GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators open a three-game stretch against nonconference opponents, starting Saturday when Louisiana visits.
In their former life, the Ragin' Cajuns were known as Louisiana-Lafayette, and based on Twitter comments and emails this week, not everyone got the news. So there goes that.
Thankfully the school kept the Ragin' Cajuns nickname, one of the best in the country in the view of this scribe.
The Ragin' Cajuns also have a pretty good offense. In their 40-24 win over Louisiana-Monroe last week, they had seven drives of 70 or more yards.
Florida's defense, ranked fifth nationally, is allowing only 286.9 yards per game. Louisiana's offense is similar to the one Florida faced a week ago in a 14-7 win over Missouri.
"This is another offense that we’re going to see a lot of three and four or open receiver sets,” Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “Fortunately for us this year we’ve seen some of those type of offenses, counting Missouri and Texas A&M, new to the SEC that maybe doesn’t play the same style that we’ve been accustomed to."
This is the fifth meeting in school history between the programs, the last coming in 1996 when the Gators beat the Ragin' Cajuns 55-21.
With the stage set, let's take a look at 10 things to watch in Saturday's game:
The Gators' lack of a consistent passing game has been well documented. The Gators are last in the SEC with 140.1 yards per game.
That average could take a turn north against a Louisiana defense that allows 294.6 yards per game through the air.
The Gators are without injured receivers Solomon Patton (broken arm) and Andre Debose (knee), so look for tight end Jordan Reed to get several balls thrown his way as usual.
Perhaps as much as anything, the Gators would like to get the passing game going the next two weeks before heading to Tallahassee to close the regular season against Florida State's high-powered defense.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel hasn't thrown for more than 200 yards in the past five games, but if the line gives him time to throw, he's on target and the receivers make catches, that streak could easily end on Saturday.
BROADWAY AND CO.
Louisiana quarterback Terrence Broadway is coming off a monster game, throwing for 373 yards and rushing for 87 in a win over Louisiana-Monroe. If the name sounds familiar, Broadway started his career at Houston and led the Cougars to a win over UCLA in 2010 when Cougars starting quarterback Case Keenum went down with an injury.
Broadway has help in running back Alonzo Harris, Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2011, and receiver Jamal Robinson, who has back-to-back 100-yard games.
The Ragin' Cajuns racked up 607 yards of total offense in the win over Monroe and average 435.5 yards per game.
"Any team that can do that, you've definitely got to pay attention to,'' Gators linebacker Jelani Jenkins said.
Don't expect the Gators to hang out in the locker room too long after the game. Driskel said he plans to go find a TV and watch the Georgia-Auburn game on Saturday night (ESPN2, 7 p.m.)
It's a long shot, but if host Auburn can upset the Bulldogs, the Gators will claim the SEC East title and a berth in the SEC Championship Game.
Florida rebounded from its 17-9 loss to Georgia two weeks ago in Jacksonville with a win over Missouri, finishing 7-1 in the SEC a year after going 3-5. The Bulldogs are 6-1 in the SEC and with a win over 2-7 Auburn on Saturday can start packing for Atlanta.
The annual homecoming game always carries a little extra significance and this one is no different.
The Gators are 5-0 at home this season and look to close out the home schedule with wins over Louisiana and Jacksonville State to go undefeated at The Swamp for the first time since 2009.
The Gators were a combined 9-5 at home the past two years, including a loss to Mississippi State on Homecoming in 2010.
The Gators are 64-22-2 all-time on Homecoming and knocked off Vanderbilt 26-21 a year ago.
The sophomore fullback doesn't rack up a lot of statistics, but Florida coach Will Muschamp reminded everyone of how important Joyer is for the Gators when he named him one of the team's offensive players of the week against Missouri.
Joyer is a bulldozer of a blocker for tailbacks Mike Gillislee, Matt Jones and Mack Brown (ankle, out) and is one of the Gators' top performers in the weight room.
He might not get a carry or catch a pass on Saturday, but if you want to see what Muschamp sees, check out No. 41 for a few plays on Saturday.
HEALTHY OFFENSIVE LINE
Florida's offensive line has taken a beating the past couple of weeks. By the end of last week's win over Missouri, three regular starters were out.
Muschamp said to expect starting left tackle Xavier Nixon to return after missing the Missouri game due to a knee injury, and that starting left guard James Wilson (knee) and right guard Jon Halapio (ankle) practiced this week after leaving the Missouri game due to injuries.
One factor missing for the Gators the past couple of seasons has been a dynamic playmaker. When the Gators went a combined 26-2 in 2008 and 2009, their roster was filled with players that could single-handedly change the complexion of a game the way Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones did two weeks ago.
Safety Matt Elam is perhaps Florida's most consistent dangerous player, but sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy has emerged as a difference maker too.
Purifoy blocked a field goal against Missouri and has been spectacular as the gunner on the punt coverage team. He occasionally lines up at receiver and has showed an ability to make a nice catch when he caught Kyle Christy's punt on the fly last week inside Missouri's 10-yard line.
Muschamp calls Purifoy the Gators' most physical corner and he seems to get better each and every game.
While Driskel has come under scrutiny for holding onto the ball too long and not making decisions fast enough in the pocket, the Gators' lack passing yards can be traced to several factors.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease this week mentioned drops as one of the issues. Several receivers have dropped well-thrown passes from Driskel and Pease said it's an area the Gators continue to work on in practice.
Also, the Gators could add freshman receivers Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades into the mix more offensively if they decided to throw more Saturday. Both Pittman and Andrades have played regularly but mostly as blockers.
TURNOVER TIDE CONTINUES
The Gators have improved significantly in Year 2 under Muschamp in creating turnovers. The Gators forced just 14 turnovers a year ago and finished last in the SEC in turnover margin.
This season Florida has forced 22 turnovers, including four interceptions against Missouri.
With Broadway expected to throw the ball around Saturday, Florida's secondary should be active. The Gators have forced a turnover in seven consecutive games and now have an SEC-best 15 interceptions, led by three apiece from Elam and cornerback Jaylen Watkins.
PACKING THE PRESSURE
Buck linebacker/defensive end Lerentee McCray (ankle) is expected back in the lineup after not playing last week.
While McCray has been perhaps the Gators' most consistent pass rusher, they did fine without him last week because true freshmen defensive linemen Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard harassed Tigers quarterback James Franklin consistently.
Fowler and Bullard are showing signs of developing into excellent pass rushers, and with Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd healthy, Florida's defensive line appears to be developing some nice chemistry late in the season.
Senior running back Mike Gillislee needs 203 yards to become Florida's first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. Gillislee downplayed any importance in that milestone this week, saying that as long as Florida finished strong, he would be content.
Gillislee hasn't had a 100-yard game since his 146-yard outburst against LSU on Oct. 6. In fact, he hasn't cracked 80 yards in the past four games.
That changes on Saturday.
Louisiana (5-3) at No. 7 Florida (8-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, 12:21 p.m. (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)
TV: SEC Network – Mike Morgan (play-by-play), Chris Doering (analyst)
Bottom line: The Gators are heavy favorites but can't expect to simply show up and win. The Ragin' Cajuns have an offense that will test Florida's defense at times. Still, the Gators have ample talent to improve to 6-0 at home.