It’s been an up-and down first half of the season for Florida and LSU, as evidenced by both teams currently finding themselves in the curious college football limbo of unranked but receiving votes. Both teams sit at 4-2, although it could certainly be argued that Florida has the more impressive wins, headlined by a huge win in the opener against Utah, and more forgivable losses, close-fought efforts against ranked Kentucky and now-top 10 Tennessee. This weekend, we’ll see which side can climb to 5-2 and most likely back into the top 25, and who will drop to barely above .500, and into some serious peril. For now, let’s look at the odds for the matchup and make some predictions.
LSU Vs. Florida Odds
Somewhat surprisingly, Florida are only favored by 2.5 points at home against this underachieving LSU team. The points total is set around the 50-point mark, which feels a bit more standard for a matchup like this one.
LSU Vs. Florida Prediction & Pick
So far, the start to the Brian Kelly era in Baton Rouge has been a bit all over the place. The team finally entered the AP poll last week following a 4-game win streak, but were absolutely pasted at home by a clearly superior Tennessee squad. They’ve had some successes, namely in running the ball on offense and limiting the run on defense; great for controlling games to be sure, but their relatively anemic air offense led by Jayden Daniels makes it a little hard for them to hang around once they fall behind. Still, EPA has them ranked in the low-30s, and PFF thinks they’re just inside the top 50; there are certainly good things happening on the field for this football team, the end results just haven’t been spectacular.
They’re facing a Florida team that announced themselves to the nation before anyone else really did this season, and completely failed to capitalize on that momentum, losing their next two contests. The analytics are a bit more split on Florida than they are with LSU; PFF thinks they’re the nation’s 21st-best team, while EPA places them hardly within the top-80. Like LSU, PFF tells us that Florida has a borderline-elite defense, and also a top-10 offense unlike their opponents, who sit at #66. Once again, EPA dissents; this metric suggests to us that the Gators offense is just pretty good and that the defense is average, if that. Even by the eye test, the offense is pretty hard to pin down, due in large part to the outrageously inconsistent play of QB Anthony Richardson. He dominated on the ground against Utah, but hasn’t found the same success in the following weeks, and his passing efforts have been relatively inefficient, particularly against top opposition. His play will be a major determining factor this weekend, as is often the case with Quarterbacks in close matchups.
This is a tough game to pick; these two teams both have a lot of positives and potential, but they’ve both shown an ability to wilt in big moments. However, the quantitative metrics are more bullish on LSU, and they’ve been more consistent on both sides of the ball in recent weeks. And on top of it all, one of LSU’s greatest strengths, their rushing offense, lines up favorably (from their perspective) against a major weakness for Florida, their struggling run defense. If you can find that all-important extra point, or even half point to push the line up to a field goal, get it; if you can’t consider just going in on the moneyline instead of a spread that would be relatively tough to hit without the team winning outright. Regarding the total, the two offenses have sputtered at times against tough opposition, and the defenses have the ability to make things really tough all day long; I’d lean towards the under given the total of 50.5
LSU Vs. Florida Key Matchups
Will the Florida offensive line be able to contain this LSU pass rush? Check out the key matchups and mismatches for LSU vs Florida
Richardson and Florida O-Line vs. LSU Pass Rush
Any football coach will tell you that games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage, and this one figures to be no exception. A large source of Richardson’s struggles this seasons has been his being challenged by pressure from opposing pass rushers; now this week, he faces a d-line that’s 7th in the nation in passing down sack rate, and PFF considers to be the 19th-best pass-rushing unit in FBS. Only 4 players for LSU have more than 43 pass rush snaps, but they’re all over the 130-snap mark thus far. They’re headlined by edge rusher BJ Ojulari, who has a PFF pass rush grade of 84.4, and leads the team with 6 sacks. Linebacker Harold Perkins has also chipped in 10 pressures, including 3 sacks, on just 40 pass rushing snaps so far.
The good news for Richardson is that his offensive line is pretty solid, ranked 20th in pass protection by PFF. Center Kingsley Eguakun and guard Ethan White both have PFF pass-pro grades above 80, and the other starting guard, O’Cyrus Torrance, isn’t far behind with a clean 79; that pesky interior pressure may be hard to come by. The bad news is that the two tackles are graded lower in this category, 75.4 and 70.6 to be exact. They’ll have to put together one of their best performances yet to keep Ojulari at bay. If this group is able to keep a clean pocket for their quarterback to pass comfortably and even give him chances to use his athleticism and break out, Florida’s o-line could be the silent MVPs in a big home win.
LSU Rushing Defense vs. Florida Rushing Offense
Different metrics disagree on a lot of things with these two teams, but there’s two things on which they can concur; Florida runs the ball very well, and LSU can defend it. PFF states that LSU has the #14 run defense in the country, while Florida’s running backs have put forth a top-25 effort and their run blocking has been 5th overall. EPA evaluates the situation slightly differently, placing the LSU run defense at #32 overall, while the holistic evaluation of the Gators’ rushing attack has them at #10 in that category.
Florida has run the ball with a three-headed monster consisting of running backs Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne, as well as Richardson. Johnson has racked up 368 rushing yards so far at the astounding clip of 8 per carry, and Etienne has 307 on the exact same number of carries for an average of 6.7 per rush. Richardson actually has one more rush than the two backs; he is slightly behind with an average of 6 yards per carry, but matches Johnson for the team lead with 5 ground scores. Senior guard O’Cyrus Torrence has been an absolute standout in the run game, earning a PFF grade of 91.2 in this area in what has been a penalty-free performance thus far.
LSU’s rushing defense has been anchored by lineman Mekhi Wingo, who has earned an excellent PFF run defense grade of 91.4, and he’s even recovered a fumble this year. Linebacker Greg Penn III is tied with Wingo for the team lead with 16 tackles on rushes, and outpaces his teammate with a stop percentage of 7.7%. However, the rest of the LSU defensive front has not shone as brightly as these two in run defense. There’s a lot of talent, but to slow down Florida’s multi-faceted rushing attack, they’ll need more consistency.