LSU may have lost to Troy last weekend, but Florida coach Jim McElwain isn’t letting his guard down.
“They're just trying to set the Gators up, right?” McElwain said Wednesday. “These guys will be coming in here crazed, nuts, ready to go to prove all the naysayers (wrong).”
But while McElwain’s keeping his guard up for the Tigers, he’s looking to his defensive line to knock LSU’s guards down on Saturday.
The matchup between Florida’s front four and the Tigers’ offensive line will be an especially important one this weekend. In last year’s matchup between the two units, LSU dominated the line of scrimmage and turned that dominance into 237 rushing yards against the Gators.
“They got guys who can flat run,” McElwain said. “We’re going to have to be disciplined.”
Florida’s gradually gotten better at stopping its opponents on the ground this season. After letting Michigan rack up 215 rushing yards in Week 1, UF held Vanderbilt to just 46 yards in Week 5.
To stop the run, a team needs solid play from defensive tackles, which Florida has gotten from Taven Bryan and Khairi Clark. Unfortunately for Florida, Clark’s been bothered by a calf injury recently and only played about 19 snaps against Vanderbilt, according to McElwain.
“I don't think he was himself,” McElwain said. “He gutted it out, but obviously didn’t play the amount of plays that he has.”
When Clark was off the field, McElwain had a pleasant surprise in production from a group he’s affectionately named the “Bam-Bam Twins,” made up of freshmen Kyree Campbell, Elijah Conliffe, Zachary Carter and Tedarrell Slaton.
“We had some young guys in there that I thought did an outstanding job plugging up the middle, taking away the run,” McElwain said.
All except Carter saw time on the field against Vanderbilt, but one was particularly hard to miss. Slaton, a 6-foot-4, 358-pound tackle, made his presence felt with two tackles, one resulting in a two-yard loss in UF’s 38-24 win over the Commodores.
“(The) Bam-Bam Twins … they're going to have to get in there with some pad level and play against some really good players,” McElwain said. “That's going to be a big challenge on those guys.”
One position group that’s proven it can handle the challenge are Florida’s defensive ends. Jabari Zuniga, CeCe Jefferson, Jachai Polite and Jordan Sherit have been able to wreak havoc in opposing backfields, totaling eight sacks between the four of them.
“The rotation at the defensive end spot for us has worked out,” McElwain said. “We’ve been able to keep guys fresh and those guys are really competing.”
Jefferson has averaged one tackle for loss per game and was even awarded SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Kentucky.
Jefferson and the rest of Florida’s front four can capitalize on their pass-rushing success this weekend against LSU quarterback Danny Etling, who is only completing 20 percent of his passes under pressure, according to SEC Film Room.
And through the first month of the season, Florida’s ends are showing they have the ability to do so.
“I think they’ve learned to go with speed and when to go with speed to power, things like that,” McElwain said. “That’s been the first part of the season here. We’ve gotta keep putting it on film.”
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