BATON ROUGE, La. -- The LSU-Florida game is never boring.
In Gators coach Will Muschamp's first two seasons, Florida's annual showdown against its SEC West rival played out as differently as Metallica and Barry Manilow go about making music.
Florida suffered a 41-11 loss at LSU in Muschamp's first season in 2011; a year ago in Gainesville, the Gators pounded their way to a 14-6 victory, running the ball 25 consecutive times to close out a signature win for Muschamp.
On paper, Saturday's matchup at Tiger Stadium is an intriguing one.
The Gators come in with three consecutive SEC wins since quarterback Tyler Murphy took over. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger suddenly looks like Drew Brees.
If you listen to the pundits, the difference in this one could be Florida's defense. Mettenberger has yet to face a defense like the Gators, who lead the SEC in every major statistical category.
"I don't think anybody in the country is playing better defense than we are," Florida defensive tackle Darious Cummings said. "We haven't even reached our max yet, so I feel we just have that relentless effort and we're not taking no for an answer. We get challenged week in and week out to be the best."
They will certainly be challenged on Saturday.
While LSU's offense is executing at a high level, you always know Tigers coach Les Miles has a trick or two up his sleeve.
Miles has seen enough of Florida's defense to offer at least one reason for the Gators' success.
"They don't give up big plays,'' he said.
Big plays have been Mettenberger's best friend. He has thrown 15 touchdown passes and eight of those strikes are for 15 or more yards.
Florida's defense versus LSU's offense is a matchup everyone will watch closely Saturday. But if history has taught us anything, it's that the LSU-Florida game is always full of surprises.
We'll find out what they are here on Saturday afternoon.
For now, let's take a look at the LSU-Florida matchup with The Opening Kickoff:
Five Storylines to Watch
The Gators are tied with Georgia atop the SEC East and need a win to keep pace. Florida is in much better position to challenge the Tigers than their last trip to Baton Rouge. Murphy has made a smooth transition since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel, and Florida's SEC-leading defense has not allowed more than 275 yards in a game this season.
LSU is averaging 45.5 points per game under first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who was head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2007. Quarterback Mettenbergerleads the SEC with 1,738 yards passing and 15 touchdowns. Mettenberger versus Florida's talented and deep secondary could determine the outcome.
An interesting backdrop to Saturday's game is that LSU is honoring its 2003 national championship team coached by Nick Saban. Muschamp was the defensive coordinator and was contacted about joining the festivities. He declined and would like nothing more than to quiet the celebration with a victory.
In two games since the loss of starting defensive tackle Dominique Easley, the Gators have held up strong in the middle. The foursome of Jonathan Bullard, Leon Orr, Damien Jacobs and Darious Cummings has prevented Easley's loss from becoming a major storyline. That likely will need to continue for the Gators to come out with a win against LSU's potent run game.
A lot is being made of LSU's offensive resurgence under Cameron and rightly so. However, the Tigers defense, consistently among the nation's best the past several years, is seventh in the league. LSU is surrendering 367 yards per game and is not as experienced as recent years, which could provide Murphy and Co. some shots at big plays.
Cast of Characters
How will Murphy react to what is certain to be a rabid and hostile crowd at Tiger Stadium? The redshirt junior has completed 72 percent of his passes and thrown for five touchdowns and only one interception since taking over for Driskel. If Murphy needs any advice on what to expect, he can check in with offensive graduate assistant Chris Leak, who dealt LSU its only loss in 2003 with a 19-7 win at Tiger Stadium.
Hello Loucheiz Purifoy. Florida's junior cornerback had perhaps the best game of his career in Florida's 30-10 win over Arkansas. Purifoy gave the Gators a lead with a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown, and prior to that, he recorded a sack, forced fumble and pass breakup. Purifoy will play a factor Saturday as much as LSU likes to throw the ball.
Mettenberger's success is not by accident. He is throwing to one of the nation's top receiving tandems in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Beckham is averaging 114.3 yards receiving per game with six touchdowns; Landry is averaging 102.7 yards per game and has caught seven touchdowns.
LSU tailback Jeremy Hill had a tumultuous offseason but that has not hurt his production on the field. Hill is second in the league in rushing with 594 yards and is averaging 7.5 yards per carry with nine touchdowns. Hill and reserves Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee will test Florida's run defense.
If the game is close and Florida needs a field goal, well, Muschamp might face a difficult decision. Kicker Austin Hardin has struggled (4 of 8) and was benched in favor of Brad Phillips after a blocked field goal against Arkansas. Phillips made his first field-goal attempt but later missed an extra point.
The Quote File
"We’re capable of scoring whatever we have to. That’s what we’ve got to have the mentality of. Our kids will rise to the occasion. It’s not like we can’t or shouldn’t do it." -- Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease on potential of an offensive shootout
"What he’s doing is facilitating victory. So some days throwing for 250 is not enough. You’re going to have to throw for 300. It’s based on what’s needed for victory.'' -- Miles on Mettenberger's play
"I know we all want it now. We all want it to happen when they’re freshmen in their first game, but that’s not always the way it happens. Solomon Patton is a great example of that. Tyler Murphy is a great example of that. Guys when they get their opportunity, they cash in and play well.'' -- Muschamp on Florida's quick-strike duo
"The challenge is they're all talented. When you watch cut-ups from the tape, it's not like the offense is changing much when they're in there. They're running their offense because all those guys can do it.'' -- Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin on LSU's four-man tailback rotation
"I love these games. I’m tired of all these spread teams. I love these games where you just react instead of doing all the thinking." -- Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison on facing LSU's pro-style, two-back offense
MATT JONES ON CBS
Gators running back Matt Jones discusses his performance, Tyler Murphy, LSU and more.
10 Quick Hitters
Gators cornerback Marcus Roberson, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury, is "full speed" and will play according to Muschamp. He added that freshman linebacker Alex Anzalone (ankle) is out.
Gators linebacker/defensive lineman Ronald Powell played early in the 2011 loss at LSU but was injured and watched most of the game from the sideline. "It still bothers me today,'' he said. Powell has started all five games and is third on the team with four tackles-for-loss.
Despite the challenges that come with playing at Tiger Stadium, the Gators are 16-14 all-time on the road against LSU; UF leads the all-time series 31-25-3.
Since the start of the 2012 season, the Gators are 10-1 in the SEC, their only loss coming last season to Georgia.
Florida has dominated the middle portion of games. The Gators have outscored opponents 79-12 in the second and third quarters, including a 55-3 advantage in the second quarter.
Beckham Jr. leads the nation in all-purpose yards, averaging 228.2 yards per game. Beckham Jr. did not want to talk about it this week, declining to speak to the media in the lead-up to the Florida game.
Landry missed practice time this week due to an ankle sprain he suffered late in LSU's 59-26 win over Mississippi State last week. Miles sounded optimistic that Landry will play. "We're being moderate in our approach,'' he said.
Since taking over at LSU in 2005, Miles is 18-9 against SEC East teams. Four of those losses have come to Florida.
Gators freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is tied with Ole Miss' Cody Prewitt for the SEC lead in passes defended with 1.60 per game. Hargreaves has five pass breakups and three interceptions in his first five games.
This is the 10th consecutive season that both Florida and LSU are ranked in the Top 25 at the time of their annual meeting.
The Bottom Line
An overmatched Florida team had little chance against No. 1-ranked LSU two years ago. Florida was scrambling in Muschamp's first season and the 41-11 loss was the second in a four-game losing streak for the Gators.
This one has a totally different feel. While the Tigers are favored, the Gators have responded well to the loss of Driskel. Murphy has played well, receivers Trey Burton, Solomon Patton and Quinton Dunbar are playing well, and the defense has been a rock.
The Gators will need a complete game Saturday -- including production from the run game -- to knock off the Tigers, but the task does not seem nearly as remote as two years ago in Baton Rouge.