The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: SEC heavyweights will do battle in Gainesville this weekend as the 14th-ranked Florida Gators host the 12th-ranked and undefeated LSU Tigers.
LSU appeared to suffer its first loss of the season last week to Tennessee, but a penalty on the Volunteers at the end of the game enabled the Tigers to score the go-ahead points with no time left on the clock. That 16-14 triumph marked yet another stellar defensive effort, as the team has not allowed more than 14 points in any of its last four games.
"The thing that we want our team to do is go on the road and play just the way we play and eliminate the mistakes and turnovers," says LSU head coach Les Miles, looking forward to this weekend's showdown. "If we make plays, just make the plays that we are capable of making, we will be very happy with the outcome."
As for Florida, it was manhandled last weekend by Alabama, 31-6, in a rematch of last season's SEC Championship Game. That loss was the first of the season for the Gators, who are 4-1 overall, including 2-1 in SEC action. Also, it snapped a streak of 24 consecutive regular-season wins.
"Some leadership really stepped up in there," said Florida coach Urban Meyer of his team's reaction to the Alabama loss. "It's easy to stand up and say something. You have to be a grown man to back everything up. I'm anxious to watch."
Florida owns a 30-23-3 series lead over LSU and has beaten the Tigers in the last two meetings.
LSU established terrific offensive balance against Tennessee last weekend with 219 yards on the ground and 215 yards through the air. The Tigers would have put more points on the board if not for nine penalties and four turnovers, including three interceptions. Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson split time under center, and Lee was clearly the more impressive of the two passers, connecting on 16-of-23 attempts for 185 yards with one interception. Jefferson scored the winning touchdown, and it was tailback Steven Ridley who paced the ground attack with 123 yards and one score on 22 carries.
"I think he has come in to do something special, knowing that it was going to be his time," says Miles of Ridley. "His practices, attention to detail, the way he runs, and he's made real improvement in the way he runs the plays that we ask him to run and how he's helping this football team."
Ridley leads the conference with 557 rushing yards and four touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards per attempt. Jefferson, who has rushed for two scores, as only completed 51.7 percent of his passes for 449 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions, and that has opened the door for Lee. Expect to see both signal callers this weekend. LSU is generating 24.4 ppg and 326.6 total ypg, numbers that can certainly stand some improvement.
Defensively, LSU held Tennessee in check last week, limiting the Vols to only 217 total yards. The Tigers registered five sacks in that tilt, overshadowing the fact that they failed to register a takeaway. The run defense was particularly stellar, limiting Tennessee to 96 yards on 37 attempts, an average of 2.6 yards per carry.
Opponents are posting 12.4 ppg against LSU, which is one of the best defensive teams in the nation. The Tigers are allowing a mere 246.6 total ypg, including 79.0 rushing ypg at a clip of 2.3 ypc. The Tigers have posted 16 sacks and 11 takeaways, and they are holding foes to 32 percent success on third down conversion attempts. Kelvin Sheppard has made 48 tackles for LSU, 21 more than his closest teammate.
Florida's two most important offensive players are both banged up, but both quarterback John Brantley (ribs) and running back Jeff Demps (foot) are listed as probable for Saturday's clash. The offense generated just 281 total yards against Alabama, including 79 rushing yards, and four turnovers were committed. Brantley threw a pair of interceptions and failed to lead his team into the end zone.
"Watched the tape yesterday," said Brantley of the Alabama game. "We got what we needed to get out of it. We're moving on. We have a different focus and we've put it behind us."
The Florida defense didn't play nearly as poorly as the final score of the Alabama game suggests. In fact, the Gators were able to limit the Tide to 273 total yards, including just 103 passing yards on 12 completions. Unfortunately, the run defense wasn't quite as good, yielding five yards per carry to a powerful attack.
The Gators are posting 31.4 ppg through the first five games of this campaign, and they are generating 339.8 total yards per contest. The club has committed 10 turnovers, but it is making good on 41 percent of its third down conversion attempts and has yielded a mere four sacks. Brantley has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 902 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions. As for Demps, he has rushed for 414 yards at a clip of 6.5 yards per attempt.
Opponents are posting 17.6 ppg against the Gators, who are allowing 291.0 total ypg. They are giving up fewer than four yards per rushing attempt and have shined against the pass as well, intercepting 12 balls to date. Ahmad Black leads Florida with 37 total tackles.