Overall Record 6-0
SEC Record 4-0
The Florida Gators invade Tiger Stadium Saturday night, in what is easily the biggest game of the year for both squads. The Tigers and the Gators represent a shrinking number of teams in the SEC with undefeated conference records.
Florida does not remind one of the Steve Spurrier-Urban Meyer teams, squads loaded with bottomless pits of NFL talent. Nevertheless, they compete.
Defensively the Gators have played two very good overall defensive games against Ole Miss and Missouri in their last two contests. In the Ole Miss game, they held the Rebels to 2.1 yards rushing per carry. In the Missouri contest, however, Florida allowed the Tigers an average of 4.1 yards per rush, a two yard jump from the Ole Miss game. Florida has given up just three touchdowns on the ground this season.
In their Tennessee match earlier this season, the Volunteers had two players rush for over 100 yards against the Gators. The Vols have an agile quarterback in Joshua Dobbs, and a powerful running back named Jalen Hurd who can run well between the tackles. Dobbs and Hurd combined for 238 yards net rushing against Florida.
The big question for the Gators is if they can stop the run Saturday night. If so, they will be fierce adversaries.
Florida plays four down lineman, led by junior Bryan Cox and senior Jonathan Bullard. They also have a freshman named Thomas Holley who plays a lot and plays well. Bullard has nine tackles for losses, tfls, including 4.5 sacks. Junior Joey Ivie has 3.5 sacks this season. Junior Alex McCalister who plays the rush end position with Cox, has six tfls, including 4.5 sacks, on the season.
The Gators are tied for 12th in the nation in tfls. They have 21 team sacks, which leads the league.
The two linebackers, senior Antonio Morrison and junior Jarad Davis, lead the squad in tackles. Morrison who came back ahead of schedule after a torn acl injury, leads the teams with 46 tackles, 18 unassisted, including 6.5 tfls and 1.5 sacks. Davis has 41 total tackles, 20 solos, 6.5 tfls, and one sack.
The Gators have allowed an average of 175 yards per game through air, and yielded an average of 11 yards per catch during the season.
Juniors Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye man the safety spots for the Gators. Junior Vernon Hargreaves and sophomore Quincy Wilson are the cornerbacks.
The Florida secondary can make plays, and the Purple and Gold need to be leery of this fact.
Florida is third in the SEC in interceptions, which means they can mask other deficiencies in the secondary by causing turnovers.
On offense, Florida was starting to play well with freshman quarterback Will Grier. Then, earlier in the week, he was suspended for the year for testing positive for using a banned substance.
The quarterback spot will be a mystery until game time Saturday night. The Gator quarterback listed second on the depth chart last Saturday was sophomore Treon Harris, who actually started for Florida in the first game of the season against New Mexico State.
The Gators have a solid offensive line, despite starting the season with players having only 10 starts between them. Left guard Trip Thurman and right tackle Mason Halter are the two seniors on the offensive line.
Junior running back Kelvin Taylor is a solid but unspectacular running back. He knows how to grind out yards.
Gator wide receivers Demarcus Robinson, a junior, sophomore Brandon Powell, and freshman Antonio Callaway were working well with Grier.
Callaway had a 63-yard game winning touchdown pass reception against Tennessee, Robinson had a 36-yard scoring catch against Ole Miss. Powell had a 77-yard touchdown grab against Mississippi. Powell and Callaway average 16 yards per catch. Sophomore Tight end DeAndre Goolsby averages 15.3 yards per reception.
But, who will be the quarterback?
This is an important game for a variety of reasons. At the beginning of the season, this contest was not supposed to hold such great implications.
Florida, even though they will not admit it, knows a win against LSU would put them at or near the top of the SEC pile. It would give them a firm grip on the SEC East, and it would make them an instant player in the hunt for the national title.
Unlike the Purple and Gold, Saturday night is the height of Florida’s conference schedule. After LSU, they would be looking at finishing the season against Georgia, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina in SEC play, not against Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M, like LSU.
The task of the Purple and Gold is to get the W Saturday night, and to be prepared to fight to get it.
Gator image courtesy of funwearsports.com