GAINESVILLE — If you're an avid Florida football fan, you might be starting to wonder when you'll see the Gators earn another win over a top-five team at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Since 2007, Florida is 3-4 vs. top-five opponents. The last time Florida defeated one at home was then-No. 4 LSU in 2008.
The opportunity to rectify the situation has arrived when the 10th-ranked Gators host No. 4 LSU at 3:30 today. After two come-from-behind road victories and a surprise entry into October with an undefeated record, the Gators get a true test of where they stand.
"This is obviously a signature game for us," first-year Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "It's a good measuring stick for us to see what we're up against, or how we handle being against a ranked team — a team that's got talent across the board."
Florida will find out if its new offense, led by sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, can flourish against a defense ranked fourth in the nation overall (217.8 yards per game) and fourth in the SEC in scoring (12.6 points per game).
"We know about their speed rushers," Driskel said. "They are going to get in there quick, so we're going to have quicker stuff. We're going to have quick-game, we're going to have the draw, stuff like that. At the end of the day, it's just another game. But it's definitely a big one. That's a really good opponent, and we're excited for the opportunity to be matched up against one of the best in the country."
Florida's improved defense will be challenged by the SEC's second-best rushing offense. After allowing LSU possession of the ball more than 12 minutes in the fourth quarter in a 41-11 loss last season at Baton Rouge, the Gators believe their depth and experience on defense will yield a stronger effort late in the game.
"I think we all know how physical this game is going to be and how we have to finish," Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "We've had a couple of opportunities where we've been behind and had to come back and finish. Each week presents a new challenge, and I think for the players, there's no bigger week than Florida and LSU in this kind of environment. It's why all those guys came, why we come here to coach, and it's certainly one we've all (watched) on TV and said, 'That's a game right there.' We can't wait for the fight."
Last season, then-freshman Jacoby Brissett started his first game in place of injured quarterback John Brantley and the Gators managed just 213 total yards and one touchdown against the Tigers, who went on to win the SEC and play for the national title.
"I think we're much better than we were a year ago," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "We're much deeper, more mature, more experienced. I think we're stronger, I think we handle adversity a lot better, which, when you play games like this, there's going to be some adversity in the game."
And while last season's game was fresh on the Gators' minds this week, today is very little about avenging the loss and very much about proving they are on their way back to being considered among the SEC's top tier programs.
"You know, when I came in, it was always Florida, Alabama, LSU," senior defensive lineman Omar Hunter said. "And we kind of fell off a little bit and it was Alabama, LSU, and now we're trying to get back up there with them. I think it can turn this program a lot. It would be a great win for this program, with the new coaching staff here and the younger guys coming up. This can be a great win for this program."
"I definitely feel like this is going to be a good game to tell exactly where our team's at," junior center Jonotthan Harrison added. "Of course, I feel if our team is completely locked in for all four quarters that this will be a great game."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]