A couple of weeks ago this Saturday’s LSU-Florida game in The Swamp looked to be a trap game for LSU, the second-ranked team in the nation. Florida looked pretty good, but it did not seem to have the talent on hand to mix it up with the ultra-talented Tigers.
But that was two weeks ago.
Since then, LSU has had consecutive unimpressive outings against Auburn and Towson and dropped two spots in the polls. In the meantime Florida has continued to win impressively and has climbed to No. 10 in the Associated Press poll.
“I think there is an understanding that we need to play better and it is our culture that we need to be consistent,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think our team understands that.”
Understanding and doing may be two different things against the Gators.
“The thing that jumps off the film at you every year is the physicality of their football team in all three phases and how they play the game,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. ‘They have a very deep roster; they’ve won 18 straight regular season games for a reason. They have an outstanding staff and some really good football players.”
LSU needs to reverse the trend of the past two games and one person who can change that is quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who has been plagued by lackluster play.
“To be honest with you, if something bad happened, he came out and did something good. If you are looking for a resilient characteristic in your quarterback, you saw that,” Miles said of his quarterback’s play against Towson. “A (running) back made a mistake in the protection; he gets hammered and comes off the field. He comes back out and makes a play. He falls down, makes a mistake, and comes back and makes a play. He needs to continue to make the right plays.”
Mettenberger was 15 of 26 passing for 238 yards and two touchdown passes against Towson. Against Auburn, he was 15 of 27 passing for 169 yards.
Despite Mettenberger’s recent inconsistent play, Miles is pleased with his quarterback.
“I like Zach (Mettenberger), and I think his effort and energy is good for this team. I think he will continue to improve. Just remember that he has not really started in major college football before,” Miles said.
“I think our quarterback play is by and large very good. The things that he tries to do by extending the play put him in jeopardy. On some days you see those quarterbacks that run out of the pocket and make a big play. That frankly is not something we are looking for from him. We’re really not looking to extend the play much. We would like to get it out of his hands. We are coaching that. It is coming. It is very likely that he will play better and better each week.”
Muschamp is well aware of the LSU quarterback’s talent.
“Mettenberger is guy that has all of the arm talent in the world; he just lacks some experience in the SEC. You can see the arm talent, and him being able to make all of the throws he needs to make, and he certainly has the ability to do so,” Muschamp said.
Mettenberger is likely going to need to be at the top of his game against the Gators, a team that is coming off an off-week after wins against Ball State, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Kentucky. Despite the fact that both teams are in a battle for supremacy in the SEC East and for national rankings, Muschamp is trying to downplay the significance of the game and doesn’t want to say that the game should be a measuring stick for the Gators.
“It counts as one game, doesn’t count as any more than that,” Muschamp said. “They’ve got a good football team and certainly a team that we’re looking forward to playing. We’ve got a great opportunity sitting in front of us in our own stadium at 3:30 and that’s the way I look at it.
“We don’t put any more hours in this week than we did three weeks ago. I know everybody thinks that we’re going to change everything for one game but we’re not.”
Still, Muschamp is excited about the growth of his team.
“Every week I’m excited, regardless of who the opponent is,” the Florida coach said. “You always want to see progress in the organization in a positive way and I think we’ve done that for the most part and most situations.”
The growth is best exemplified by quarterback Jeff Driskel, who is completing almost 70 percent of his passes. He’s 55 of 79 passing for 698 yards and four touchdowns against only one interception. Driskel’s maturity as a passer has helped open up the ground game for Florida’s Mike Gillislee, who has rushed for 100.5 yards per game and has scored five touchdowns.
“It’s definitely a big game,’’ Driskel said. “This is really what the SEC is all about. They’re a team that’s going to try to go one-on-one. They think they have better players across the board, and they do have very good players. They’re going to try to be one-on-one in the secondary and just bully up front.”
It is shaping up as one of the top games in the Southeastern Conference this weekend and thanks to the 5-0 start by LSU and the 4-0 start by Florida, it will also be one of the top games in the nation.