Center Will Clapp and offensive tackle K.J. Malone are the two most experienced players on the LSU offense.
Clapp has made 27 starts, while Malone has made 17 starts. The Tigers are struggling, particularly on offense, as they get ready for a Southeastern Conference game against Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville on Saturday (2:30 p.m. Central/CBS).
At the top of the list of problems is a strained relationship between head coach Ed Orgeron and offensive coordinator Matt Canada. LSU Director of Athletics participated in a meeting with Orgeron, Canada and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda last Sunday.
Clapp, a fourth-year junior, and Malone, a fifth-year senior, probably have the best feel for what is troubling the Tigers offense and what must be done to get the situation smoothed over.
“The message is we have to get back on track,” Clapp said. “We have to be more mature and we all have to get on the same page. Then, we have to win ball games. It’s pretty simple.”
Malone acknowledged that the root of the problems is very basic.
“It’s communication,” Malone said. “Will makes the call at the line and it has to get passed out. There are plays where the call is not getting down the line. People are not hearing the call. Then, the backs are not getting the calls (for pass protection) sometimes. We have to execute everything better.”
Orgeron admitted that he interfered with the offensive game plan at the start of last week’s game against Troy. Orgeron wanted Canada to eliminate all of the shifts and motions in an attempt to simplify things for an offensive line with two freshman starters.
Clapp said that the offensive motion does not make things difficult for the linemen.
“The shifts and motions don’t matter to us,” Clapp said. “It affects just the skill guys. As a center, I enjoy when we shift. It makes the defense hectic as far as their lining up.
“We are trying to get back to what we were doing on offense in spring ball and in camp. We were a good offense with the shifts and motions and making the right reads. We got into a funk as an offense. We have to get back to having big runs and electric plays.”
Fast facts about LSU
1. Since last year’s game against Florida was rescheduled for Tiger Stadium, LSU will travel to The Swamp for two straight seasons. The last time the Tigers met a SEC opponent away from home in back-to-back years took place in 1991-92. LSU beat Ole Miss in Jackson 25-22 and then lost to the Rebels 32-0 one year later in Jackson.
2. The Gators have been the Tigers’ permanent Eastern Division opponent since the SEC split into divisions in 1992. Florida has won 15 of the 25 games in that stretch. LSU has won only four of 12 games played in Gainesville in that span. The Tigers won road games in 2002, 2004, 2010 and 2014. Three of the four victories came by four points or less.
3. It has been 16 years since LSU lost a third game before Nov. 1. In 2001, the Tigers suffered defeats against Tennessee (Sept. 29), Florida (Oct. 6) and Ole Miss (Oct. 27). That LSU team won its final four games to reach the SEC title game. The Tigers upset Tennessee to win the SEC championship and beat Illinois in the Sugar Bowl.
4. LSU has enjoyed good success against Eastern Division teams. The Tigers had won six straight games against SEC East teams until it was beaten by the Gators last November. LSU had not been beaten by an Eastern Division team since Georgia in 2013.
5. Derrius Guice, who is expected to play Saturday after sitting out the Troy game, needs 81 rushing yards to be in the Tigers’ top-ten rankings. Garry James is No. 10 with 2,217 yards. Guice is presently No. 14 on the all-time rushing list – eight yards behind LaBrandon Toefield.
6. It has been an unproductive three games for outside linebacker Arden Key since he returned to the lineup. Key has made only nine tackles with a ½ sack and one quarterback hurry. In his first two seasons, Key registered 17 sacks and 20 quarterback-hurries.
Fast facts about Florida
1. The Gators can begin SEC play with four consecutive victories for the fifth time since 2000 by winning Saturday. Florida has defeated Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt the previous three weeks. The Gators are also trying to get back-to-back victories against LSU for the first time since 2008-09.
2. There have been no SEC titles for Florida since Jim McElwain became coach in 2015. However, the Gators have been very good in the regular season under McElwain. Florida is 16-3 in SEC regular-season games – matching coach Steve Spurrier for the best 19-game start in school history. Moreover, the Gators are 13-1 in The Swamp with McElwain as coach.
3. Getting Florida in a close game has not been good for the opposition. Since McElwain became coach, the Gators are 9-1 in one-possession games. This season, Florida beat Tennessee 26-20 and Kentucky 28-27. In his career, McElwain has a 17-4 record in games decided by fewer than nine points.
4. With Tyrie Cleveland out with an injury, the Gators have only one receiver who has caught at least ten 10 passes this season. Kadarius Toney has made 11 catches for just 107 yards – an average of 9.7 yards per catch. Toney has no touchdown receptions. Cleveland is averaging 21.7 yards on his 15 catches. Cleveland has two scoring catches, including a 63-yard game-winner against Tennessee.
5. Florida has intercepted five passes in its first four games – two each by cornerbacks Duke Dawson and CJ Henderson, who returned both of his picks for touchdowns. Since 2008, Ohio State is the only power conference team with more interceptions than the Gators. The Buckeyes have 165 interceptions, while Florida has 157 – the same number as Alabama.
6. The Gators have two of the best kickers in the nation. Punter Johnny Townsend is No. 1 in the country with a 48.8-yard average. Opposing teams have returned just four of Townsend’s 21 punts for 16 yards. None of Eddy Pineiro’s 20 kickoffs have been returned. Piniero has 19 touchbacks with one kickoff going out of bounds. Piniero has made four of his five field goal attempts with the miss coming from 47 yards.
The first of a season-defining two-game stretch takes place Saturday in Gainesville. The outcome of games against Florida and Auburn will dictate the type of season for LSU. There is no doubt that things are trending downward for the Tigers. It is up to Orgeron to make sure his team plays with a sense of urgency this week. The Gators have not looked good, but they have won three straight games since losing to Michigan. The Florida defense is not as strong as in past seasons. The difference in the game may be special teams. The Gators have two of the best specialists in the country – punter Johnny Townsend and kicker Eddy Piniero. Special teams will tilt the game in Florida’s favor.
Score: Florida 27, LSU 23
Here are the statistical comparisons between LSU and Florida.
LSU points per game: 27.0
Florida points allowed per game: 26.0
LSU rushing yards per game: 192.8
Florida rushing yards allowed per game: 141.0
LSU passing yards per game: 216.2
Florida passing yards allowed per game: 240.2
LSU pass completion rate: 60 percent
Florida pass completion rate allowed: 52 percent
LSU total yards per game: 409.0
Florida total yards allowed per game: 381.2
LSU turnovers per game: 1.0
Florida turnovers forced per game: 1.3
LSU sacks allowed per game: 1.2
Florida sacks per game: 2.8
LSU third-down conversion rate: 36 percent
Florida third-down conversion rate allowed: 28 percent
Florida points per game: 27.2
LSU points allowed per game: 19.4
Florida rushing yards per game: 145.8
LSU rushing yards allowed per game: 126.0
Florida passing yards per game: 212.8
LSU passing yards allowed per game: 184.2
Florida pass completion rate: 62 percent
LSU pass completion rate allowed: 57 percent
Florida total yards per game: 358.5
LSU total yards allowed per game: 310.2
Florida turnovers per game: 1.8
LSU turnovers forced per game: 1.2
Florida sacks allowed per game: 2.5
LSU sacks per game: 3.0
Florida third-down conversion rate: 37 percent
LSU third-down conversion rate allowed: 41 percent
Here are the individual statistical leaders for LSU and Florida.
LSU: Darrel Williams – 61 carries, 320 yards, 5 touchdowns (questionable due to injury)
Florida: Mark Davis – 43 carries, 319 yards, 2 touchdowns
LSU: Danny Etling: 102 attempts, 62 completions, 61 percent, 921 yards, 5 touchdowns, 1 interception
Florida: Feleipe Franks: 63 attempts, 40 completions, 64 percent, 557 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception
LSU: DJ Chark: 16 catches, 338 yards
Florida: Tyrie Cleveland: 15 catches, 326 yards, 2 touchdowns (out with an injury)
LSU: Devin White – 49
Florida: David Reese – 32
LSU: Corey Thompson – 5
Florida: CeCe Jefferson – 5
LSU: Corey Thompson – 4
Florida: CeCe Jefferson – 2½
LSU: Donnie Alexander, Greg Gilmore, Christian LaCouture, Corey Thompson – 2
Florida: Jordan Sherit – 7
LSU: Greedy Williams – 3
Florida: Duke Dawson, CJ Henderson – 2
LSU: Greedy Williams – 5
Florida: Marco Wilson – 5
LSU: Clyde Edwards-Helaire – 7 kickoff returns, 146 yards
Florida: Tyrie Cleveland – 5 kickoff returns, 118 yards (out with an injury)
LSU: Zach Von Rosenberg – 5 punts, 42.2-yard average
Florida: Johnny Townsend – 21 punts, 48.8-yard average
LSU: Jack Gonsoulin – 2-of-5 on field goals, 14-of-14 on extra points
Florida: Eddy Pineiro – 4-of-5 on field goals, 13-of-13 on extra points