Gators looking to catch a Tiger by the tail

“… the local press seems to think we’d save everyone a lot of time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me… I’m for wasting sports writers time, so, I’d like to hang around and see if we can give ‘em all a nice big shitburger to eat”
– The immortal Lou Brown, Manager, Cleveland Indians (from the film Major League)

I use that quote as it seems to be both appropriate and ironic.

Appropriate, in that nobody, and I mean nobody aside from the craziest and most un-objective fans out there are giving us a realistic chance to win this game at LSU on Saturday. It’s to the point that if you were to make a realistic and serious prediction that the Gators were going to win Saturday, people would look at you like you were nuts and think that you were on that crazy Charlie Sheen stuff (thus, the irony… Charlie Sheen was the star of the movie Major League and in THIS writer’s opinion, the best performance of his career prior to his role acting as himself on the Today Show earlier this year).

We are marching our team into Baton Rouge, LA coming off of a 28 point drubbing at home, at the hands of Alabama, only to face the number 1, 2, or 3 team in the country at their home stadium. For those of you out there interested in a playoff system, the Gators are basically going through what that would be like for someone… playing Bama, followed by LSU… except for the whole not winning against Bama part (minor detail). To raise the degree of difficulty for Florida, 5th year senior quarterback John Brantley was hurt on the final offensive play of the first half against Alabama. It is believed to be a high ankle sprain, but Coach Muschamp is harnessing his inner Urban Meyer/Bill Belichick on the injury front and not really saying much of anything. Florida will be starting (most likely) Jeff Driskel at QB on the road at LSU. Much has been said about Chris Leak winning at LSU in 2003 as a true freshman. That same LSU team went on to throttle Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to win the BCS National championship, a National title they would eventually split with USC and later vacate… whatever… anyway…

Everyone seems to think we should not even lace up our shoes and make the trip. Just give LSU the “W” and we can stay here in Gainesville and stare at each other or pontificate about the greatness of LSU. Well, I say screw that. Let’s get a little perspective here:

– Florida came into Baton Rouge that year with a 3-3 record (Losses at Miami (by 5), and at home to Tennessee (by 14) and Ole Miss (by 3)). LSU was ranked #6 in the country.

– Chris Leak was making only his 3rd career start and did NOT look like a world beater in his action up to that point. He replaced Ingle Martin as starter after the home loss to Tennessee that year.

– That 2003 Florida team lost to Miami, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Florida State. They eeked out a win against Kentucky (3 points… what?!?!), Arkansas (5 points), #4 Georgia (3 points), and pre-Spurrier South Carolina (2 points). That team was a heart attack on wheels and a gambler’s nightmare.

– That team went on to lose by 20 points to Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

– The 2003 12 point victory over LSU was the Gators largest margin of victory in any conference game that year not involving Vanderbilt (17).

My point is… On any given day… this team is talented enough to have a chance.

In 2003, with a team led by a freshman QB and seemingly having only one real offensive weapon in Ciatrick Fason (enjoy glowing in that rarely heard blast from the recent past…), the Gators were able to put together 4 quarters on the road and beat and LSU team that was in the mold of the current LSU Football blueprint: Stacked with NFL players on defense, skilled and fast WRs on offense, not sure who’s going to throw them the ball (See Matt Mauck, Matt Flynn, Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee for details… and yes, I know that Flynn is currently in the NFL and Chris Leak is not, thank you.), and a corps of running backs of some consequence but no individual sniffing any Maxwell Award nominations.

Showing up is essential. Every year highly ranked teams lose to lower ranked teams. It happens every year and there’s nothing that makes LSU any different. Ole Miss came into the Swamp in 2008 and had no business beating us, but they did (and inadvertently kicked over the biggest hornets nest ever). UCLA never should have beaten USC in 2006, but did (and all the Gators have done to thank them for that favor is eliminate them from NCAA basketball tournaments!). That same 2003 Gator team beat #4 Georgia for no good reason as well that year. LSU has some special players on defense, but offensively, they are fairly pedestrian for an SEC team. We shouldn’t make as much over the Bama loss as we may tend to… they are mostly an NFL team doing their mandatory 3 years in college. LSU doesn’t have any offensive weapons like that. We had LSU beat last year before the “bounce pass” and that was with the Brantley/Reed/Burton “Pu Pu platter” QB rotation. I’m limiting my fire and brimstone speech, as we see how that went last week, but at the risk of sounding like Vern Lundquist and Todd Blackledge, here are the Gators keys to victory this weekend:

– Be special on special teams: I’m not sure what we’ve been doing on special teams where no kickoff or punt returner is the same person for consecutive returns. It’s confusing to me that it’s Rainey sometimes, then DeBose, then Patton, then Demps. We need a return for a TD or in PRIME field position (and by that I mean inside the 5 yard line… Red Zone offense has not been stellar thus far). Also, last week David Lerner averaged 43.3 yards per punt with 0 return yards allowed. That looks great on paper, but if you saw it in person, they were 7 of the ugliest punts I’ve ever laid eyes on. I guess it works, but its nerve racking.

– Magic Number 30: That is the number of pass attempts that will dictate a winner this week. In LSU’s 5 wins, they are averaging 23.8 passes per game with a high of 28 vs. West Virginia. They are also averaging 43.6 rushes per game with a high of 48 vs. Oregon and a low of 38 vs. Miss. St. If Florida can force the issue and get LSU off schedule (less than 4 yards per play) and make LSU pass the ball more than 30 times and rush it for less than 30, they have a chance and it means they are winning 1st and 10. Conversely, if Jeff Driskel has to throw more than 30 passes, it means we also are not winning on 1st down. Ideally, I’d have Driskel in the 18-22 pass range with some drop backs that end up being runs by him (but I’m just a guy who is 26-16 on NCAA12 on PS3). If we run the ball less than 30 times, we’re in trouble.

– 10 for 23: That’s not a passing stat, that’s a rushing goal. 10 carries for Mike Gillislee (#23). We learned last week (and I thought we already knew this, but…) you can’t run around good defenses in the SEC. Kentucky and Tennessee, sure you can have success on the edge, but the LSU’s and Alabama’s (and maybe Georgia) of the world, you have to wrap up the knuckles and get dirty between the tackles. Rainey and Demps are not afraid to do this, but Gillislee, and to a lesser degree, Trey Burton appear to be the only backs that could stick it up in the gaps and move a pile a couple of yards. We’re transitioning right now with spread offense players, so we’ll have to live with it because DeShawn Wynn and Kestahn Moore are not walking through that door…

– Win the turnover margin: The only thing more boring that discussing this is listen to someone tell you about how they pulled out an exciting fantasy football win on a Tuesday morning. This goes without saying when two good teams play… let’s just move on.

– One, big, long one: I’m not being fresh or perverted here; I’m talking time of possession. If Driskel and the Gators can orchestrate a 2nd half drive that is 12+ plays, and 7+ minutes THAT RESULTS IN A TOUCHDOWN, this will significantly increase their chances. This will let the crowd’s second half drunk from their halftime bourbon break get nice and settled. After getting loud on three consecutive third downs and having the other team convert, you lose a lot of oxygen to your drunken brain and you get a little quieter (believe me… I speak from very recent experience). If the defense can follow that up with a 3 and out. Fans get restless and frustrated… the offense gains tons of confidence… and the defense gets gassed.

– Change it up: Again, X’s and O’s talk is terribly boring, but Charlie and Jeff need to work out changing up the drops. 3 steps… 5 steps… draw… rollout… move the pocket… 5 steps…. 1 step and release (NOTE: 7 step drops were left off this list for a reason!!). If Jeff can get the ball out of his hand quickly in the first half and get some completions, pass rushers get annoyed and frustrated (dare I say… bored). Mixing up the drops and mixing in some draws and middle screens is super disruptive for rushing ends. When a QB consistently takes the same steps in their drop back, good rush ends get a set point in the back field that they are trying to get to and pin their ears back to get to it (see Brantley’s last two drop backs of the first half vs. Bama as an example). By mixing it up, they don’t know which point to “aim” for, whether to try and swim outside or duck inside. It would give our linemen a little bit of an assist in trying to block these guys.

In this blog and on our Twitter account (@BourbonMeyer), we’ve joked about having a slim chance to win this game and that things aren’t looking good. From a journalistic approach, we would want to just report the facts and be honest about it all… but we’re not journalists (aside from one of us who are actually a pro at this). We’re fans. We’re storytellers. We are the ones who hold out hope when there is none to be had.

At the beginning of the season when we went through the schedule and made our season picks, the games that were “up for grabs” were not Alabama and LSU, but Auburn-Georgia-South Carolina-School out west. There really isn’t much debate as to which team is better at the moment, or which one has the most NFL ready players, or has had the most impressive slate of games and wins. Nobody is asking for Florida to be better at all those things this year… we’re hoping that they can be better THAT DAY and that day only… for 60 minutes.

Earlier this week, one of our guest writers Patrick Annesty wrote a post called, “A Loss at LSU will not kill the Gators season”… this is a true statement. As the week went on, we tweeted out the tagline, “Why the LSU game doesn’t matter”. While that line is sensationalized so you’ll read, “won’t kill the season” and “doesn’t matter” are indeed, two VERY different things. I need to see us play hard and play well. After some of the issues last season and the Gators not bouncing back from losses very well, I need to see some fight in this team and some sign of life as we go forward for however long we are going forward with Jeff Driskel this year. Ultimately, nobody has to believe in the Gators except for the guys on the sideline in pads and the coaching staff. They need to believe… but belief won’t win the game. Execution will.

So in the absence of an actual “rah-rah” speech this week… Read a little 1 Samuel 17:50. Let’s go give LSU and their fans a big ole shitburger to eat boys. Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez! Geaux Gators!

(Yep… Bible verse and a reference to a shitburger in the same paragraph. Welcome to Bourbon Meyer)

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