play action pass. When their front five are getting pushed around and they can’t run the ball the passing game is affected. It’s a serious problem for Florida, especially if they have to rotate offensive linemen (starting left tackle David Sharpe is questionable).
3.) You wrote that McElwain should give running back Jordan Scarlett the lion's share of the touches, instead of using a running back rotation. Has the lack of a feature back been a factor in the Gators' lack of success on the ground?
Florida’s running backs are all saying the right things when it comes to the rotation but the numbers tell otherwise. Scarlett leads the team in carries (55) and also multiple carries (two or more) in a row (15).
Of those 40 instances (out of 188 carries) the Gators are a better running team, emphatically, when they have a guy in the game for a whole series or multiple carries in a row. The Gators average 5.34 yards per carry when the same back runs the ball on consecutive plays and just 4.02 per carry when the carries aren’t sequential by one back.
Scarlett has shown to be the most consistent back in all phases.
4.) The Florida defensive line appears to be pretty banged up. In fact, all four starters are either out or questionable for Saturday. Does the Gators defense have enough depth up front to contain LSU's rushing attack?
The Gators have very good depth on the edges, but should be concerned about the depth inside. Florida played without defensive tackle Joey Ivie last week and he was missed. Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, Florida’s best defensive lineman, will play with a cast on his left hand after sustaining an injury against Vanderbilt. Florida knows that LSU will pound the ball between the tackles and they’ll try to rotate guys as much as possible to keep them fresh throughout the game.
5.) The Gators secondary is once again a strength of the defense, ranking fifth in the country in passing yards allowed. Florida also leads the Southeastern Conference in interceptions (8). How good is the unit compared to some of the other great Florida secondaries?
This unit is as good as they have been in recent years but they don’t have the same depth. Florida feels good about three cornerbacks (Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson). After those starters there is a steep drop-off in talent that has been exposed when Tabor missed the opener (suspension) and when Dawson (stinger) and Tabor (dehydration) missed time during games.
At safety Marcus Maye is playing his best football and that’s saying a lot after Pro Football Focus graded him out as an All-American last season. Nick Washington and Marcell Harris play alongside him and they’ve been fine too, there just isn’t the same kind of depth that they’ve had in previous seasons.
6.) Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway was huge factor in last year's game in Tiger Stadium, catching three passes for 100 yards and returning a punt for a touchdown. Callaway, though, often takes risks when fielding punts. Do you think his playmaking ability will be a difference maker in this game?
If the Gators are going to win the game it needs to be. Callaway was great fielding punts last year and this year has been a real head scratcher. The Gators are 13th in the SEC with a 3.73 yard-per-return average this season. Some of that has been North Texas and Vanderbilt utilizing a rugby style punt, taking Callaway out of the game.
Offensively Callaway and Del Rio have been in sync. In two games (Callaway missed one with an injury) the sophomore receiver has 13 receptions for 202 yards and two scores. He’s Florida’s best offensive player and only proven offensive threat.