GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The “SEC on CBS” bus rolled into town on Thursday and parked outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
You know what that means: there is a big game on Saturday.
The No. 10-ranked Gators host No. 4-ranked LSU in a game expected to have The Swamp rocking come Saturday afternoon. The game between two top 10 teams is the first such matchup at Florida Field since the Florida-LSU game in 2006.
The Gators won that day, 23-10, and went on to win their second national championship that season. A Florida win on Saturday might not establish the Gators as a national title contender, but it would provide a big boost to a program that has gained momentum in the first month of the season.
The Florida-LSU rivalry is one of the SEC’s best and the Tigers want to make it three in a row. The Gators want to start 5-0 for the first time since their undefeated regular season in 2009.
With the stage set, here are 10 things to watch in Saturday’s game:
The bye week came at a good time for the Gators. Florida coach Will Muschamp said some of the players battling nagging injuries would have likely had to miss the game if the Gators played a week ago.
However, the week off allowed linebacker Jelani Jenkins (thumb), F-Back Trey Burton (back), defensive end Dominique Easley (knee), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder), offensive lineman Chaz Green (ankle) and tight end Jordan Reed (head) time to recover. Muschamp expects all of them to play, including Jenkins, who has not played since he suffered a broken right thumb on Sept. 8 at Texas A&M.
Jenkins will wear a protective cast on the thumb but has been cleared to play.
One of the reasons Gators sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel beat out Jacoby Brissett for the starting job was because of his athletic ability. Driskel can get outside the pocket and make plays with his feet in the passing game and running game.
He should have ample opportunities to showcase those fast feet of his on Saturday.
Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said LSU’s defensive line is so quick at pressuring the quarterback that the Gators will need Driskel to move around rather than drop back seven yards and wait for his receivers to get open.
BATTLE IN TRENCHES
This is where Muschamp said the key to victory lies when you play a team as physical as LSU. Florida was outmuscled and manhandled a year ago at the line of scrimmage against the better SEC teams.
A revamped approach in the weight room and another year of experience have helped the Gators’ offensive and defensive lines hold their own through four games.
To come away with a win on Saturday, Florida’s veteran offensive linemen -- Xavier Nixon, James Wilson, Jon Harrison, Jon Halapio, Kyle Koehn, Sam Robey and Green – will need to stand up to the challenge.
If they can give Driskel time and open holes for running backs Mike Gillislee, Matt Jones and Mack Brown, Florida’s chances of a win increase significantly.
THE MAD HATTER
LSU coach Les Miles is known for his trickery with the English language and on the football field.
Miles isn’t afraid to pull a trick play out of his hat, a lesson the Gators have learned repeatedly over the years. Two years ago Miles called a fake field goal that set up LSU’s winning touchdown at The Swamp. A year ago he called a fake punt that went for a touchdown until punter Brad Wing was flagged for taunting.
The Gators understand that when facing LSU, you have to expect the unexpected at all times.
“Through the history of their program they've shown they're willing to take chances to win ballgames," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “You just have to be on it in terms of your communication and your job, keeping your eyes in the right spot.”
SWEATY (AND LOUD) SWAMP
Florida fans have waited two weeks for this game and with the Gators ranked in the top 10 for the first time since Muschamp took over the program, Gator Nation wants to see how Florida matches up with LSU.
While The Swamp is famous for its electricity at night, there should be no shortage of juice at kickoff Saturday afternoon. The last time the Gators had a home game with this much anticipation was last season’s contest against Alabama.
Both teams came in undefeated but the Crimson Tide rolled to a 28-point win, setting off a chain reaction that led to four consecutive Florida losses. The Gators and their fans aren’t interested in another winless October and a win over the Tigers could help soothe the memory of last October.
LSU’S LOADED BACKFIELD
The Tigers thumped the Gators time and time again last year in Baton Rouge. Much of the damage was done on the ground as LSU rolled up 238 yards rushing, led by Spencer Ware’s 109-yard day.
Ware is back and he’ll bring plenty of help with him. LSU is second in the SEC in rushing (229.6 yards per game) and features a deep backfield behind first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
“They're a team that really likes to run the ball and grind down a team and win the game in the third and fourth quarter,” Gators linebacker Jon Bostic said.
LSU’s backfield features leading rusher Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford, Jeremy Hill, 272-pound fullback J.C. Copeland and Ware to wear down opposing defenses.
In his first season as LSU’s starting quarterback, Mettenberger has been solid if not spectacular, completing 78 of 119 passes for 1,016 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Both interceptions came at the goal-line and Mettenberger also caught heat from Tigers fans for a couple of fumbles.
Admitting he is a little superstitious, Mettenberger shaved off his moustache on Monday to see if that might help the offense click more. The absent facial hair made news in Baton Rouge. We’ll find out on Saturday his superstition paid off or not.
MORE D.J. HUMPHRIES?
True freshman left tackle D.J. Humphries arrived at UF as one of the most coveted offensive line prospects in last year’s recruiting class. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Humphries saw his most playing time in the second half of Florida’s win over Kentucky two weeks ago when he took over for regular starter Xavier Nixon.
With LSU’s defensive line loaded with speed on the edges, Muschamp was asked this week if the quick and athletic Humphries might be ready for a starting role. He didn’t rule it out.
“Whoever practices the best will play,’’ Muschamp said.
A CLOSE GAME
The Gators are considered the underdog despite playing at home, but based on those in the prediction business, most expect a close game.
“This game is as tough as it gets to call,’’ wrote ESPN Insider Scouts Inc. For the record, they picked LSU 21-19.
While LSU has dropped a couple of spots in the polls recently, the Tigers have as much talent as any team on Florida’s schedule. Meanwhile, the Gators already have three SEC wins, including road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee. This is a much-improved Florida team than the one that lost by 30 a year ago at Tiger Stadium.
FLORIDA’S PASS RUSH
There has been a lot said and written about LSU’s talented defensive line this week. However, the Gators’ defensive line could be the difference if it can pressure Mettenberger and force him into mistakes the way the Gators did against Tennessee’s Tyler Bray three weeks ago.
Florida has managed only five sacks in four games, tied with Mississippi State for last in the league. Still, LSU starting left tackle Chris Faulk (knee) is out and his replacement, Josh Dworaczyk, allowed a sack in the first quarter at Auburn.
Gators buck Lerentee McCray is the most likely to cause LSU concern. McCray’s hit on Bray led to a Matt Elam interception in the second half at Tennessee.
No. 10 Florida (4-0, 3-0 in SEC) vs. No. 4 LSU (5-0, 1-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)
TV: CBS – Verne Lundquist (play-by-play), Gary Danielson (analyst) and Tracy Wolfson (sideline)
Internet: CBSSports.com live stream
Bottom line: This is a great opportunity for the Gators to make a statement on a national stage. A win over a physical LSU team could be a turning point for the Gators under Muschamp, who since the day he arrived has talked about building the kind of blue-collar, tough-and-physical program that has made LSU and Alabama so successful the past few seasons.