Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

LSU will test Gators' declining run defense

Arkansas’ Michael Smith eludes Brandon Spikes, Florida’s defensive leader.

Associated Press

Arkansas’ Michael Smith eludes Brandon Spikes, Florida’s defensive leader.

GAINESVILLE — Good, but not great.

In his weekly preparation for the Gators' upcoming opponent, coach Urban Meyer always includes playing great defense as an integral part of the plan. In a 38-7 win over Arkansas last weekend, Meyer said it was simply "good, but not great."

This week, the Gators will need as close to great as possible.

When defending national champion and No. 4 LSU comes to Gainesville Saturday night, the No. 11 Gators will face the best ground attack they've seen all season.

"No question, it's easily our best test so far," defensive line coach Dan McCarney said. "… What a great measuring stick."

LSU has the league's best rusher in junior running back Charles Scott, who is averaging 133.8 yards. The Tigers have the league's second-best rushing defense (206.5 per game).

The Gators are allowing just 99.6 rushing yards per game, but Arkansas running back Michael Smith rushed for 133 yards on 20 attempts.

LSU has an offensive line that is big and physical. Center Brett Helms, left tackle Ciron Black and left guard Herman Johnson each have at least 26 career starts.

"I just think they're getting better," LSU coach Les Miles said. "They're veteran. We've learned to count on them. I think they are a dominant group in terms of rushing the football and protecting our passer. I give them high marks."

So, too, does Florida. McCarney said the Tigers run so well because of that line he describes as "huge and confident."

"Their backs keep rolling at you," he said. "We've got to do all we can to slow them down. We're not going to stop them, who are we kidding? That stuff sounds good. We've got to slow them down and we've got to be good on third down again, hopefully get some turnovers. But they don't do much of that, they are taking care of the ball. That's why they are 4-0."

LSU's tailbacks have a streak of 378 carries without a fumble, while Florida's plus-8 turnover margin is ranked third nationally. But in the past two games, the Gators have given up a combined 281 rushing yards. Against Arkansas, they struggled against the run, and their top two tacklers were cornerback Joe Haden and safety Major Wright.

"It doesn't say very well about the defensive front, does it?" defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said.

What the Gators may need most against LSU is leading tackler Brandon Spikes. Since the preseason, Strong has said that as the junior linebacker goes, so goes the defense. It's his leadership and ability to make those around him play better that Florida missed in the Arkansas game, when Spikes wasn't at his best.

"He's had some great games, I don't think last week was one of his great games," Meyer said. "I expect him to play a great game this weekend. The way he practices, he's like a lot of players, like most players. I can see the juice and energy. And he knows he didn't play very well."

With the memory of last year's 28-24 loss (in which the defense collapsed in the fourth quarter), the Gator players believe that because LSU is bringing a freshman quarterback into a hostile environment, it won't hesitate to try to pound the ball all night. Unless UF can stop the Tigers.

"LSU is a run team so we're trying to focus on stopping the run, getting downhill more and to go ahead and hit the ball before it crosses the line, so they don't get any momentum from it," linebacker Brandon Hicks said.


"We've got to be more tough in the trenches," safety Ahmad Black said. "That's it. Period."

Antonya English can be reached at

LSU will test Gators' declining run defense 10/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 9, 2008 6:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ryan Callahan encouraged by his return


    Captain Steven Stamkos wasn't the only key Lightning player to make a triumphant return Friday night against Nashville.

  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Friday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    RHP Alex Cobb hates to hear how he "battled through" or "grinded out" a start rather than just dominated, but that's kind of what he did Friday, allowing nine hits and a walk and being charged with two wild pitches but only three runs in earning his 12th win.

  3. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  4. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  5. Ww's Odessabeach makes run at Husker Magic stakes final


    ST. PETERSBURG — When Hurricane Irma blew through Florida earlier this month, Ww's Odessabeach remained in her comfort zone.