What’s happened over the past two weeks to the Florida offense is a microcosm of what’s been going on for the last eight years.
The Gators finally find who they think is the right fit at quarterback to spark the offense, and Luke Del Rio gets hurt in the first half of his start and is out for the rest of the season.
With the strong-armed Feleipe Franks returning after Del Rio’s injury last week against Vanderbilt, the Gators’ big-play wide receiver, Tyrie Cleveland, came back into play and caught a deep pass to set up a field goal late in the first half. But, in the fourth quarter a Vandy defender rolled up on Cleveland’s right leg and he sustained a high ankle sprain that could keep him out for several weeks.
So, here we go again with the offense: one step forward and two steps back. It’s a bad-luck rut the Gators can’t seem to escape.
Losing Cleveland is big, especially for this game with LSU. He is UF’s only proven deep threat, and with him out of the lineup, the Tigers are going to condense the field by playing 11 men fairly close to the line of scrimmage. That’s why the Gators need to take a deep shot early, maybe even on their first offensive play, just to establish they will try and stretch the field. If the Gators come out throwing screen passes to Brandon Powell and Kadarius Toney, the offense is going to be in for a long, frustrating afternoon against an LSU defense that is finally getting healthy for the first time this season.
I know the Gators are going to want to establish the run early with the three-headed tailback, led by true freshman Malik Davis. The best way to do that might be to come out throwing against a young LSU secondary that has had some breakdowns. If UF has some early success throwing the ball, it will create opportunities in the ground game.
The offense has shown steady improvement since the loss to Michigan, and it was encouraging the way Franks managed the game last Saturday. The Gators were highly efficient in the second half, showing excellent balance. Now, can the offense continue to progress with its biggest playmaker on the sideline in a walking boot? Chances are good the offense will take a step back on Saturday against a fast defense.
As for the Florida defense, it has become a huge concern coming off the porous performance last Saturday. LSU has been inconsistent on offense, but the Tigers are capable of making the same kind of plays Vandy made in the passing game. And the Tigers will test that shaky secondary early. Then, of course, you have to worry about a healthy Derrius Guice running the football.
It’s going to be a tough game all the way around for the Gators. They’re facing a wounded LSU team that will be jacked up and determined to start turning around the Tigers’ season.
Just like the Tennessee and Kentucky games, this one could come down to the final play. So, hold on.
Prediction: Florida 21, LSU 20.