Gators keeping focus on LSU, not Alabama
Florida’s focus will be put to the test this week.
With a Dec. 19 matchup in the SEC title game against No. 1 Alabama looming large, the sixth-ranked Gators (8-1) must keep their attention on the task at hand and not look ahead to Atlanta.
Easier said than done, but a rivalry game Saturday night against LSU should help.
“You’ve got this week’s game, preparing for LSU. That’s focus No. 1,” Mullen said Monday. “Our focus is that we’ve got to get better. If you want to be a championship team, as I’ve said all year, you’ve got to get better from one week to the next. You don’t regress. You don’t want to go backwards.
“(Next week) you can ask me the same question, ‘Are you looking forward to Ohio State, or Clemson or Notre Dame after Alabama?’ And I’ll say, ‘No, we’re going to be focused on us being a better team this week.’ That’s just the simplicity of it all. I know it sounds like coach talk. But the reality is, if you want to be a great football team, you focus on the task at hand.”
Right now that’s the Tigers (3-5), who’ve struggled this season in defense of their 2019 national title and conference championship. They suffered the third loss in four games last Saturday against Alabama, a 55-17 beatdown.
Despite those results, Mullen said LSU’s roster is still loaded with talent. Fifth-year coach Ed Orgeron has signed a top-five recruiting class the past two cycles.
“A lot of times you have a team that goes on a championship run like they did last year, they do it with a very veteran group of guys and then all of a sudden, the next year a lot of those veteran guys are gone,” Mullen said. “But they have a tremendous amount of talent, some playmakers and mismatches on offense.
“Defensively, they’ve got DBs that can cover on the backend and a big, physical group up front. So when you look at them, I think they've had some up-and-down games and with a young team. … They're growing, learning, but a dangerous team because they have weapons all over the field.”
The Tigers are missing their best weapon, wide receiver Terrace Marshall, who opted out on Nov. 29 to enter the NFL draft. Marshall led the team with 48 catches for 731 yards and 10 touchdowns.
LSU had four players opt out before the season as well, including 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase. Starting receiver Racey McMath has also missed the past two games with an injury.
Joe Burrow’s heir apparent, quarterback Myles Brennan, suffered a season-ending abdominal injury in the loss at Missouri on Oct. 10 — a week ahead of the Florida-LSU game before it was rescheduled due to the Gators’ COVID-19 outbreak.
T.J. Finley has started five games in Brennan’s place, throwing for 941 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions. Fellow freshman Max Johnson has also accounted for 395 passing yards and a pair of scores.
“They’ve played a bunch of different quarterbacks this year, so when you're going through all of those different changes and things that are happening, you can see,” Mullen said. “But they have a couple dominating wins where they came in and blew people out, a couple of games went right down to the wire for them. They’ve had a couple of games that kind of went the wrong way for them with a young team, how they didn’t expect it to go and ended up on the short end of those games.”
The Tigers won a close game at Arkansas (27-24) and blew out South Carolina and Vanderbilt, a pair of programs that have fired their head coaches this season. In scouting LSU last Saturday against Alabama, Florida’s staff also got an early look at the Crimson Tide.
Mullen admits that some of his assistants have already started prepping for the SEC title.
“We have our advanced scouting people work on that to get everything in, all the information in,” he said. “Everything was broken down once we had an idea that there was an opportunity for that (playing Alabama). So when we get in on Sunday morning of next week, everything is all prepped, ready to go for us to start working on that game plan.”
The Gators are listed as a 23-point favorite against LSU. If that comes to fruition, Saturday’s game could present an opportunity for them to sit some starters.
But Mullen’s focus will be on getting his players better, not preserving them for Alabama.
“We don’t worry about that. We gotta go play,” Mullen said. “I think when you start worrying about those things you’re thinking about all the wrong things. You’re worrying about the guys walking to class tripping on the sidewalk, or going to practice every day. Your focus is, how do we go win the game this week.
“Not many Florida teams have won nine SEC games in one season. We have the opportunity to do that. I think only two have ever done that. We have the opportunity to do that this week. There’s an awful lot on the table for our guys to be focused on to go win this week and that’s the complete focus on this team.”
Who: LSU (3-5) vs. No. 6 Florida (8-1)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850