Baton Rouge, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - A Top 25 showdown in the SEC is on tap in Baton Rouge, as the 17th-ranked Florida Gators take on the 10th-ranked LSU Tigers in a cross-divisional affair.
Les Miles' Tigers are once again one of the favorites to dethrone Alabama in the always tough SEC West. LSU is a solid 5-1 on the campaign, with the lone loss coming in a shootout with SEC East power Georgia at the end of September. The Tigers were able to find their way back to the win column last weekend however, with a 59-26 road win at Mississippi State.
Will Muschamp's Gators have faced some adversity early on with the loss of their starting quarterback, but that hasn't prevented Florida from posting a 4-1 mark to this point. The only blemish on the record is a 21-16 road loss at Miami-Florida. The team has posted three wins since, all in-conference, including a 30-10 blasting of Arkansas last weekend in Gainesville.
This marks the 60th all-time meeting between these two national powers. Florida holds a 31-25-3 series advantage, but the two programs have split the last 10 meetings.
Tyler Murphy is starting to feel more comfortable in the pocket and that should worry Florida's opponents going forward. The junior QB has taken over for the injured Jeff Driskel and is coming off a game in which he threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns against Arkansas. It marked the most passing yards by a UF quarterback since 2011. He hasn't had to throw the ball much due to a ground game that nets 192.0 yards per game, but Murphy has been efficient, completing 72.2 percent of his throws, for 530 yards, with five TDs against just one INT.
The primary receivers Murphy will seek down the field are seniors Trey Burton (23 catches, 282 yards, 1 TD) and Solomon Patton (19 catches, 348 yards, 4 TDs) and junior Quinton Dunbar (18 catches, 274 yards).
Muschamp is impressed with Murphy's poise under center.
"He did a fantastic job again of just managing our team. I've been criticized a little bit for saying 'manage.' Tom Brady is a great game manager. It's about converting third downs. It's about completing passes. It's about getting your offense in and out of the right runs, the right passes, protections, taking the ball to the right spot, taking care of the football scoring points, moving your team, your team having confidence in you. I mean, that's one of the greatest compliments you can have as a quarterback. A game manager: a guy who does what he is supposed to do."
The majority of the rushing attempts have gone to sophomore Matt Jones (322 yards, 4.3 ypc, 2 TDs) and junior Mack Brown (284 yards, 3 TDs).
Where Florida has a distinct advantage is on the defensive side of the football. The Gators are fourth nationally in scoring defense (12.2 ppg), second in rush defense (65.0 ypg), sixth in pass defense (152.0 ypg) and second in total defense (217.0 ypg).
Playmakers abound for the Gators on defense, starting with All-American candidate Loucheiz Purifoy. The junior cornerback is one of the top DBs in the country and showed it last weekend against Arkansas, taking an interception 42 yards for a score. He is joined in the secondary by safeties Jaylen Watkins (team-high 27 tackles) and Cody Riggs (22 tackles, 6.0 TFL). Sophomore Dante Fowler (17 tackles) is a handful up the field as well, leading Florida in both TFL (7.0) and sacks (3.0).
The Florida defense will have its hands full this weekend, as LSU has proved to be one of the top offenses in the nation. The team ranks ninth nationally in scoring (45.5 ppg) and is churning out nearly 500 yards of offense on average (488.8 ypg). It is a pick-your-poison for opposing defenses, as LSU has the ability to move up and down the field via the run (197.3 ypg) or the pass (291.5 ypg).
Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger has developed into one of the SEC's top signal callers and that is saying a lot considering the company he keeps (Manziel, McCarron, Murray). Mettenberger is on pace to break school records for passing, as he has already thrown for 1,738 yards and 15 TDs. He has completed 68.2 percent of his throws and has just two interceptions in 157 pass attempts.
Of course it helps to have as potent a one-two punch on the outside as there is in the nation. Wideouts Jarvis Landry (42 receptions, 616 yards, 7 TDs) and Odell Beckham Jr. (35 receptions, 686 yards, 6 TDs) are a lethal duo. Beckham leads the country in all-purpose yards (228.2 ypg) and is averaging 21.1 yards every time he touches the ball.
Still, if an opponent concentrates too much on LSU's passing attack, tailback Jeremy Hill will make them pay. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound sophomore is averaging 118.8 yards per game on 7.5 yards per carry. He has already amassed 594 yards and is responsible for nine of the team's 20 rushing touchdowns to date.
Mettenberger knows he will be facing a tough defense this week.
"I think Florida has a combination of both athleticism and great schemes. They have a great defensive coordinator, but they also have tremendous athleticism on the defensive side of the ball. They have big guys that can run, linebackers that can cover and corners that cover very well. We will have our opportunities to be man on man with the defense and hopefully we can score more times than not against them."
A potent offensive attack has masked average numbers on the defensive side of the football for LSU. The Tigers are allowing foes to put up 24.7 ppg, while yielding 367.0 yards of total offense. A lack of big plays has been problematic at times, with LSU collecting just 10 sacks and nine takeaways through six games.
Linebacker Lamir Barrow leads the team in tackles with 36 stops. Fellow LB D.J. Welter is a close second with 31 tackles. Cornerback Jalen Mills has a team-high two interceptions, while defensive end Jordan Allen paces the team in sacks (2).