SEC TELECONFERENCE: Les Miles
Tiger head coach ready for Will Muschamp’s much-improved Florida Gators
Les Miles recognizes the undefeated Florida Gator football team he’s preparing to take on Saturday.
That’s because they look a lot like his undefeated Tigers.
Miles spoke to the similarities between the two teams set to do battle in The Swamp this weekend during his Wednesday morning SEC teleconference. He opened the session by commenting on the physical defense and run-oriented offense former LSU defensive coordinator and current Florida head coach Will Muschamp has implemented in Gainesville.
The Gators and Tigers are running the ball on 67 percent and 64 percent of their plays, respectively, leading the SEC in that regard. For Florida, a big part of that has been senior running back Mike Gillislee, currently second in the conference in rushing yards per game (100.5).
“They have a nice tailback who’s averaging 100 yards per game,” Miles noted. ”They’ve been physical. They’ve demonstrated that, not only this year, but in each of the years they’ve played us. I think [Coach Muschamp] is well down the road and improving the team.”
As they have in each of the last two seasons, the Gators enter October 4-0, but they’ll hope to improve on the combined 1-7 record they’ve accumulated the past two Octobers. Miles anticipates a better month for Florida this go around; he’d just prefer it begin after the two teams clash this weekend.
“This team is well-prepared, more competitive,” he said. “They look like a very quality Florida team. They’re certainly very representative of some of the best teams Florida’s had.”
One facet Miles doesn’t recognize in the Gators is their much-improved quarterback play. Sophomore Jeff Driskel has taken the reins of the Florida offense and stabilized a quarterback situation that was a major weakness a season ago, posting the SEC’s fourth-best passing efficiency (158.0) among starters through four games in 2012.
“It’s night and day,” Miles said of Florida’s situation under center, calling Driskel “a quarterback that understands what his role is and what he’s supposed to do.”
“It makes an offense more productive,” Miles added.
As to his own quarterback, Miles continued to express confidence in junior Zach Mettenberger, who has been hot and cold in his first five career starts. His 150.5 passer rating would have led the SEC in 2011, but ranks just seventh in 2012, while his three turnovers inside opponents’ 20 yard line has made LSU the worst red zone offense in the conference.
All that said, Miles hasn’t lost faith in his quarterback.
“When he decides to whistle it and throw in on the line, he can step back and let it rip,” Miles said of Mettenberger. “He’s very accurate, and he’s got really good vision and knows where he should go with the ball.”
Those abilities, Miles said, open new dimensions to the run-first LSU offense - dimensions are made all the more crucial by Mettenberger’s lack of mobility compared to past Tiger QBs.
“It makes us a lot more productive and efficient in the passing game,” Miles said of Mettenberger’s arm talent. “There’s no quarterback run in this offense, and therefore the ability to get the ball in the other guys’ hands downfield becomes key.”
Finally, Miles addressed two of LSU’s biggest issues entering the Florida game: fumbling and offensive line shuffling. After 225 consecutive carries without a fumble, Tiger running backs fumbled four times against Towson this past weekend, while Mettenberger lost his third fumble in two games.
“It’s not something we want to continue,” Miles said. “We work on [ball security] a lot. Our guys understand sometimes extending runs allows guys to be a little bit more not secure with the ball. We’re correcting that. We’d expect that we’ll have ball security. We’ve certainly had that here over our time.”
As to the offensive line, Miles remained diplomatic as to whether he plans to continue using Alex Hurst at left tackle, or move Hurst back to right tackle and plug in sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk to protect Mettenberger’s blind side.
Without preseason All-American left tackle Chris Faulk - who is out for the season with an injury - the LSU pass protection has struggled to protect its quarterback, allowing 11 sacks in five games.
Miles still feels his veteran line can get the job done, despite the shuffling.
“There is an adjustment when you go right to left,” Miles said, “but the more veteran the guy, the easier the adjustment.”