For the first time in a long time, the No. 21 Florida Gators are coming off a game where they’re feeling good about their offense and concerned about their defense.
It’s usually been the other way around.
In the 38-24 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday, it was an improving offense, led by five rushing touchdowns, that had the back of a struggling defense that consistently got scorched in the passing game.
Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns and had receivers running open in the UF secondary for much of the game.
“These guys are kind of known for running the ball and they threw it all over the park on us,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “So, I’m sure that the people next week are going to be licking their chops ready to throw it all over the park on us.”
UF plays LSU on Saturday, and the Gators will be facing a team that’s coming off a shocking home loss to Troy that turned the ball over four times and struggled on both the ground and through the air.
But, as the Gators discovered Saturday, what happened in a previous game isn’t necessarily relevant in the next one. The Commodores came into The Swamp coming off a 59-0 loss to Alabama in which they made only three first downs.
That same offense that did nothing against the Tide exposed major holes in Florida’s pass defense. Certainly, LSU will learn from watching the tape and will try to exploit the same weaknesses in UF’s secondary.
“Some of their shifts and motions (threw us off), and then they got matchups on our linebackers and our linebackers didn’t cover,” McElwain said. “I didn’t think our eyes were very good at all. And we’ve got to get that solved.
“And yet, the guy put it in some places where we had guys right there, and their guys made plays. That’s going to happen. It’s when the guys are running open, that you kind of get the concern piece of it.
“They took advantage of the middle of the field. They took advantage of where we weren’t ready for it.”
While the Gators come out of the 38-24 win feeling concern over the defense, they’re feeling better about the offense after putting together a productive and balanced performance.
UF rushed for 218 yards and five touchdowns and rolled up 467 yards of total offense, the most in more than a year. The Gators had 564 yards of offense in a 45-7 win over Kentucky on Sept. 10, 2016.
“Yeah, (it) builds the confidence and I guess more than anything, a lot of it comes with, ‘Yes you can.’ It’s OK to go do that,” McElwain said. “I think from a mindset standpoint, I think it’s really important.
“Now, obviously (LSU) is going to load the box next week with the best players there are and we’re going to have our work cut out for us. We’ll see if we’re able to handle that.”
The Gators, of course, are moving forward with one less quarterback after new starter Luke Del Rio sustained a broken collarbone late in the first half that has ended his season.
Feleipe Franks, the former starter, came off the bench and threw for 185 yards. Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire now moves up as the No. 2 quarterback, while Kadarius Toney would be the second QB off the bench. He moved to wide receiver during camp, but has been running a package of plays out of the wildcat formation.
“We’ll be ready,” McElwain said. “We’ll get (Franks) and Malik ready to roll. Obviously, expanding the package with Kadarius bit by bit back there as well. That will be something that will continue as we look and just see how he handles it, in feeding it bit by bit as we move through the season.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.
Who: LSU (3-2, 0-1 SEC) vs. No. 21 Florida (3-1, 3-0)
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850