After all, how could a coach with a defensive background ever measure up to the man who invented the high scoring “Fun ‘n’ Gun” offense?
The answer? Easily.
The Gators came into Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge on October 11, 2003, and handed the LSU Tigers their only loss of the 2003 season, 19-7, and with mere days remaining before the rematch between their old foe, still boast the top offense in the SEC.
But the fact that Florida is still scoring at will is not nearly as surprising as the manner in which they are doing it.
Gone are the days of the “Ol’ Ball Coach” where Gators quarterbacks would stand back in the shotgun formation and fire the ball downfield at anywhere from three to five receivers. Instead, Zook has sophomore signal-caller Chris Leak standing under center and handing the ball off to stud running back Ciatrick Fason, who currently stands atop the SEC standings as the conference’s top running back.
That is not to imply that Florida has become a run-oriented team though, simply that after years of using the tailback as little more than a decoration on the field, they are now using him to pound the ball up the middle to give balance to the offense.
The balance is paying off, too, as a scan down the SEC standings reveals Leak standing atop the conference quarterback rankings, and wideout O.J. Small among the top receivers in the Southeast.
That very balance could cause major problems for the Tigers, as they folded in their only test this season against a team that had as much firepower on the ground as it did through the air.
On October 2, while the No. 16 Gators were wrapping up a 45-30 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks, LSU was kicking off a conference clash it would rather forget – a 45-16 hammering at the hands of the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs.
The Georgia trio of quarterback David Greene, running back Danny Ware, and receiver Reggie Brown had a field day against a stunned LSU defensive unit, and you can bet the Gators took notice – especially Leak, who will be well aware of Greene’s career day of 10-for-19 for 172 yards and a school-record five touchdown passes.
The quintet of scores came over the heads of the Tigers’ two preseason all-everything cornerbacks who have become more of a liability than an asset through LSU’s first five games.
Senior left cornerback Travis Daniels was exposed on each of Georgia’s first three touchdown passes, with all three zipping over his head into the eager arms of waiting Bulldog receivers. Fellow senior Corey Webster saw a Georgia receiver cross right in front of him for the ‘Dawg’s fourth touchdown, and the one-dynamic duo combined for just three tackles and two pass breakups while Georgia picked up 209 yards through the air.
Daniels and Webster were far from being the only defensive culprits though, as freshman running back Danny Ware had his way with LSU’s defensive line all day long, picking up 109 yards on 22 carries. Change-of-pace back Thomas Brown offered no relief for the Tigers either, as the tailback picked up 81 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries – numbers sure to make Fason’s eyes light up.
LSU, on the other hand, was not able to muster anything even remotely resembling offense production all afternoon long, and while quarterbacks Marcus Randall and JaMarcus Russell combined for 247 yards and two touchdowns, the usually stellar running game picked up only 67 yards on the ground against a Georgia defense celebrating the return of suspended linebacker Odell Thurman.
Sophomore bruiser Alley Broussard led all LSU running backs with 45 yards on 12 carries, but his 3.8 yards per carry average would only have been third-best on the Bulldog stat sheet. Particularly disappointing was sophomore Justin Vincent, as the 2004 Sugar Bowl MVP carried the ball only twice, picking up only two yards and losing a fumble for the second straight week.
While Florida’s defense is not on the same level as Georgia’s, LSU’s offense is hardly the same caliber as the Arkansas one the Gators defeated in a shootout last time out.
The Tigers may look to the revenge factor for motivation, and hope to avenge the eight-point loss from 2003, but after the loss to Georgia, merely avoiding a third-straight nationally televised embarrassment on the road should be their primary aim.
However, doing so will be no easy task at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, long regarded one of the most hostile environments in college football for a visiting team to come in and play. The intensity of Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., and Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., have given the green LSU team more than enough problems in the Tigers’ first two road trips in 2004, and the third leg of a tough road swing could prove too much for the purple and gold to handle.
While LSU head coach Nick Saban will be back at the drawing board looking to find ways to settle a year-old score, the reeling Tigers may well find that The Swamp is no place to learn to swim.