October 5, 2006
Baton Rouge, LA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- Homecoming is usually a time for a university to welcome back alumni to relive the glory days, kids to watch parades and for everybody to go home early and get rest for next week's opponent. Not a time to play one of the biggest games of the season against a top-10 team and a Southeastern Conference rival.
But the University of Florida (5-0, 3-0) has decided to shake things up this season when No. 9 LSU (4-1, 1-1) travels to "The Swamp" to be the No. 5 Gators' homecoming opponent Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
"I didn't even know it was their homecoming," said sophomore defensive end Tyson Jackson. "We are going to have to go in there and upset the whole state."
Second-year Florida coach Urban Meyer has made quite a home in "The Swamp," winning all 10 games by a margin of almost 23 points.
"The student body really supports us," Meyer said. "There have been some things between the student body and the players in the past, but now our guys love to sing the fight song with the students. College football is a team effort, and the students are a part of that."
Dating back to the 2004 season under former coach Ron Zook, Florida has won 12-straight home games, the nation's third-longest winning streak behind the University of Southern California's 28 games and the University of Louisville's 14 games.
LSU was the last team to leave the bitter taste of a home defeat in the Gators' mouths.
Former LSU quarterback Marcus Randall erased a 14-point, first-quarter deficit to help LSU to a 24-21 win Oct. 9, 2004.
"They jumped on us early [two years ago]," said LSU junior defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey. "Their crowd got into it, but we came back and quieted them down. 'The Swamp' is nothing like Tiger Stadium."
LSU junior quarterback JaMarcus Russell had a less than desirable performance in his last visit to Gainesville, Fla. As a freshman, Russell completed six of 10 passes for 56 yards, but his two interceptions put the Tigers in an early hole.
"That comparison is like your first at bat when you were 9 years old," said LSU coach Les Miles. "Remembering you didn't do well when you were 9 years old doesn't help you. JaMarcus Russell is a much more accomplished quarterback than he was two years ago. This is the same player that fought pretty well on the road at Alabama [last season] and gave us every chance to win at Auburn."
Russell is No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference and No. 2 in the nation with a 188.4 passer efficiency rating. The Mobile, Ala., native has completed over 70 percent of his passes for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns with only one interception.
LSU's 48-17 victory over Mississippi State University was an example of Russell's efficiency this season. Russell threw a season-high 330 yards on 18 for 20 passing with three touchdowns, and the SEC named him the Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.
The LSU signal caller's favorite weapons have been junior receiver Early Doucet and senior receivers Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe. Davis leads the Tigers with 25 receptions, 394 yards and a touchdown. Bowe caught 21 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns, while Doucet has 18 catches for 272 yards and four touchdowns.
Saddled with the job of grounding the Tigers No. 20-ranked air attack, the Florida secondary has been somewhat porous this season.
The Gators rank No. 64 in the nation in pass defense, allowing 989 yards in five games.
"They have a fast, physical defense," Bowe said. "There are going to be a couple of gaps we can attack, so we will expose those when we can."
With LSU struggling to find a consistent running game and Florida only allowing 43.6 rushing yards per SEC game, Miles said the Tigers might have to go to the air more often.
"Our offense will run the football better, but we have such great weapons and chemistry on the perimeter right now," Miles said. "Our wide receivers and quarterback are very much in sync. We will continue to work on our running game and execute in very specific situations."
Florida has enjoyed similar success on offense.
Senior quarterback Chris Leak leads the SEC in passing touchdowns with 14 and is third in the conference with 1,240 yards, 64.6 completion percentage and a 174.1 passer efficiency rating.
"He is a mobile guy [who] also has the ability to throw the deep ball," Miles said. "He understands the offense better now that he has had some time in it. He is playing like a veteran quarterback."
In Leak's first season in Meyer's offense, the quarterback threw for 20 touchdowns and 2,639 yards.
Jackson said despite Leak being an experienced senior, the LSU defense can mentally rattle him.
"Some of the plays we aren't going to hit him, but we just want him to remember a lick will be coming around the corner," Jackson said. "As long as he stays human, we have a good chance to put it in his mind. We just have to keep going after him for four quarters and make him realize he is playing against the toughest defense in the nation."
Florida senior receiver Dallas Baker leads the Gators with 27 catches and 448 yards. Baker has caught a touchdown pass in six of the last seven games.
Florida might have to rely more heavily on the pass this week because its running game limps into Saturday's contest after DeShawn Wynn suffered a sprained right knee against Alabama. Wynn leads Florida in rushing with 334 yards and three touchdowns.
"There's a chance he'll play," Meyer said. "[His knee] was sore, very sore. The one good thing is treatment will help it. [With] some injuries, like a high ankle sprain, treatment doesn't necessarily help it, but treatment will help this."
Florida's second-leading rusher is backup true freshman quarterback Tim Tebow, who has gained 193 yards and averaged more than six yards per carry.
"We used to have a separate Tebow package," Meyer said. "But [Tebow] is no longer making freshman mistakes, and he is becoming a bigger part of our base package. We benefit as an offense of having the threat of both Leak and Tebow."
Other rushing options for the Gators include sophomore tailback Kestahn Moore and freshman wide receiver Perry Harvin, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain.
Moore has rushed for 160 yards, and Harvin has 145 receiving yards.
"Percy can play a full game at tailback," Meyer said. I would have to evaluate it in practice, but that would be a fair assumption.
(C) 2006 The Daily Reveille via CSTV U-WIRE