Florida Football Friday Final: No. 6 Gators have plenty to get right vs. LSU before SEC title game

By Adam Silverstein
December 11, 2020
Florida Football Friday Final: No. 6 Gators have plenty to get right vs. LSU before SEC title game

Image Credit: @GatorsFB / Twitter

The 2020 regular season concludes Saturday as the No. 6 Florida Gators host the LSU Tigers in a game that was not only supposed to take place earlier this year but also takes an unfamiliar shape in this cross-division rivalry. When Florida and LSU go head-to-head, both teams are usually ranked; if not, they are at least above .500 with the game serving as a turning point for their respective seasons.

Not this year. The Gators enter with College Football Playoff hopes, while the Tigers are looking to salvage one of the worst seasons ever played by a team coming off a national championship. That’s why Florida is a 23-point favorite ahead of Saturday night’s kickoff inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

As for what will happen on Saturday, OnlyGators.com will analyze and predict that in our game day preview. For now, let’s take a look at what you need to know ahead of the UF-LSU showdown.

1. Odds speak for themselves: Aside from the 23-point spread, Las Vegas tells us more about how the Gators are perceived nationally. Florida now has the fifth-best odds to win the CFP National Championship at 14-1 behind only Alabama (1-1), Clemson (5/2), Ohio State (7/2) and Notre Dame (8-1). Some of that is a function of this being late in the season and only particular teams still being capable of making the field, but the point is more that the next team behind UF nearly double its odds as Texas A&M is 30-1.

Elsewhere, as the Heisman Trophy race begins to close, it has also tightened. No longer is Gators redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Trask the lone favorite. Trask and Alabama QB Mac Jones are now tied atop the board at 10/11, far ahead of Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence at 14-1. As for why Jones has caught Trask, well, we’ve spoken at length on multiple occasions here about Mullen’s shocking unwillingness to allow his signal caller to enhance his resume when situations provided such opportunities. It now looks as if the SEC champion will not be the only thing decided in the conference title game.

2. Three defenders still out? Head coach Dan Mullen said during his week-opening press conference Monday that redshirt senior linebacker Jeremiah Moon (foot), senior safety Shawn Davis and freshman defensive back Rashad Torrence II are all questionable for Saturday’s game. Moon and Davis are starters, though Moon has missed more than half of this season’s games. Davis being out of last week’s lineup was seen as a plus to some as it gave junior Trey Dean III additional run in the defensive backfield. Either way, it’s never good to be down players, though LSU’s offense is not exactly poised to take advantage of the absences.

3. Unbeaten at home again? Florida finished the 2019 season undefeated in The Swamp for the first time since 2016 and just the 14th time in program history. Now Mullen is looking to start a new decade with a bang as the Gators aim for back-to-back unblemished seasons on Florida Field. That has not happened since 2005-06, the first two years Urban Meyer led the program. A victory on Saturday would be the 13th straight home win for the Gators, and the fact that it could come against the Tigers in The Swamp one year after LSU beat Florida 42-18 in Death Valley would certainly be sweet.

4. What’s up with the offense? Forget for a moment that Florida can basically put points on the board whenever it’s a must-score situation. Looking at the offensive objectively, it’s clear that it has taken a step back in recent weeks. The Gators’ 65 combined points over their last two the games is the fewest this season, and that’s despite not playing defenses that are significantly better than previous competition. The season-low 31 points last week against Tennessee came as Florida was completely unable to gain any yardage on the ground, finishing with 19 yards on 17 carries. It’s not that there’s cause for concern … but, actually, is there cause for concern?

Mullen admitted that the Gators left 21 points on the board against the Volunteers; however, he also consciously chose not to score more points on a short-field change of possession in the fourth quarter. Some offensive lulls are not unexpected during a season, but those coming towards the end of the season as UF is preparing to go toe-to-toe with the most explosive team it will face all year in the SEC Championship Game is not the most opportune time. “I know we want to be efficient, score every time we have the ball, [but] that doesn’t always happen,” he said Monday.

5. About that running game … Though fans and national media have pointed to those rushing struggles as a reason Florida will be unable to compete with Alabama in two weeks, Mullen downplayed the issue. In fact, he believes the Gators could run if they chose that path but noted the team is far better moving the ball through the air. Still, that does not account for 1.1 yards per carry, even though quarterback sacks are accounted in that statistic. UF is 7-6 when being outrushed by an opponent under Mullen and 21-0 when it accounts for more rushing yards. That’s a stark difference, and it’s one that could come back to haunt the Gators.

“I don’t think we really tried to run the ball very much,” Mullen said of the Tennessee game. “We can go spend a lot of time and we can go run the ball, probably slow the game down, ball control and grind it out. But that doesn’t really fit the strength of our team right now when we have success throwing it and can get matchups all over the field that cause problems for people. So I think it’s a lot about what we want to do [in games].”

6. What’s up with the defense? While the offense has scored a season-low point total the last two weeks, the defense has given up just 29 points in those two games and 46 the last three. That 15.3 points per game is a far cry from the 33.3 that Florida allowed in its three games; of course, the offenses it has played recently are a significant step down. Mullen has consistently had defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s back despite their public sideline blowup a couple of weeks ago. The question is whether the defense has actually made strides or it’s just benefitting from circumstance.

Grantham and Mullen both believe the defense is moving in the right direction. The Tigers are not exactly a great test for the Gators given that the team’s offense has fallen off massively after a respectable start to the season. LSU has scored just 24 points over the last two weeks, though it has faced two other top five opponents in Texas A&M and Alabama.

7. Three in the transfer portal: Walk-on wide receiver Jaylin Jackson entered the NCAA transfer portal this week, according ot 247Sports. A walk on from the Class of 2018, Jackson was taken as a flier the Gators thought could develop into a playmaker due to his explosiveness. He saw limited action on special teams and will now seek another opportunity. Jackson joins senior safety Quincy Lenton and redshirt sophomore running back Iverson Clement as players who have entered the portal this season. Clement twas a four-star prospect in the Class of 2018 expected to see significant action in the backfield, but he was not part of Florida’s three-man crew this season and would not have moved up the depth chart given the Gators have a pair of five-star running back transfer now with the program.

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