Offense using poor 2018 performance against Gators as fuel for a much different outcome on Saturday

Glen West

It was a difficult outing for Joe Burrow and the LSU offense against Florida in 2018. The score was 20-19 with 1:45 to go in the fourth quarter, a perfect season hanging in the balance.

Burrow dropped back on 3rd-and-4, looked to Stephen Sullivan on a short out route. The route was jumped by Gator defensive back Brad Stewart who took it 25 yards to the house, a play that essentially put the game away.

It was a gut punch for Burrow and the offense, with the now senior quarterback remembering the opportunities that were lost throughout that game. 

"We had an opportunity to put them away early," Burrow said. "We just let them keep hanging in there until they ultimately beat us. We're going to have to come out firing and keep it going the whole game."

That's the mindset of where this offense is, oozing with confidence and not letting the past affect this season and the common goals each player has in 2019.

"We don't really think too much about last year," Burrow said. "We're going to go back and study it and see what they did, see what worked but we're not going to dwell on it."

In a vacuum, the offensive statistics through five games rank not only among the best in the SEC, but rather the entire country. In fact, no offense in SEC history has put up the numbers LSU's 2019 offense has through five games.

The offense ranks No. 1 in scoring offense (58.7), red zone offense and third down conversions, an area that a year ago, the team struggled mightily in. The Tigers also rank No. 2 in total offense, passing offense and team completion percentage, though Burrow is No. 1 in that category at over 78 percent individually.

Even with those elite numbers being recorded on a weekly basis, the Tiger offense has faced nothing like the Florida Gator defense in 2019. The Gators are second in the nation in sacks while ranking in the top-20 in total defense.

"They're the best defense we've played and it's not even close," Burrow said. "They have first round guys all around the field and they play really hard. They're confident in their scheme and you can tell that by how fast they play. It's going to be a really good challenge for us and a stepping stone for where we want to get too."

Senior center Lloyd Cushenberry also remembers the sting of last season's loss to the Gators, so much so that he printed out the stats from last year's game and posted them on every offensive lineman's locker. 

The stats, were ugly as the Tigers allowed 11 tackles for a loss, five sacks and eight pressures against the Florida defense in 2018. 

"It's just a little bit of extra motivation to avoid the same thing repeating itself this year," Cushenberry said. "They've been stuck in my head for a while because I know that game last year was on us as a group. The majority of the problems came with us on the o-line and we took accountability, moved on and got better."

On Saturday, the offensive line will have something it didn't have for the majority of last season, depth. With junior left tackle Saahdiq Charles expected to return to the starting lineup and guard Ed Ingram ready to fill in whenever needed, this offensive line is as healthy and talented as its been in quite some time.

"We have a lot more confidence and pretty much everyone is back," Cushenberry said. "It's no excuse but we had a young group in a hostile environment last year and I feel like this year we have a more potent offense and it's going to be a battle."

Cushenberry said one of the important keys to Saturday's game will be to establish the run game early to keep the Gator defense on its toes. LSU had its best performance of the season last week against Utah State, rushing for 248 yards while averaging five yards a carry.

The performances by freshmen running backs John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price were particularly encouraging as the two combined for 98 yards on the ground, their highest total of the season.

"We have to get the running game going early," Cushenberry said. "We need to try and avoid third and long situations because we don't want their pass rush to get in a rhythm. As far as the run blocking, we're getting there but this is going to be a big test for us and we look forward to the matchup and proving a lot of people wrong."

For Burrow, converting in the redzone and on third downs will ultimately decide who wins on Saturday. The Tiger offense is 27-for-27 in the redzone this season with 22 touchdowns to five field goals. LSU is also converting on 54 percent of its third down conversions in 2019.

"The longer you can stay on the field, the better chance you have at scoring," Burrow said. "They have a really good third down package for us. They mix it up, bring pressure where you don't expect so we're going to have to study that."

As Saturday looms closer, the LSU players are ready for another top-10 matchup in Death Valley, knowing the importance of a game like this to the fans, the school and most importantly, among each other. 

"All those Cajuns are sure going to show up on Saturday and I'm excited to see it," Burrow said. "I don't need any more motivation than a night game, 5 vs 7 to kind of propel yourself into the national title conversation."