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October 11, 2013

LSU offense eager to gauge its success

For LSU starting right offensive guard Trai Turner it was the time he bypassed his apprenticeship straight for the workforce.

Because regular starter Josh Williford was sidelined in the first half with a concussion Turner, who as a redshirt freshman had played sparingly, found himself thrust into a new role during the Tigers' 14-6 road loss at Florida.

With an offensive line in a state of flux for much of the game LSU's production on offense of lack thereof was hampered with 200 total yards - including just 42 on the ground - and a pair of field goals on the scoreboard.

"Looking back on it now I was young," Turner said. "I've grown so much as a person and player. I can now say at that time I wasn't ready. As much as I thought I was I wasn't ready. I think I did an OK job but I'm ready to come back this week and not just play, but I'm ready to dominate."

Last year's loss in The Swamp was LSU's first of the season but the bitter taste of that setback brought about some emotions that were still raw a year later with the No. 10 Tigers (5-1, 2-1) set to host No. 17 Florida (4-1, 3-0) Saturday at 2:30 in Tiger Stadium.

"It was a great learning experience to play in The Swamp," LSU leading rusher Jeremy Hill said. "Last year we had a few problems up front with a guy going down and a few freshmen in there. Those guys got to grow up fast and I got a few plays where I grew up fast as well. I think this year will be a great opportunity to kind of redeem ourselves."

LSU football coach Les Miles recognized that both teams played with tremendous effort but if not for a second-half fumble by Odell Beckham Jr. his team could have enjoyed a different outcome.

"We turned the ball over late in the game," Miles said. "If we don't, maybe we take the lead and it's a completely different game. I can tell you that Florida was very good that day, and we have to give them credit. They're a talented team. I think our guys fought very well. So we finished second that day."

The annual Southeastern Conference cross-over clash finds LSU in a much different place offensively than the unit Florida handled with relative ease a year ago.

Led by the resurgence of LSU senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, the Tigers are the league's third-highest scoring team (45.5), fourth in total offense (488.8) and third in passing offense (291.5).

The renaissance of Mettenberger includes the SEC's most efficient passer with a 190.1 rating, having completed 107 of 157 passes for 1,738 yards with 15 touchdowns against two interceptions.

"We're going to try and keep the ball away from their offense and their running game," Mettenberger said. "We're going to try and put up points on a very talented defense. If we can hold the ball for a long time and put up points I think we have a very good chance to win the game."

Mettenberger's chief targets - juniors Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. - have evolved into the SEC's best tandem and both average more than 100 yards per game in receptions.

Landry, who has been bothered by an ankle injury, is second in the league in catches per game and has 42 for 616 yards and 7 TDs while Beckham has 35 grabs for 686 yards and 6 scores.

Complementing the passing game has been improved line play leading the way for a running game ranked ninth in the SEC with nearly 200 yards per game.

"We're going to have a nice week of practice, our fans are going to come out rowdy and we're going to be ready to go and ready to execute," Turner said.

With three 100-yard efforts in his last four outings Hill leads LSU 79 carries for 594 yards and 9 TDs. Senior Alfred Blue and junior Kenny Hilliard combined for to score four TDs in last week's 59-26 win at Mississippi State.

However, LSU's stretch of high-level offensive play will be severely challenged by a Florida defense that ranks amongst the nation's best.

The Gators rank as high as second in five different categories nationally from total defense (217), yards per play (3.83), rushing defense (65.0), passing efficiency (81.2) and third-down conversions (23 percent).

Defensive back Jaylen Watkins is the team's highest-ranked tackler in the SEC with 27 tackles with defensive lineman Dante Fowler a dangerous pass rusher with 3 sacks and freshman corner Vernon Hargreaves topping the league with 8 total passes defended, including 3 interceptions.

"This will definitely be a test," Hill said. "It's definitely a challenge for us to see where we are as an offense. We're going to have a great plan for those guys. I'm excited to go out there and watch us play. It's going to be a great atmosphere."

Added Turner: "I know we're going to be well prepared. I understand their ranking, but they haven't played us yet."


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