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  • LSU QB Joe Burrow was named SEC Player of the Week after picking apart Ole Miss last week, but a matchup with Florida's defense in Gainesville offers his biggest test this season.
By Sam Chase
October 03, 2018

LSU at Florida (+2.5)

Sat. 10/7, 3:30 p.m. ET

Three things to know before betting on LSU-Florida:

1. As one of the best rivalries in college football, LSU-Florida is the obvious highlight on this weekend's slate of matchups and will air as CBS's SEC Game of the Week. Even in the SEC schedule, which boasts so many elite programs and matchups, this game is special. "It's going to be a battle—it's going to be a war," said LSU head coach Ed Orgeron.

That was echoed by Florida CB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who said, "It's the game of the year for both teams."

In last year's meeting between the two teams, LSU edged Florida in Gainesville 17-16, but the Gators narrowly beat the spread as 1.5-point underdogs. It was UF's second consecutive season covering against LSU, as it upset the Tigers 16-10 as a two-touchdown dog in Baton Rouge. First-year Florida head coach Dan Mullen had tremendous success covering against LSU in his time as coach at Mississippi State, where he went 4-0 ATS against the Tigers over the last four seasons, including two straight-up wins. Last season, Mullen's Bulldogs blew out LSU 37-7 in Starkville.

2. For years now, Florida has struggled to field an offense that strikes fear into opponents. This year's unit doesn't rise to that level, either, but Mullen appears to have his guys taking steps in the right direction. Quarterback Feleipe Franks has already thrown more touchdowns (12) through five games this season than he did as the starter all of last year (nine). And while five of those 12 came in the first half of the season opener against FCS Charleston Southern, Franks had thrown at least two TDs in every game this year until last week's gritty 13-6 win at Mississippi State. While Franks didn't throw a TD against his coach's old team, he did have a season-best 71.0 completion percentage and finished with 219 passing yards.

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Despite that progress, it's safe to say the Gators will struggle against the LSU defense, which boasts nationally known stars like LB Devin White, CB Greedy Williams and S Grant Delpit. LSU's brutal schedule plays a large role in its No. 5 national ranking, but it's worth noting that, for the defense specifically, the challenges haven't been as steep as they might first seem. The Tigers' big September wins came against a Miami team that has since replaced its quarterback with a redshirt freshman, and an Auburn squad that ranks 108th in the country in yards per play on offense (4.6). Florida is 28th at 6.1 YPP and the Gators should improve upon the 16 points they've scored against LSU in each of the last two seasons.

3. Like Florida, LSU's offense is also on an upward trajectory. That optimism was justified after last weekend, when quarterback Joe Burrow picked apart Ole Miss with 18-of-25 passing for 292 yards and three touchdowns—plus nine carries for 96 yards and another score—in a 45-16 blowout and was named SEC Player of the Week.

But a serious concern looms large for the Tigers: injuries along the offensive line. LSU has started five different offensive line combos in five games this season, and the bruises keep coming: Center Lloyd Cushenberry left the Ole Miss game with an injury. Orgeron said this week that he expects Cushenberry to play against Florida, and also that starting left tackle Saahdiq Charles should be back against the Gators after missing the past two games. But the degree to which those two (and other linemen) are banged up suggests pretty clearly that this OL is not at full strength.

That makes a meeting with Florida's defense extremely worrisome. The Gators defense is full of ballhawks, and the unit tied for first in the country with 14 takeaways. Florida makes things extremely difficult for opposing passers, ranking fifth nationally with an opponent completion percentage of 48.4%, and stifles offenses in obvious run situations. The Gators allow first downs on only 50% of third-and-short situations, the fifth-best mark in the country. Their 12.2% sack rate is fourth. If D-linemen like Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga (7.5 combined sacks) smell blood against a hobbled LSU offensive line, Burrow will have a long afternoon ahead of him.

Pick: Florida +2.5

Confidence: Very High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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