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After last week’s win over the Auburn Tigers, Dan Mullen and Co. got right to work preparing for the Gators’ third consecutive game against Tigers. What was last week’s biggest game in the college football universe is dwarfed by the test that lies before Mullen and his Gators.

Florida travels to Baton Rouge this weekend to face the fifth-ranked LSU Tigers. The Tigers opened as a 13.5 point favorite for the 8 p.m. showdown in Death Valley. Such a line illustrates the continued dismissal of the Florida Gators as legitimate contenders for the CFP in the eyes of the nation.

Many in the national media have already hailed the Tigers as victors of Saturday’s contest. However, upon closer look at the numbers, such a pick looks almost foolish.

See also: Dan Mullen’s Monday Press Conference Recap

Sure, LSU has displayed a prolific offense behind the leadership of Joe Burrow, who might just earn an invitation to NYC in December. But LSU hasn’t faced a defense quite like the Gators. In fact, they haven’t even come close. Out of the four FBS programs that LSU has faced this season, Georgia Southern boasts the best defense, ranking 60th in total defense, nationally.

Furthermore, the Gators will be the first Power Five program whose defense ranks inside the top 100 the Tigers have faced all season. The Gators rank eleventh in total defense, but lead the nation in interceptions and red zone defense. They also rank fifth in sacks and thirteenth in tackles for loss.

The point in all of this is to say that Florida will bring an elite defense — one that is fully healthy for the first time since week two — into Death Valley. I have no doubt that Joe Burrow and the trio of Jefferson, Chase, and Marshall Jr. Will make some plays, but they will be challenged in a way that they haven’t even come close to thus far in 2019.

On the opposite side of the ball, LSU boasts a defense that doesn’t have the same striking power that Auburn had in the front end. What they do have is a talented group of defensive backs led by safety, Grant Delpit — who is listed as questionable for this Saturday with a head injury — and true freshman cornerback, Derek Stingley Jr., who was absent from Wednesday’s practice.

The Tigers rank 52nd nationally, versus the pass and have allowed 206.8 YPG through the air. The Gators rank 19th and average just over 183 yards per game in the same statistical category.

The Gators offense has struggled in the running game throughout the first six games of the season but Kyle Trask has been excellent dispersing the ball to Florida’s talented and deep receiving corps. This is especially true over the middle of the field where the Tigers have been quite vulnerable this season.

Through five games, LSU has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 72% of their passes at a whopping 10 yards per attempt. Only Vanderbilt is worse at defending passes over the middle of the field, in the SEC.

Dan Mullen has defeated Ed Orgeron’s Tigers in his previous two meetings. The Gators upended the fifth-ranked Tigers in the Swamp last season and Mullen easily defeated LSU in his last meeting as the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

LSU defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda will bring plenty of pressure to try to keep Trask from finding his rhythm, but Dan Mullen knows this all too well. Mullen has prepared gameplans to counter Aranda’s aggressive style many times and will likely exploit the holes that are inevitably left behind the blitzing Tigers defense.

In my opinion, the Gators match up quite favorably to LSU. Ultimately, this game is going to come down to whether or not Florida can protect the football. The Gators have had four turnovers in two different games this season. The fact that they still won those games is a testament to how good this team actually is. If they can keep from turning the ball over, we may see them take another big step forward.

Despite picking LSU as Florida’s only loss in the preseason, I am taking the Gators to win a close game. I think Florida leaves LSU stunned and wins 24-21.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN at 8 p.m. EST. For the second week in a row, Florida will be featured on College Gameday as they enter into a top ten battle.

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