LSU, UF to flex muscles Saturday
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 5:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 5:56 p.m.
Florida's defense has faced lots of speed and finesse so far this season, with teams spreading the field with three and four wide receivers and throwing the football all over the lot.
Now, for the first time this season, the Gators are bracing for power.
That's what LSU will bring to The Swamp on Saturday. A big, strong, powerful downhill running game that grinds out yards and first downs and wears down opposing defenses.
“It's gonna be pretty tough,” senior nose tackle Omar Hunter said. “They're a physical team. That's all they do — run the ball downhill. They want to get their fullback one-on-one with a linebacker and let their tailback make plays off of that.
“They just keep coming. They don't give up. They don't quit. They just keep coming with that power football running game.”
The Tigers have all kinds of speed on offense, but there's nothing finesse about the way they run the football.
They line up in a two-back set (fullback and tailback) behind a massive offensive line and pound the ball between the tackles, occasionally bouncing outside for yardage.
The Tigers have a 272-pound blocking fullback leading the way for three big tailbacks who are all proven and effective runners — 231-pound Kenny Hilliard, 225-pound Spencer Ware and 216-pound Michael Ford.
It's basic, power football — and it works. LSU is second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 229.6 yards a game.
The Tigers are bringing a style of running game the Gators have not seen this season — except on the practice field. The Gators are in the process of developing a power, downhill running game of their own, and have had some success.
“(LSU's running game) is a lot different (than what we've faced),” UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “They're a real physical team up front, and by that, I'm saying they're more of an inside running, two-back team. In the first couple of ball games, we've seen more three and four receiver sets.
“This is kind of the first experience to see a true fullback and downhill power and gap type of running. We certainly see some from our offense, so I'm glad we've had the opportunity to go against them each week.
“But (the Tigers) certainly know how to run the ball. They have three runners that do it, and they're a physical style. It should be a good matchup.”
The Gators have been solid against the run all season, giving up only 119.2 yards a game. But they may have to be better than solid in Saturday's power matchup.
“Yeah, it's definitely a big challenge,” senior middle linebacker Jon Bostic said. “They're a team that wants to run the ball. They're going to grind it out and try to win it in the third and fourth quarter like they've been doing all year.
“I mean, we've got to stop the run. That's the main thing they want to do. They want to run the ball. Les (Miles) has always pretty much wanted to do that since he's been there. We've said on the defensive side of the ball we've got to stay square, we've got to play physical, we've got to stop the run.
“But you know, the quarterback (Zach Mettenberger), he can still beat you as well, so the DBs are going to have to bring their ‘A' game.”
LSU's ability to consistently pound out yardage on the ground has taken much of the pressure off Mettenberger, a first-year starter. When the Tigers have been successful running the ball, it's created opportunities in the passing game for Mettenberger. When the running game has struggled, so has Mettenberger.
So, it's pretty obvious what UF's No. 1 defensive priority is Saturday: stop, or at least slow down, the run.
“That kind of a fight is appealing to a defensive lineman,” Quinn said. “And certainly for the offensive linemen. That's the style they play, too. So, it will be a real physical game at the line of scrimmage. That we know. We're certainly preparing that way for it.
“They don't have a lot of third-and-longs. This is a good running team with a lot of third-and-three, third-and-shorts. We need to do a good job on first and second down to create some longer yardage where it's more of a passing situation to generate more quarterback hits and sacks.”
Auburn managed to do that two weeks ago, and the Tigers held LSU to 12 points and had a chance to pull the upset before falling 12-10.
In last season's 41-11 loss in Baton Rouge, LSU's power running game wore down the UF defensive front in the second half.
The Gators say they're stronger and deeper on the defensive line, and that could make a difference in Saturday's game.
“Depth is really going to be a big key to this game, being able to keep guys fresh going into the fourth quarter, because it's going to be a fourth-quarter game,” Hunter said. “The more fresh we are, the better for us.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.