After his players almost flawlessly executed a game plan against Auburn that many are calling a masterpiece, Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham celebrated Saturday night.
By watching tape of LSU’s offense.
That’s the way it goes in this league, with this Florida schedule. There is precious little time to reflect on success before moving on to the next challenge. And Grantham and his guys are staring at a gargantuan one in LSU’s high-flying, high-scoring offense.
Last week, Grantham had to devise a plan to slow down a balanced and potent Auburn offense that was coming off a 55-point game. Now comes the daunting task of trying to find a way to diffuse a LSU offense that is averaging almost 55 points (54.6) a game and 566 total yards a game, more than 400 through the air.
The trigger man is former Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow, who has been lighting it up every Saturday. He’s completing 78.4 percent of his passes, has thrown 22 touchdown passes and is averaging 372.8 yards passing a game.
“He’ll be the best quarterback, obviously, we’ve seen so far this year,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “He can make all the throws. He’s got experience. Playing in big games, that’s not new for him. He’s played in a bunch of big games. He’s got great skill players around him, you can see his trust in those guys to go make plays out there.
“And I think he’s just deceptively, really athletic. He can extend plays in the run game. If you’re going to give it to him, he’s going to take it. He’ll be a good challenge for our defense.”
Burrow is not the same quarterback the Gators faced, and beat, last season. And it’s not the same LSU offense, not even close.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron made a seismic philosophical shift offensively this past offseason when he hired Joe Brady away from the New Orleans Saints staff to coordinate the Tigers’ passing game. Brady has taken a physical, run-it-first offense and transformed it into a wide-open, potent passing attack that defenses have had no answers for so far this season.
Burrow is surrounded by explosive playmakers, the most lethal being wide receivers Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase (a former UF commitment) and Terrace Marshall Jr. The three have combined for 73 receptions for 1,302 yards and 19 touchdowns. And there are many other options in the passing game. Nineteen different Tigers have caught passes this season.
This is nothing like the old-style, smack-you-in-the-face offense the Tigers used to run.
“For them, they’re looking at the players they have, probably like we do,” Mullen said. “You look at your roster, the talent on your roster, what fits that talent. They have a veteran quarterback that can really throw it. They have some great skill players on the perimeter. And they have a veteran offensive line. In that case, why not spread it around and try to go score some points.”
That’s what the Tigers are doing, in a big, breathless way.
Grantham and his guys are facing a difficult challenge. That’s why he started tackling it only hours after the big win over Auburn.
The Gators are well versed on what they’re facing.
“(Burrow) is obviously a talented player,” senior defensive tackle Adam Shuler said. “We see he’s a good player. We see that they’re talented. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat. So, we’re putting in a game plan, a way to stop it.”
They had a plan that stopped Auburn’s offense last week. This week’s game plan will have to be different because the Gators are facing a much different style of offense.
“They have conversions within the play,” Grantham said of the LSU offense. “They can convert routes relative to your leverage and things like that. The quarterback’s reads are a little more developed than last week. That part of it is a challenge. They’re kind of changing as the play goes on, whereas last week the changes occurred more pre-snap. Both offenses are effective, but this one is a little more challenging from the standpoint of the passing game and you have an effective quarterback who knows where to throw the ball and you’ve got good skill guys. We’ve got to play well.”
The Gators will have a plan. And the players will trust it, senior middle linebacker David Reese said.
“Oh, we’re just going to have to play our ball,” Reese said. “We’re not too worried about what they have to offer. We know they’re going to be an unbelievable team, unbelievable talent and that’s obvious, they’re a top-five team in the country. It’s basically based upon what we do, how we execute and Grantham is an aggressive coach, so we’re not going to wait on the offense to make decisions.”
Who: No. 7 Florida (6-0, 3-0 SEC) vs. No. 5 LSU (5-0, 1-0)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850