This weekend is an opportunity for LSU to come out and put a temporary hault to all of the outside noise surrounding the program. But the Tigers will have to go through a very tricky Florida team Saturday morning.
The Gators have lost two conference games and are in a very critical crossroads of their 2021 season. We caught up with AllGators publisher Zach Goodall to get more of an insider's perspective on what Florida has looked like in recent weeks and how the Gators can attack the Tigers' weaknesses.
1. Florida has been a tricky team to figure out this year. One week it’s taking Alabama to the final play and the next it’s making costly mistakes against Kentucky. Where would you assess the state of the program in year four under Dan Mullen?
A: I think it's the same as it has been, as weird as that might sound. Remember, even though the team reached new highs in year three by reaching the SEC Championship, Florida was upset on the road against Texas A&M and at home against a struggling LSU team. Yet, UF was seven points away from a College Football Playoff berth at the end of SEC play, in all likelihood.
This is a theme under Dan Mullen. His teams are always a threat to knock off top programs and he can call a masterful gameplan when he feels the pressure to do so. But at the same time, the Gators tend to lose a game or two every season that they're supposed to win under his watch.
In my opinion, although several factors contribute to these losses, the biggest issue is the talent gap as UF has not recruited at the level it is expected to since Mullen's arrival. Even when teams like LSU go through a down-season, they have a chance against UF due to the talent on their rosters.
2. It really looks like this offense is flowing through Emory Jones. He leads the team in rushing and has improved with his arm the last three weeks as well. Where has been some of the growth with Jones this year and how can his skill set be best used to attack LSU this weekend?
A: A lot of Florida fans wouldn't agree with your assessment, but I do. He's no Kyle Trask but Jones has consistently improved this season as a passer, anticipating reads better each week and making timely, accurate throws in the short-to-intermediate levels of the field. Deep passing has been a concern, but against Vanderbilt (although it's important to keep the opponent in mind), Jones completed 4-of-5 passes of 20+ yards for 191 yards and a touchdown, per PFF.
And as you mentioned, Jones is a legitimate threat on the ground. That doesn't need much further explanation.
I clamored for Mullen to expand upon play-action calls after the loss to Kentucky to open up the deep passing game and it seems like he listened, because Jones was lights out on such concepts on Saturday and actually ran more play-action than traditional drop-backs. It was against Vanderbilt, keep in mind, but the progress was evident. I'd figure Mullen and Jones will continue to build upon that strategy against LSU and future opponents.
3. Led by two phenomenal edge rushers, Florida’s defense has been relatively consistent all season. What makes Carter and Cox such a lethal combination and who are a few other names to know about on this defense?
A: Carter in particular has been lights out, combining size and strength with impressive athleticism to bully offensive linemen en route to the quarterback. He makes his money off the edge, but he is more than capable of flexing inside and rushing from the tackle position. Cox remains flashy, much like last season, but has been dealing with injuries dating back to the summer which has limited his ability to make plays consistently. He creates a lot of pressure, but must finish plays more often.
Obviously, Kaiir Elam is a name to keep on as he contests Derek Stingley as the best cornerback in the nation - although, Elam has missed the past three games with a knee sprain. Freshman corner Jason Marshall has filled Elam's role nicely, however, and could start opposite of the Preseason All-American if Elam is able to suit up against the Tigers.
4. It’s rare in this series for either team to have a winning streak. How motivated is this Florida team to end that two game losing streak in Baton Rouge?
A: I'd imagine they're extremely motivated, not as much from losing to the Tigers last year but by how they lost the game. This Florida team - specifically on defense - is far more mature and in unison than last year's squad. You won't see a player throw the opposition's shoe across the field or anything similar in this matchup: The Gators will cross their Ts and dot their Is in order to secure a victory in Baton Rouge.
5. How do you see this game playing out?
A: I think LSU will cover the current 10-point spread considering how Florida fared in its first true road test of the year against Kentucky - crowd noise can and will throw the offense off at times. That being said, Florida is the better team right now in my opinion and is far less injury-plagued. I thought UF's defense would play better against Max Johnson than it did a year ago before Kayshon Boutte's injury was ruled season-ending, which only gives Florida a bigger edge. Give me the Gators, 28-20.