BATON ROUGE, La. — Florida’s defense ranks among the nation’s best this season in virtually every category. But the Gators haven’t played against a team with the caliber of LSU’s offense, which includes the top passer in the SEC in Zach Mettenberger.
The Gators’ offense has improved in recent weeks but is still shaky, at best, in several areas. At the same time, the Tigers’ defense hasn’t been what it usually is — one of the nation’s elite units.
Both teams have one loss. Florida dropped a nonconference game at Miami, while LSU lost a shootout at SEC rival Georgia.
Indeed, something has to give.
The squad that improves on its weaknesses the most today will be the one left with a lot to play for as the season continues.
For the Gators, that starts with containing Mettenberger, who has 15 touchdown passes and only two interceptions.
“Zach has been very accurate with the football, completing 70 percent of his passes,’’ UF coach Will Muschamp said. “The thing that impresses you most is the action on the deep balls. He’s been very accurate.’’
Top targets Jarvis Landry (42 catches, 7 touchdowns) and Odell Beckham (35, 6) will test a Florida secondary that has allowed only three touchdown passes this season while picking off eight passes.
Yes, the numbers are impressive — UF is allowing 12 points and 217 yards of total offense through five games. But Florida’s conference games have been against three of the SEC’s five weakest passing teams (No. 10 Kentucky, No. 13 Arkansas and No. 14 Tennessee).
Mettenberger had a crucial interception to end a big drive in last year’s 14-6 Florida win in Gainesville. But the addition of Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator seems to have ignited a new fuse in the Tigers’ offense, especially the passing game.
“I can tell you, I felt like it was just exactly the right pieces or factors to come together,’’ LSU coach Les Miles said. “You have a veteran quarterback that can really throw it. You have a veteran receiving corps that can really run routes and receive the ball. Yeah, I really did. I don’t underestimate our offense, nor do I underestimate Cam. I think he’s a great coach.’’
Florida and LSU also will match up two units with major question marks.
The Tigers have allowed more than 2,000 yards of total offense and almost 25 points a game. But LSU tightened up in the second half of last week’s win against Mississippi State, allowing only a field goal during the final 30 minutes.
Likewise, the Gators have seen a lot of progress from quarterback Tyler Murphy, who took over for the injured Jeff Driskel and is third in the SEC in passing efficiency. He hasn’t piled up huge stats, but he has completed clutch throws to help a running game that enables Florida to eat up clock and rest the defense.
The Tigers, who beat UF 41-11 in the last meeting at Tiger Stadium in 2011, are having a reunion of the 2003 national title team today. Muschamp was the LSU defensive coordinator during the Tigers’ championship season.
“It was a special year. Nothing but great memories. I’ve got great respect for the LSU program,’’ Muschamp said.