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LSU tight end Stephen Sullivan (10) signals touchdown as LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss (81) crosses into the end zone for a touchdown catch and run during the second half of LSU's football game against Utah State at Tiger Stadium Saturday Oct. 5, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La.

Midway through the second quarter of LSU’s game against Florida last season, the Tigers drove deep into Florida territory. They reached the 16-yard line needing 2 yards to move the chains.

On third down, LSU handed the ball to running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He gained 1 yard before being stuffed by Florida's defense. The Tigers kicked a field goal. The Gators later won 27-19.

“We had a chance to put them away early,” quarterback Joe Burrow said, “and we didn’t do it.”

Like it did on that drive against Florida, LSU settled for field goals inside the red zone throughout the year. The Tigers finished No. 27 in red zone conversions. When they reached the 20-yard line, they often kicked field goals.

LSU has focused on its red zone efficiency, practicing the situation four times a week. And now, entering Saturday night’s game against Florida, it has the No. 1 red zone offense in the country.

This season, the Tigers have scored on all of their 31 trips inside the red zone. They have scored touchdowns on 26 of those possessions, or 83.87 percent.

But Florida has the No. 1 red zone defense in the country. Opponents have reached the 20-yard line 14 times, and the Gators have allowed five scores — three touchdowns and two field goals. Their opponents have scored on 35.71 percent of trips inside the red zone, almost 17 percent lower than Temple, the nation's No. 2 red zone defense.

“We need to be able to score touchdowns in the red zone this week,” Burrow said. “They’re really good causing turnovers in the red zone, so we’re going to have to be up to our game and act like we’re the best team in the country in the red zone.”

Last season, LSU scored on 53 of its 60 trips to the red zone, but the Tigers often settled for field goals. They scored touchdowns on 51.67 percent of their red zone trips, ranking them 119th out of 130 FBS teams in red zone touchdown percentage.

Improvement began in the offseason. The Tigers installed a new offense, and they returned most of their starters. The scheme and the players jelled, and during spring practice, Burrow noticed “flashes” of improvement inside the red zone.

The Tigers, who also have the No. 1 overall scoring offense in the country this season, developed their red zone approach more in preseason camp. Confidence grew.

“If we didn’t come out and play the way we are right now,” Burrow said, “I would have been very disappointed.”

In the season opener, LSU drove into the red zone on its first five possessions. It scored five touchdowns, beginning a perfect red zone scoring percentage that directly correlates with LSU’s offensive production. The Tigers have scored 273 points through five games, an Southeastern Conference record.

Inside the red zone, the Tigers have scored touchdowns with an almost even split between passes (14) and runs (12). However, sophomore wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase said the team has thrown the ball more in the red zone this season, relying on short routes and quick throws. Inside the red zone at practice, Chase said the defense drops eight men into coverage, creating smaller windows.

“When we throw so much in there,” Chase said, “it might open up the run, so we have mixes of it.”

LSU has practiced its red zone offense four times a week. Coaches have harped on the importance of scoring touchdowns in the red zone instead of kicking field goals. Coach Ed Orgeron credited red zone success to the game plan, players and LSU’s practice habits, adding “our guys know exactly what to do against the coverage they're seeing.”

This weekend, Florida’s defense presents LSU its toughest challenge so far. The Gators have allowed 57 points through five games. They held Auburn to 13 points last weekend. Auburn reached the red zone once, and when it did, Florida intercepted a pass in the end zone.

“When we get in the red zone, we want to come out with seven (points),” center Lloyd Cushenberry said. “If we don't, it's disappointing. Every time we're in the red zone, we want to score.”

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com