Florida did not expect to see an LSU team coming off two straight lackluster performances, and I don't think y'all did, either. What were the main causes of LSU's stumbles against Auburn and Towson?
Turnovers and red zone inefficiency. Last year, LSU could overcome a rather pedestrian offense because the offense never turned the ball over (okay, 10 times), and they finished drives. When the defense made a big play and gave the offense good field position, the offense scored points. This year, the offense has proven more capable of moving the football, but now suffers from the kind of self-inflicted wounds we didn't see last year. An LSU running back hadn't lost a fumble in over a year until the Towson game, in which the unit made up for lost time: all three of LSU's primary runners all fumbled the ball against Towson.
Even worse has been the team's performance in the red zone. LSU ranks 93rd in the country in red zone conversions, only scoring 76% of the time. LSU only scores a touchdown 56% of the time it crosses the 20. That's just horrible. There's no way to spin that. LSU isn't taken care of the football and they aren't taking advantage of their opportunities. Both of these issues are incredibly fixable, it's just a matter of fixing them.
Zach Mettenberger hasn't been quite the sort of quarterback a lot of observers expected him to be. What are his strengths and weaknesses, and could he still be that QB in time?
Honestly, I'm not that worried about Mettenberger other than his internal clock. He stands in the pocket too long, which leads to sacks and fumbles. He seems to cough the ball up a lot, just because he's busy getting hit from the blindside. Get rid of the football, man.
We're pretty familiar with what bad quarterback play looks like in Baton Rouge, and Mettenberger is clearly a better player than the guys who have been manning the position since Matt Flynn left town. He puts zip on the ball, actually can hit players in stride, and generally looks like a quarterback. He sometimes has a little bit too much confidence, trying to make throws he probably shouldn't attempt, but I'd rather see errors of action than inaction, at this point.
What's killing him right now is that LSU's receivers have been awful. When Odell Beckham is making tweets about making it up to Tiger fans, you know it's not going well. Mettenberger doesn't have a reliable target right now except maybe Kadron Boone. His numbers would look a lot better if LSU receivers would just catch the damn ball.
The LSU defensive line is, frankly, terrifying. What three players should Florida fans be most worried about, and what guy no one knows about might make a few big plays on Saturday?
Sam Montgomery. Keke Mingo. (Anthony) Freak Johnson. We could go on, because it's not like Bennie Logan, Lavar Edwards, or Ego Ferguson are chopped liver. and this gets to the real strength of LSU's line: its staggering depth. LSU's second-team defensive line could start for about 95% of the teams in the country. Even when Mingo is getting a breather, Edwards has come in and made big play after big play. There's no drop off, and its just relentless.
Everything LSU does on defense starts with the line, and Miles rightfully has confidence in every guy in the two deep. LSU rotates guys to keep the stars fresh, so the backups almost play as much as the starters. It's a pin-your-ears-back-and-attack kind of group.
However, despite the talent on the line, they tend to funnel the tackles to the linebackers, who get to make the big hits. Chavis has given a lot of playing time to the freshmen, trying to create the same kind of depth in the LB core that he has on the line. Watch for a guy like Kwon Alexander or Deion Jones make an unexpected impact. They won't be stars this year, but you can see the germ of stardom in them.
There's been some discussion around our parts about how the Florida-LSU series isn't really a rivalry, yet still manages to be one of the best games on the schedule every year. Do you feel the same? How would you feel about losing the series to SEC schedule rejiggering?
I would drive to the SEC offices and try to stab anyone who got rid of this series. This is perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to LSU, having a permanent rival who is almost always great. It sets the tone for the season and makes us raise our game.
There's too much schedule manipulation and ducking of big games in college football right now. I want no part of it. I want big games against great teams. Florida fits the bill. Let lesser programs whine about how tough their schedules are or how unfair their permanent rival is. Florida and LSU don't care. We'll beat whoever they tell us to play.
That said, I don't get a "rivalry" vibe from this game. (Ed's. note: Knew it!) I don't hate Florida or its fans like I hate, say, Auburn or Alabama. Actually, I rather enjoy Gainesville and The Swamp is my favorite non-LSU venue in the SEC. I tend to think Florida and LSU fans are cut from the same hard-partying, hard-playing cloth, so I've never had a real problem with y'all.
We just play great games year in and year out. What could be better? No BS. No fake drama. Just two really good programs trying to beat each other every year. I love it, even if I wouldn't call it a rivalry.
I'll put you on the spot: Got a score prediction?
Just about anything can happen in this game, and often does. Making a prediction on LSU-Florida is like trying to grab air: you're just going to look silly. But I think LSU will play a lot more focused than it did against Towson or Auburn and come away with a hard fought win. LSU 24, Florida 20. No jump passes this time.
Thanks again to Poseur for some awesome answers.