LSU Vs. Florida: The Battle of Two Running Games

Chris Graythen - Getty Images

The Tigers and Gators have their differences in details, but the blueprint of running first on offense is a shared trait.

LSU likes to run the ball first on offense. Florida likes to run the ball first on offense. Other than he potential for the first sub-3 hour CBS SEC telecast ever (commercials on commercials on commercials), here's what that means for Saturday.

To cut straight to the chase, the Tigers are likely to find success on the ground throughout the game. As I discussed yesterday, Florida's defense is great against the pass but doesn't rank as highly against the run. You know how some short cornerbacks are said to play taller than they are? Well, Florida's defensive line plays smaller than it actually is in this respect. LSU does its best work on first down, gaining 6.55 yards per carry. The line has had some issues with motivation at times, but that shouldn't be a problem this weekend. The running attack doesn't seem to be quite as effective this year as last year, but it's still quite good.

I expect this side of the battle to be an intense one throughout. LSU often wears down opposing defenses by employing four running backs. Florida has been keeping a large rotation on its defensive line this year to try to keep guys fresh in the second half. It certainly has worked well for the Gators thus far, as they're allowing 1.2 fewer yards per carry in the second half than they do in the first half. However LSU's first and second half rushing attacks are separated by just 0.42 yards per carry, so I am skeptical of UF's ability to outlast the Tigers on conditioning and rotations alone. Based on what I've seen of the Gators' backup D-line, LSU's running backs will have the opportunity to score some points in the first half against it to possibly compensate for any second half slowdowns.

On the other side, Florida's rushing attack presents a problem that LSU hasn't had to deal with much: a quarterback who can move. Both Jeff Driskel and Trey Burton have had a lot of success running the ball when called upon to do so, and they could very well be the key to the Gators' running game on Saturday.

I say that because LSU hasn't done all that well against people taking the snap and running it this year. I didn't go through LSU's defense against Idaho, but against the other four opponents, the Tigers had a grand total of one tackle for loss (versus North Texas) on plays with a designed quarterback run or someone else taking a direct snap and running. They didn't face many of those situations, as only Auburn did much of that, but let's take a closer look at that particular Tigers vs. Tigers matchup.

Kiehl Frazier can move around, but he had only two designed runs. The first went for two yards before he fumbled, and the second went for four. Onterio McCalebb also took a direct snap and ran for nine yards on the play. Further, Auburn put in another mobile QB, backup Jonathan Wallace, for six plays that were all runs. He ran it for four, five, and six yards, respectively on his three carries. He also gave the ball away for plays of -7, 20, and eight yards. Wallace's six plays accounted for 35 percent of the Tigers' net rushing yards (not including sacks), but only 23 percent of their runs. Throw in Frazier's runs and McCalebb's direct snap and that's 49.5 percent of AU's rushing yards on only 34.6 percent of its rushing plays. The Plainsmen had 5.67 yards per carry on those plays versus 3.06 yards per carry on the others. LSU was much better at stopping runs when the guy taking the snap was no threat to carry the ball.

Another key to the game will be seeing just how much Florida tries to get third down conversions with runs. Quite frankly, they stink at it:

Offensive Third Down Conversions
Team 3rd Down % 3D% Rushing Difference
Arkansas 32.4% 47.4% 15.0%
Kentucky 44.3% 54.5% 10.3%
Mississippi 51.5% 55.6% 4.1%
LSU 43.9% 46.7% 2.7%
Auburn 28.0% 29.2% 1.2%
Alabama 49.2% 50.0% 0.8%
Tennessee 42.9% 42.1% -0.8%
Vanderbilt 23.2% 21.2% -2.0%
South Carolina 46.2% 43.2% -2.9%
Missouri 27.4% 22.6% -4.8%
Georgia 46.8% 40.7% -6.0%
Texas A&M 46.7% 40.0% -6.7%
Mississippi State 35.3% 25.0% -10.3%
Florida 39.7% 29.0% -10.6%

LSU is, if anything, slightly better at picking up third downs by rushing that they are overall. No one in the conference is worse than Florida, however, when it comes to getting conversions by rushing. The Gators are significantly worse with the run than their overall rate.

Making things potentially worse is the instability at left tackle for Florida. Senior Xavier Nixon has been having trouble holding off true freshman D.J. Humphries for the job. Will Muschamp won't say who is going to start this weekend, only stating that whoever practices better will go. LSU's defensive line straight up overpowered Florida's offensive line all throughout last year's game, and if there's a weak link in the chain, we could end up seeing a repeat performance.

Both of these teams want to run the ball to win. The first team to 30 passes loses. LSU's running game is probably the favorite on paper in this regard, but if Florida can loosen things up with Driskel and Burton running it, then the Gators could very well spring the upset by outrushing the Tigers.

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