Each week, HHR's Southern Gents, Rusty and Rev. Shaw Moore, will steal a page from NASCAR.com and go Head2Head and argue the winners of one of the week's upcoming marquee games.
Rev Takes LSU
For LSU, the start of SEC play has been heart-stopping to say the least. Against lowly Mississippi State, the Tigers needed a spectacular punt return for a TD and a last-minute, goal line stand to hold off the Bulldogs. Then, last week against the Bulldogs from Georgia, LSU got the biggest, most undeserved early Christmas present in the 2009 season when the refs handed out a completely bogus excessive celebration penalty on UGA wideout A.J. Green in the closing minutes of that game. I don’t know what exactly was excessive about the celebration, but the penalty did move LSU into great field position for a winning TD run by Charles Scott.
It certainly hasn’t been pretty – but in all reality, SEC football rarely is. The important thing for LSU is that they are still undefeated and keeping pace with Auburn and Alabama in the West. And while their first two SEC games haven’t been picture perfect, they’ve got a great shot to polish their image with Florida rolling into town this week.
What’s astonishing about LSU and Florida that the winner of this game has gone on to win the last three BCS championships. Now consider that Florida has been an odds-on favorite to make it to the championship since the start of the season, those hopes would have been in major jeopardy had this game been played last week. Human battering ram Tim Tebow was battered himself, sidelined with a concussion he received against Kentucky. As for the rest of the team, they were all fighting the effects of a flu virus that apparently spread through that locker room like the plague in Middle Ages Europe. Fortunately for Florida, last week was their bye week, so they got a week to recover and prepare for the biggest game on their 2009 schedule.
Still, with that week off, there are lingering doubts as to Tebow’s condition and availability. He’s apparently still a game-time decision, and it’s anybody’s guess how well he could play coming off the concussion. Keep in mind, Tebow is usually the one handing out the punishment. Now with soup for brains, it will be interesting to see if Tebow is able to keep that same aggressiveness that has been his trademark these past 3 ½ years.
Tebow’s injury status aside, LSU will still be up against their biggest challenge to date. The Tigers have been positively horrible on offense – as a unit, they rank 99th out of 120 teams. It doesn’t make matters any easier considering Florida has the number one ranked defense in the country. I don’t expect LSU to score much at all on offense against UF, so special teams will be absolutely critical for the Tigers. Mighty-mite Trindon Holliday will have to have a big game returning kickoffs and punts to maintain manageable field position for LSU. Plus, he’s got the combination of speed and elusiveness that makes him a threat to take one to the house at any time.
While LSU may be slightly less talented overall than Florida, they do have one major factor working in their favor: the Tigers are damn-near unbeatable at home. The crowd at Death Valley on Saturday nights can be a crazy deranged mob, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Mix in a chance of rain and way to much whiskey in the stands, and you know it will be the most inhospitable environment Florida will face all year. I’m calling this one for LSU: 17-14.
Rusty Takes the Gators
While the college football world tries to read the tea leaves and determine if His Excellency Tim Tebow will start tomorrow against the LSU Tigers, Rusty isn’t going to worry about it. With or without Tebow, the Gators are still the best team in college football. Tebow's good (see an earlier post before the game against Tennessee), but he's not everything. The Florida offense has not shown any real weakness this year, scoring less than 40 points only once; a 23-13 win against Tennessee. In the other 3 games, Florida has tallied an amazing 159 points.
By facing cupcakes the likes of Troy and Charleston Southern, Urban Meyer's had a prolonged preseason to get his team warmed up and ready for the serious play in the SEC. As the Rev said, the winner of this game has gone on to win the BCS the last several years. Make no mistake about it, the coaches, players and everyone involved know that. So, while LSU's had to battle to get here, Florida's bowled over a few opponents and is hitting 4th gear coming into this weekend's game.
The Florida offense ranks #3 in the country, amassing an average of 526 yards a game. When the Gators make it into the red zone, they score over 90 percent of the time, and over two thirds of the time it's for 7. These boys from the Swamp know how to score. Now, granted, Tebow has accounted for a considerable portion of that offense, but it's not the passing attack that's propelling the Gators to the top. Florida is only ranked #58 in passing efficiency, but the Gators possess the #1 rushing attack with two great backs carrying the load with Tebow. Sophomore Jeff Demps and Junior Chris Rainey have combined to average well over 100 yards a game. Against a rushing defense that's giving up over a hundred yards every week, I would imagine this dynamic duo to keep racking up respectable numbers against the Tigers.
On the other side of the ball, Florida's been even more dominant. The Gators are bringing the #1 Defense in the country into Tiger Stadium tomorrow night. This is a defense that is giving up less than 215 yards of offense a week. Opposing teams have only seen double digits once against Florida, and that was Tennessee who only scored 13. Finding the end zone is going to be tough for LSU, no matter how many screaming Cajuns are bussed into Baton Rouge.
So, with an offense that's just hitting it's stride, a defense that able to crush opponents, I expect with or without Tebow, the Gators will win this weekend on their way to a 3rd national title. Florida wins 24-17.