Oct. 3, 2006
(AP) - JaMarcus Russell vividly remembers his last trip to The Swamp in 2004. Not because LSU won, but because he played poorly and suffered a game-ending injury before his team rallied past Florida.
This time, Russell has a chance to help No. 9 LSU hand the fifth-ranked Gators their first loss of the season as the teams meet Saturday in a key SEC showdown.
Russell had perhaps the worst start of his career for the Tigers (4-1, 1-1) in Gainesville two years ago. He was intercepted twice in his first three drives, directly leading to two touchdowns for the Gators (5-0, 3-0) before leaving the game after the next drive due to an ankle injury.
Marcus Randall relieved Russell and threw two TD passes, including the go-ahead score with 27 seconds to play, as the Tigers came away with a 24-21 win over Florida - which hasn't lost in 13 home games since that defeat.
Russell, though, enters this game coming off a career-best performance in LSU's 48-17 rout of Mississippi State last Saturday. He threw for a career-high 330 yards, matched a career best with three touchdowns and tied two school records for consecutive completions (14) and completion percentage (90.0), leading the Tigers to touchdowns on their first five drives.
"You could tell for the most part all our cylinders were just kicking it on. We were trying to get it from every way possible," said Russell, who has thrown for 1,245 yards and 10 touchdowns with just one interception in 115 attempts.
Coach Les Miles says Russell is a different player than the last time he visited The Swamp.
"I think JaMarcus Russell is a much more accomplished quarterback than what he was no matter where he was playing two years ago," Miles said. "I look forward to taking him (to Florida), and he looks forward to it as well. ... I think he will take a lot of experiences with him as we go forward."
LSU, which leads the SEC in scoring at 38.0 points per game and is third in total offense at 412.0 yards a contest, also boasts the nation's best defense. The Tigers lead the country in total defense at 193.4 yards per game, have yielded just 7.4 points a contest and conceded just four touchdowns in their five games.
Urban Meyer's team opens a brutal stretch of conference play with this game. Florida visits No. 2 Auburn on Oct. 14 before its annual meeting with 10th-ranked Georgia in Jacksonville on Oct. 28.
"(The Tigers) are a very talented team and we are gonna have to play our very best to win this one," Meyer said. "I think this is two very good teams going at each other at this time of the year."
Gators quarterback Chris Leak beat LSU in his freshman year in 2003, but has lost his last two games against the Tigers. Leak has not made many mistakes in the two defeats, which were by a combined seven points, but he also has not made many big plays.
Battling a sore shoulder last year, Leak completed just 11 of 30 passes for a career-low 107 yards as the Gators rallied from an early 14-point deficit before losing 21-17. In 2004, he threw for 142 yards and two first-half touchdowns in LSU's comeback victory.
"We can't have early turnovers or miscues in this game. Obviously great teams like LSU will capitalize on them and put points on the board," Leak said. "We have to make sure we stay on schedule and make plays that need to be made.
"LSU is a great team defensively. They have a lot of veterans. They are a disciplined defense and do a great job running to the ball. We will have to play our best football to be successful."
Leak, who leads the SEC with 14 touchdown passes, may also have to help Florida compensate for an injury to starting running back and leading rusher DeShawn Wynn. Meyer has yet to say whether Wynn, who has a sprained right knee, will be available.
"There's a chance he'll play," Meyer said. "It was sore, very sore. The one good thing is treatment will help it. Some injuries, like a high ankle sprain, treatment doesn't necessarily help it, but treatment will help this."
If Wynn - who has 354 yards and three touchdowns - is unable to go, Kestahn Moore will start. Meyer, though, is expected to have the services of freshman Percy Harvin, who sprained his ankle Sept. 16 against Tennessee and has played one play since.
"I've coached football for a long time and high ankle sprains are a bad deal," Meyer said. "We knew last week he would be very limited, if at all. ... This week I'm understanding it should be pretty close to 100 percent. I'm 99 percent sure he'll play this week."
Harvin is averaging more than 10 yards a carry and 18 yards a reception, helping Florida post an SEC-best 438.4 yards per game and 30.2 points a contest.
The Gators also are solid defensively, yielding only 9.4 points and 50.2 rushing yards per game, good for fourth nationally in both categories.
LSU has won three of the last four games between these teams, but the Gators lead the all-time series 27-22-3, including a 12-10-3 mark in The Swamp.