No. 1-ranked LSU is scheduled to play the team currently ranked No. 2 on Nov. 5.
That No. 2 team took some of the luster off of Florida’s season by spanking the Gators 38-10 last Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., and knocking out quarterback John Brantley with an ankle injury.
But anyone looking ahead to Nov. 5 or back at last weekend is going to miss a pretty important game this Saturday. Come on, it’s still LSU and the 17th-ranked Gators in a marquee Southeastern Conference matchup in Tiger Stadium.
This game features the two winningest programs in the SEC during the past 10 years and the top road team visiting the top home team in a matchup of programs that have each won two BCS titles in the past eight seasons.
“As long as I’ve been watching LSU and been a fan,” Tigers safety Eric Reid said, “LSU-Florida has always been a big game.”
Reid and several other Tigers were high-school recruits visiting Tiger Stadium when LSU and Florida went toe-to-toe in 2007. The Tigers eventually prevailed 28-24 in a game that was pivotal in a season that ended with a BCS title.
“I remember having a headache being in the stands because it was so loud,” Reid said. “I knew I definitely wanted to play in Tiger Stadium.”
Linebacker Ryan Baker, who’s from Grand Ridge, Fla., about 200 miles from the Florida campus, was similarly swayed by that game.
“Just to see the pre-game atmosphere, and coming from Florida and venturing to a different atmosphere that was similar, it was crazy,” Baker said. “It was a great game, and that was one of the hooks that brought me here.”
Earlier this week, Tigers coach Les Miles said, “There is a little bit more juice in the Football Operations building” because it’s Florida week.
“We’re real pumped up and we’re real hyped, because we know we’re playing Florida,” cornerback Tharold Simon said. “We’re playing at home, and we don’t want to disappoint any of our fans and we want to still hold the number one spot down.”
LSU ascended to the No. 1 spot in large measure by beating three ranked teams - then-No. 3 Oregon, then-No. 25 Mississippi State, and then-No. 16 West Virginia - during its 5-0 start, but this ranked team might be better able than those others to compete athletically with the Tigers up and down the roster.
“They have the talent,” wide receiver Russell Shepard said. “They have talented youth. They have talented veterans. That’s why they’re Florida.”
What the Gators don’t have is their starting quarterback after senior John Brantley suffered a high ankle sprain last week. True freshman Jeff Driskel is the likely starter, but true freshman Jacoby Brissett and redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy have competed for the position in practice this week. First-year Florida coach Will Muschamp has indicated he might use multiple quarterbacks.
“We’re expecting anything and preparing for every situation,” Reid said, “so we’ll be prepared for whoever plays quarterback.”
Whoever does play quarterback will try to get the ball into the hands of speedsters Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.
“This week,” Reid said, “more than anything, we have to be sound in our technique and not get out of position because they’re going to be hard to run down.”
In spite of Brantley’s absence, Miles said the Gators offense under first-year coordinator Charlie Weis is more diverse than the one run under former coach Urban Meyer while Meyer had the rare running skills of quarterback Tim Tebow to work with.
“That offense was so designed for that style of quarterback and was a very obviously successful style of offense,” Miles said. “Here, you see the ability to be two-back, one-back, throw it efficiently from both personal groups and occasionally throw in some wildcat.”
LSU and Florida are both ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense.
“They’re so athletic and they’re so smart,” LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee said of the Gators defense “After watching these guys, they’re not out of position very often.
“Florida has got huge tradition. They win ball games, always have, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Muschamp, an LSU assistant from 2001-04, is trying to return the Gators to BCS championship-contender status, though last week’s loss was a setback.
“You want to get that taste out of your mouth,” Muschamp said, “and there’s no better opportunity than going to Baton Rouge and playing LSU.”