Even in the midst of backup quarterback Treon Harris being accused of sexual assault against a UF student on Sunday morning, as well as reserve quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg and defensive lineman Gerald Willis fighting over a pair of cleats on Monday, Florida still has a football game against LSU to worry about this week. Here are five points the Gators need to focus on heading into their game against the Tigers on Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
1.) Florida needs to run the ball — and run it a lot: The Tigers are ranked dead last in the Southeastern Conference in run defense, giving up an average of 184.3 yards on the ground per game. LSU has surrendered 600 rushing yards in its two SEC games — losses to Mississippi State and Auburn.
While Florida fans want to see the excitement in the offense that comes with the passing game, this is the opportunity for running back Matt Jones — who already has two games with at least 100 rushing yards — to have another breakout performance and for sophomore Kelvin Taylor to come out of his early-season slump.
2.) The Gators have to stop the Tigers’ run game: LSU is arguably as deep at running back as any team in the SEC. The Tigers have utilized a four-headed monster in the backfield with Leonard Fournette, Kenny Hilliard, Darrel Williams and Terrence Magee. All four have at least 37 rushing attempts and 167 yards this season and have accounted for 13 of LSU’s 27 touchdowns on offense.
But in LSU’s three games against teams with top-25 run defenses this year (Wisconsin, 22nd; Mississippi State, 11th; Auburn, 13th), the Tigers have been limited to just 142.7 yards per game.
The Gators come into the game with the 15th best run defense in the country, giving up just 103 rushing yards per game.
Outside of its 42-21 loss to Alabama, during which the Crimson Tide tallied 223 yards rushing alone, Florida’s opponents have been held to no more than 81 yards on the ground each game.
3.) Dural has to be contained: Travin Dural has excelled early on in his third year with LSU. After recording 7 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in 2013, the redshirt sophomore wide receiver leads the Tigers with 574 receiving yards, which is second only to Alabama’s Amari Cooper in the SEC. Florida’s secondary, which limited Tennessee to just 205 yards through the air on Saturday, will need to do more of the same against LSU.
The combination of Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor on the outside need to contain the vertical game like they did against the Volunteers, and the Gators need to improve in slot coverage.
4.) Third downs will be crucial: One game after converting just two third downs in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Florida improved on its third-down offense against Tennessee on Saturday, converting 35-percent of its attempts.
UF will need to continue moving the chains on third down and maintain drives against the Tigers.
In Florida’s first two games of the season — a 65-0 win against Eastern Michigan and a 36-30, triple-overtime win against Kentucky to open SEC play — the Gators sustained 12 drives of at least 50 yards. In the two games since, Florida’s longest drive went for 49 yards, a drive against Tennessee that set up Austin Hardin’s game-winning field goal.
LSU is seventh in the SEC in opponent’s third-down conversion (30.2 percent), so if Florida wants a chance to revitalize its up-tempo offense that seems to have been lost as of late, now would be the time to see how it fares.
That success will rely, in part, on the Gators’ receivers improving against the Tigers.
Between overthrown passes by Driskel and dropped balls by the receivers themselves, the connection needs to start happening.
Quinton Dunbar has just five receptions in the past three games after hauling in five catches against Eastern Michigan alone. Demarcus Robinson — who had a program-high-tying 15 catches against Kentucky — has only four total receptions against Alabama and Tennessee.
Those low totals can’t continue if Florida wants success.
5.) The pass rush needs to keep its momentum from the Tennessee game going: UF found life on its defensive line against Tennessee.
Heading into Knoxville, Tenn., Florida’s defense had just six sacks through its first three games of the season.
But after facing the Volunteers, the Gators’ sack total doubled. Redshirt sophomore Bryan Cox Jr. set the pace for the defensive line, tallying a career-high three sacks and five solo tackles.
Florida put constant pressure on UT quarterback Justin Worley, and the six sacks tied for the most UF had in a single game since Will Muschamp took the program’s helm in 2011.
The last time it happened?
Florida’s 24-17 win against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl on Jan 2, 2012 — the only bowl game Florida has won in the Muschamp era.
Follow Jordan McPherson on Twitter @J_McPherson1126
Quinton Dunbar runs a route during Florida's 10-9 win against Tennessee on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.