The Florida Gators and LSU Tigers both come into this Saturday’s game with statement victories.
LSU went to Texas and beat the Longhorns in week 2. The Gators stifled then-No. 7 Auburn at the Swamp last weekend. But in this week’s matchup in Death Valley, both teams look to take over a top-four spot in the race to College Football Playoff.
Florida’s defense leads the way for them. They’ve given up the 8th-fewest offensive touchdowns (5), and haven’t given up a point in the 4th quarter since their opener. They flustered Auburn QB Bo Nix into making several poor decisions last week, as he went 11 for 27 with three INTs.
But Joe Burrow isn’t Nix. He’s a seasoned quarterback and has led LSU to the greatest offensive start in SEC history. They’ve averaged 54.6 points-per-game, the most in college football. That includes the 45 they dumped on Texas on the road.
With the roar of Death Valley awaiting, the Gators come in as 13-point underdogs on BetNow. Can the No. 5 scoring defense keep this close and cover the spread? Or will Burrow and the No. 2 passing offense keep rolling and likewise win the wager? Here’s the full breakdown.
LSU Offense vs Florida Defense
There’s very little doubt in Burrow’s ability anymore. He’s transformed into a Heisman candidate, having an immaculate 22/3 TD/INT ratio and 11.5 yards-per-attempt (3rd in the FBS).
He’s also working with one of the best receiving groups in the country. The trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and Terrace Marshall Jr. have combined for 19 touchdowns and 73 receptions, with averages over 15 YPC for all three.
Jefferson has great length with his 6’3” frame and has dominated in some big games. Chase is a physical presence on the other side. Marshall Jr. will sit out until November with a foot injury, but Derrick Dillon is an experienced target who can fill the spot. It’s all part of a passing game that has Burrow at a 78.4% completion percentage.
They will face by far the toughest DB unit they’ve played all season. Northwestern State is an FCS team, but here are the yards-per-attempt given up by LSU’s other opponents: Georgia Southern 111th, Texas 124th, Vanderbilt 128th, and Utah State 103rd.
Florida currently sits at 33rd, though it’s safe to say they’ve yet to play a QB of Burrow’s caliber. They’ve played two FCS QBs, a true freshman (Nix), a redshirt freshman making his first start (Jarren Williams, Miami), and Still, C.J. Henderson was preseason All-American who is living up to his billing. Shawn Davis creates a ton of havoc in the secondary (111 yards on three INTs). Marco Wilson is a bit on uneven so far at the other corner spot, but still has a high ceiling as a cover man.
Burrow will also face a menacing pass-rush, which will be fully healthy for the first time since their 10 sacks versus Miami on the opening week. Jabari Zuniga, thought to be their best pass-rusher coming into this season, is coming back from injury. With him on one side and Jonathan Greenard (4.0 sacks/6.5 TKFL) on the other, LSU’s 63rd-ranked sack rate on their o-line will be tested.
Florida Offense vs LSU Defense
Ever since Kyle Trask replaced Feleipe Franks (ankle injury) as Florida’s quarterback, the Gators have outscored opponents 115-16.
While the new QB must improve his awareness in the pocket, he has yet to get flustered by an opposing defensive line. Auburn’s is arguably the best in the nation, and ranks 11th in defensive line yards, according to Football Outsiders.
LSU is ranked 31st in LY and is 85th in sack rate. They will rely on blitzing LBs to help throw Trask off his game. The Florida QB is confident in the pocket but is not mobile outside of it. He also sprained a knee in the last game and wore a leg brace when he reentered the game.
With the LBs more involved in the pass-rush, All-American safety Grant Delpit needs to come up big in coverage. He likely will face off against a matchup nightmare in Florida TE Kyle Pitts (25 receptions). Neutralizing Pitts (6’5”-240lbs, 4.6 40-yard dash) is imperative to LSU’s success on D.
LSU—like Florida’s secondary—is often considered DBU for the talent they have on the perimeter of their defense. Derek Stingley Jr. is continuing this legacy with performances that should land him on the All-Freshman team, if not more, in 2019.
On the other side of him will be Kristian Fulton, who allowed the least amount of first downs last year out of all returning FBS corners. Though this group is currently 69th in passing yards allowed per-game, it will be a force if given a chance against a pressured Trask.
Balance will be as crucial as ever for Florida, who hasn’t got their running game going yet this year. Lamical Perine broke a tackle at the line on his way to an 88-yard TD run last weekend. Even with that, the Florida o-line ranks 113th in line yards and is going up against the No. 1 d-line in terms of power success (short-yardage situations).
While the LSU front may not be potent. But Florida only compiles 3.66 YPA on the ground, and that’s including Perine’s long run and a 76-yard receiver sweep that closed out the Kentucky game.
If they don’t get Perine or Dameon Pierce going consistently, it puts ways too much pressure on Trask in a hostile environment.
LSU Tigers vs Florida Gators Spread Prediction
Florida has earned respect from the college football world after last week. And while I don’t expect them to come out with a win against LSU in Death Valley, I do see this game staying closer than most.
LSU’s offense made incredible strides, and Burrow is one of the more intelligent QBs in the FBS. But LSU isn’t going to put up 45 or anything close to that against a defense who is proven at all three levels. Their pass-rush has completely evolved with Greenard wreaking havoc.
The Gators defense will wear out over time, as the team has relied on them far too much to change the tide in games. Marco Wilson will be the subject to some late-game PI’s against the physical Chase or Jefferson.
But I don’t expect this until late in the fourth quarter. Keeping the game in enough of a slog until then makes Florida the proper bet on Saturday.
Prediction: LSU (30) – Florida (20)