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After blowout loss in 2011, Gators football ready for second chance

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Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 1:18 am, Fri Oct 5, 2012.

Hunter Joyer feels he has something to prove.

The sophomore will play a top-five LSU team for the second time in his career. The first time didn’t go as planned.

Then-No. 17 Florida couldn’t contend with the physicality of the No. 1 team in the nation. The Tigers cruised to a 30-point victory in Baton Rouge, La.

“A lot of people still doubt us and don’t really believe in this Florida team, so I think we need to make a statement this weekend,” he said.

No. 10 Florida (4-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) gets another shot to avenge its recent shortcomings against No. 4 LSU (5-0, 1-0 SEC) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

UF lost 33-29 against LSU at home two years ago.

“I feel we’re 10 times better at least,” Joyer said. “We’re a better team — together and as individuals.”

The Tigers outgained the Gators on the ground by 125 yards during their game on Oct. 8 last season, contributing to an 11-minute, 20-second advantage in time of possession. LSU held the ball for more than 24 minutes in the second half.

“It was a game for us that when you look back, that is a hard one to go and watch,” Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “They did a good job of coaching and playing and running it, and we didn’t.”

Florida’s loss continued an October losing streak that eventually spanned the entire month. The Gators were outscored 120-47 by their four conference opponents.

“We thought we prepared pretty well [against LSU], and coming out and losing in the way we did really hurt,” Joyer said. “We lost some games after that. That was the start of it, the LSU game.”

Different circumstances surround the Gators this season. UF entered its game against LSU last season missing both its starting quarterback and a consistent inside running game. Florida also lacked depth along the offensive and defensive lines.

With Jeff Driskel under center, LSU coach Les Miles sees an improved UF offense.

“It’s night and day,” Miles said. “When you have a quarterback that understands what his role is and what he’s supposed to do, it just makes an offense more productive.”

Florida ranks third in the SEC in rushing with 225 yards per game. The Gators have eclipsed 200 yards on the ground in every game except their matchup against Texas A&M on Sept. 8. Florida did that just twice before playing LSU last season.

“We can run the ball pretty good this year versus last year,” guard Jon Halapio said. “I feel pretty good going into the game.”

Because of UF’s glaring lack of depth, coach Will Muschamp couldn’t run physical practices last season for fear of losing players to injury.

“We weren’t physical enough on either side of the line of scrimmage,” Muschamp said. “We didn’t have enough depth on defense. You look at late in games, we were unable to stop the run against good teams. Because of our lack of depth … we’ve got 300-pounders playing 75 and 80 snaps in the game.”

Better depth has kept Florida’s linemen healthy.

Right tackle Chaz Green is expected to play against LSU after missing the last two games with a right ankle sprain.

Defensive end Dominique Easley, who has been dealing with swelling in his left knee, is ready to go heading into Saturday’s game, Quinn said.

Florida’s depth gets an added boost with the return of junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who is expected to play with a cast on his fractured right thumb. The coaching staff envisions 20-30 snaps for Jenkins against LSU.

“That certainly was important for us to get him back and be in the fold,” Quinn said. “Knowing that we’re going to play a bunch of guys on defense like we have, this is certainly one for us at linebacker and at defensive line that we need to be at our best.”

Saturday’s matchup between Florida and LSU will mark the first time the two teams have played in Gainesville while ranked in the top 10 since 2006.

The Gators know the obstacle ahead. After suffering two straight losses to LSU, Florida is ready for a change.

“For the players, there’s no bigger week than Florida and LSU in this kind of environment,” Quinn said. “It’s why all those guys came, why we come here to coach. ... We can’t wait for the fight.”

Contact Adam Pincus at apincus@alligator.org.

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