A new chapter of a classic cross-divisional rivalry gets written on Saturday night inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Before the Gators and Tigers take the field, the Alligator's sports editor Joseph Henry linked with the Reveille's sports editor Peter Rauterkus for this week's Know Your Enemy.
Both Florida and LSU enter this Saturday under new head coaches, what has been the general reception of Brian Kelly from the team, fans and the media?
Rauterkus: The response to Brian Kelly has largely been positive from both LSU fans and players. The team, both new and returning players, seem bought in with the new system in culture. A lot of that also had to do with the massive exodus of players that occurred when he first arrived. In terms of media, the people who cover LSU and are around the program everyday have a good understanding of the type of person and coach he is, but there has been some negativity thrown at him from the national media, some warranted and some not as warranted in my opinion. Overall, I think everyone around LSU believes in what he's doing, but also understands that this team isn't going to be a contender overnight.
Last week was a tough one for the Tigers, getting blown out at home by a very capable and top-10 Tennessee team. What positives can be drawn from the performance against the Volunteers, and how can LSU build off of those against Florida?
Rauterkus: It's hard to find many positives from the Tennessee game, but I think it was an overall humbling experience for LSU. I don't think LSU got worse or regressed against Tennessee, but I think they were exposed for a lot of the areas they were weak in and made mistakes in to this point in the season. I think that game allowed LSU to reset a little bit, and give them something to prove going into a tough road game against Florida.
The Gators offense has firmly rooted its identity in running the ball, what are the defining characteristics of the Tigers offense behind junior quarterback Jayden Daniels?
Rauterkus: LSU's offense is an interesting case, and I think it hasn't even scratched the surface yet of its potential. So far, it feels like LSU's identity on offense has shifted in almost every game. One thing that has been consistent, however, is that this offense plays better in the second half and towards the end of games. LSU's offensive line has been all over the place and will be using its sixth different starting combination on Saturday, but in multiple games this season, they've really been able to wear teams down towards the end of games.
With the pass offense, that has been a major topic of discussion for most of the season. LSU has one of the most talented wide receiver cores in the SEC, but that hasn't been on display yet. LSU has been bad in terms of explosive plays in the pass game and has struggled pushing the ball down the field. Jayden Daniels has been good using his legs and in the quick, short passing game, but hasn't yet shown an ability to throw the ball well downfield.
Overall, this LSU offense is talented, but is also inconsistent. They seem to be most effective when using tempo and getting the ball out quick in space, but there has also been some inconsistency in play calling. This offense can move the ball, and doesn't turn the ball over much, but it's also not an offense that will make a lot of big plays.
LSU has given up the fourth fewest yards per game and seventh fewest points per game in the Southeastern Conference this season. While the Tigers haven't been elite on defense, they are much better than Florida. What or who can that success be attributed to?
Rauterkus: Up until the Tennessee game, this defense was not far behind Georgia and Alabama statistically as one of the best defenses in the SEC. I think the biggest thing the Tennessee game exposed was LSU's lack of depth. LSU has some serious talent on defense, especially on the defensive line, but also has some depth concerns. The strength of the defensive line makes LSU especially good at stopping the run, but against Tennessee where that group was on the field longer and playing at such a fast pace, the lack of depth came back to bite them.
In the secondary is where LSU was exposed most last week. LSU completely rebuilt its secondary after losing its top four corners to the draft and transfer portal during the offseason. The staff rebuilt that unit through the transfer portal, with some solid players, but there were questions surrounding how they'd play against an elite receiving core. Those questions were answered last week, and not how LSU would've liked.
The biggest strength to this defense in my opinion is Defensive Coordinator Matt House. He was the linebackers coach for the Kansas City Chiefs last year and has LSU running an NFL-style defense. He has done a great job in scheming around certain flaws and had a particularly impressive game plan against Mississippi State.
Who are the names to know for LSU? Which playmakers do the Gators need to hone in on defense, and avoid on offense?
Rauterkus: On offense, there are a few players who I think could shine for LSU in this game. In the passing game, Kayshon Boutte was the big name coming into the year and he's still LSU's most talented receiver, but Malik Nabers has emerged as Daniels' favorite target. I think he'll see plenty of targets again in this game. More importantly, I think LSU's offensive success will have a lot to do with the run game. Here is where I can see John Emery Jr. being a key player in this game. Emery is a talented running back but hasn't seen a large chunk of the carries yet. He flashed against Auburn along with Josh Williams, and I think both will be impact players out of the backfield in this game.
On defense, LSU's front seven will be key. The two players I'd watch for, and probably LSU's two most talented players on defense are BJ Ojulari and Harold Perkins. Ojulari was named to the Preseason All-SEC First Team and has been one of the most productive edge rushers in the SEC so far this season. Perkins, a true freshman linebacker, is already much further along than many expected. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, but he's already one of LSU's best players on defense. How Florida plays on offense suits his skill set and I expect him to be all over the field on Saturday.
A new era of this rivalry gets underway Saturday, how do you see the game playing out and what is the final score?
Rauterkus: I expect this game to be very entertaining. Both teams come into the game in similar situations and with similar trajectories, creating an intriguing matchup. Talent-wise, I think LSU and Florida are about equal. I think Florida's offense is more dynamic and has an identity, but I think the way Florida plays on offense plays into the strengths of LSU's defense. I also think Florida's struggles stopping the run creates a favorable matchup for LSU. I think these two teams mirror each other, but the old saying "styles make fights" will apply in this game. I believe LSU will stay disciplined on offense and move the ball on the ground against Florida. Defensively, I think LSU will slow down the run game enough to force Anthony Richardson to beat LSU through the air, and I don't trust him to do that right now. I'm picking LSU to win a close, low-scoring game 24-21.
Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper.