GatorBait.net stops to talk Florida-LSU with LSU reporter Shea Dixon, from the Geaux247 site on the 247Sports network. Shea answers some of our questions about this weekend's showdown between No. 4 LSU and No. 10 Florida from the LSU perspective. Enjoy!
The LSU Tigers celebrate a win with head coach Les Miles.
LSU has had some injuries lately. Which players could miss the game on Saturday?
Shea Dixon: It's been a very tough stretch for LSU to open the year. From the starting lineup headed into the season opener to this weekend, the Tigers are minus five starters - cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, outside linebacker Tahj Jones, left tackle Chris Faulk, running back Alfred Blue and fullback J.C. Copeland, who injured his knee this past weekend and is doubtful for Saturday's bout in The Swamp. LSU's had trouble replacing the playmaker Mathieu was on defense and the anchor Faulk on the blindside, so that's the glaring issue at this stage.
Last year LSU's offense was incredibly efficient. Where are the weak spots this year, and what have teams been able to do successfully on defense against the Tigers?
Shea Dixon: As I mentioned above, the Tigers haven't been able to sit back and pass the ball the way they want with Zach Mettenberger, and that's for a number of reasons - from Mettenberger's hesitancy in the pocket to poor pass protection by the offensive line and running backs.
The passing game has also been characterized by drops and a couple red-zone turnovers by Mettenberger. Worse teams than Florida have had success slowing the LSU offense, and getting on the right track before meeting up with the Gators is the talk of the town in Baton Rouge this week.
The Tigers look as talented as anybody in the front four, but teams have had some success running the ball. Why is that?
Shea Dixon: I think you have to attribute the numbers - and points - from the lesser teams as a motivation thing. They have missed tackles in spots, and then busted assignments on a couple touchdowns, but the players have talked about the lack of motivation - with opponents like North Texas, Idaho and Towson - playing a huge role in why guys on both sides of the ball have looked lackadaisical with their effort.
That being said, a few players like Mettenberger and safety Eric Reid said that changes this week with LSU faced against a team they know can beat them if they aren't on top of their game.
Can LSU win if the running game is somewhat neutralized and Zach Mettenberger is forced to make plays to win the game?
Shea Dixon: That's the big question for LSU's entire season, in my opinion. LSU has an elite defense and a stable of running backs that will find a bit of success against every defense they come up against. The question becomes, if the defense or running game slips one night and the passing game has to keep LSU undefeated, how capable is Mettenberger at the helm? He appears to be getting more comfortable as a starter, but he's only recorded one road start (Auburn), and the Tigers barely got home with the win. I think Mettenberger has the talent, and he's got receivers that have confidence in making big plays. So the answer is T.B.D., but maybe this weekend we find an answer.
What is the one thing Florida could do that would give the Gators the best shot of winning?
Shea Dixon: If the defensive line disrupts LSU's front five early, the offense could get shaky. Les Miles has tried a few different combinations with his offensive line this year, and he's hinted that we could see a new starting tackle tandem this weekend. But if the front isn't protecting, Mettenberger might start feeling the pressure, and he's been turnover prone in September, a negative trait that could bury the Tigers if it becomes a recurring theme on the road this weekend. The Florida offense won't be able to light up the scoreboard on LSU, but the Gators can make it a game by slowing down the Tigers on offense.
Are the shaky performances the last two weeks from LSU an aberration, or are the Tigers not as good as many people thought?
Shea Dixon: Probably a little bit of both. After 13-0, I think LSU fans figured they could get used to the idea of playing the one big game a year vs. Alabama, and then chalking the rest of the games up as wins. But this isn't the same Florida team LSU saw in Baton Rouge last year, and this LSU team isn't as talented as many expected, especially minus five starters that were expected to suit up this fall.
From where things stand now, LSU's next five opponents have a combined one loss - and that was Texas A&M's loss to Florida. With Alabama in that stretch of games, it's now looking like this is a 1- or 2-loss SEC team, not one locked into 13-0 with a win over the Tide in November.
Can you give us any sort of prediction on the game, even if it's not an exact score?
Shea Dixon: I think this one plays out a lot like the Auburn game did for LSU. The Tigers go up early, then Florida makes a charge and takes the lead at halftime. The crowd gets going and LSU is truly tested for the first time.
I see the running game stepping up big in the second half, then Mettenberger taking the Tigers on a drive that defines his short time in Baton Rouge, scoring the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. LSU adds a field goal late to hold onto a very close win in The Swamp.
LSU 20, Florida 14.