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Florida Football

Gators seek to flip the script at LSU

October 8, 2019
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The No. 7 Gators’ role heading into Saturday’s match-up with No. 5 LSU couldn’t be any more opposite of what it was last week against Auburn.

In that one, UF (6-0, 3-0 SEC) was the one hosting a top-10 opponent with an inexperienced quarterback before a sold-out and fired up crowd with College GameDay in town.

This Saturday, they’ll be the ones hitting the road to play in front of a hostile crowd with an inexperienced quarterback and College GameDay in town.

“Death Valley is an unbelievable atmosphere when you go down there, Tiger Stadium,” center Nick Buchanan said. “It’s crazy. You know, I think they hold like 106,000, so a little bit more than the Swamp. You know it’s going to be loud. They’ve got everything you can ask for when it comes to a big-time college football atmosphere.”

To avoid the same fate that Auburn suffered, they’ll have to play at a level they haven’t reached all year. They likely won’t be able to overcome four turnovers and a busted coverage against LSU (5-0, 1-0).

“When you’re on the road, it just makes it that much more important to have great mental toughness,” quarterback Kyle Trask said. “You can’t panic if something goes wrong. It’s going to be loud. You just have to have that mental toughness and focus on [your 11 players] and the task ahead.”

Offensively, that starts with being able to effectively communicate despite the deafening crowd noise they’ll face. Receiver Van Jefferson said they have a plan to combat the chaos in the stands.

“Coach Mullen has put some things in on the offense that we’re going to do in the game that I think will be beneficial for us to handle the noise,” he said. “We just have to execute and take it play-by-play.”

Despite Trask making just his fourth career start and his first on the road, Dan Mullen said he doesn’t anticipate him getting rattled.

“He had to come in a tough situation against Kentucky on the road,” he said. “Especially, you’re coming in and we’re behind and they had that place sold out. It’s not like his first time ever having to step on the field in a tough environment.”

Still, the attendance for the Kentucky game was 63,076. There will be about 40,000 more fans inside Tiger Stadium on Saturday night. Jefferson said the receivers are putting an emphasis on winning their one-on-one matchups and making plays for Trask early on to allow him to settle into the game.

Doing so won’t be easy, as LSU’s secondary could be one of the most talented in the country, led by 2018 unanimous First Team All-American safety Grant Delpit and five-star freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.

“I think we’ll be prepared based on the corners that we have here at practice,” receiver Josh Hammond said. “I feel like we’ve seen the same type of caliber guys on a day-to-day basis. I think the biggest thing for us is just being able to make those plays when our number is called.”

Perhaps a bigger concern is how the offensive line will perform in this type of an environment. They’ve struggled to communicate and block the right guy at home when the crowd was relatively quiet. How are they going to hold up when the stadium sounds like a jet taking off?

“I showed them a couple clips from five years ago,” offensive line coach John Hevesy said. “We played down there, it's a third-and-10, and you couldn't hear anything. The quarterback is yelling in the tackles' ears -- I mean, right next to him, all five of them -- and still had trouble hearing. So, you've got to be able to, again, go through the call sheets and make sure you hear those calls and what those checks are.”

To help prepare for what awaits them on Saturday, Hevesy said they’ve placed large speakers about 10 feet behind the linemen in practice and turned them up as loud as they’ll go.

As good as the Tigers’ defense is, Gator fans should be more concerned about their offense, as strange as that may sound. After years of running a ground-and-pound, pro-style offense, new passing game coordinator Joe Brady has implemented a spread, pass-first offense that actually looks like it belongs in this century. They rank second in the country with 571 yards-per-game and first with 54.6 points per game.

Quarterback Joe Burrow, considered one of the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy, has thrown for 1,864 yards, 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He’s thrown almost as many touchdowns as he has incompletions (25). Their physical and speedy wide receiver tandem of Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase will challenge the Gators’ inconsistent safeties.

"He'll be the best quarterback, obviously, we've seen so far this year,” Mullen said. “He can make all the throws. He's got experience; he's been out there on the field. Playing in big games, that's not new for him. He's played in a bunch of big games. He's got great skill players around him. You can see his trust in those guys to go make plays out there. And I think he's just deceptively, really athletic. He can extend plays in the run game.”

For the Gators to walk out of Death Valley with a win and likely catapult themselves into the top-five in the polls, they’ll need to remain poised in the face of adversity, take the raucous crowd out of the game early, effectively communicate despite incredible crowd noise, help out their inexperienced quarterback and find a way to slow down one of the most dangerous offenses in the country.

In other words, they need to do all of the things that Auburn didn’t do.

“It’s us against the world,” Buchanan said. “You have to enjoy it and embrace the fact that you guys are backed into a corner, your back is against the wall, and go out there and have fun and play football. You can’t be scared. You have to really enjoy the moment.”

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