No.8 Florida has exceeded preseason expectations, and they’ve put themselves in a position to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But after the suspension of Will Grier, the Gators could have a difficult time against No.6 LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday.
The redshirt quarterback is done for the season, having been hit with a year-long suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Grier has led Florida to a 6-0 start, completing 65.8 percent of his passes for 10 scores and three interceptions. With Grier out for the remainder of 2015, backup Treon Harris takes over in their upcoming SEC matchup.
Harris saw the field in Florida’s first two games, completing 19 of his 27 pass attempts for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He was suspended by Jim McElwain for the team’s game against Tennessee for a violation of university rules, but the head coach is confident in his new starter’s ability.
"We've put things in (the offense for Harris) as we've gone along," McElwain said. "He's been doing a great job in practice. And going into this (season), I felt we had two really good quarterbacks.
"It's Treon's opportunity to take the reins and run with it. He'll do a great job."
Florida hasn't been a dominant offensive team with Grier at quarterback, winning in large part because of their defense. The Gators rank 47th in the nation, scoring 32.2 points per game. Florida ranks 11th on defense, allowing just 14.3 points per contest, having surrendered one touchdown in the last two games.
The Gators rank 18th in opponents’ passer rating (104.9), and their biggest challenge comes against the Tigers’ rushing attack. Only 11 teams in the country allow fewer rushing yards per game, but Florida is set to face the top running back in all of college football.
LSU's Leonard Fournette leads the nation with 1,022 yards rushing yards, ahead of No.2 rusher Tyler Ervin of San Jose State by a comfortable 148 yards. He’s averaging 8.6 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns, and he’s been incredibly consistent. The sophomore has yet to rush for fewer than 158 yards in any game this year, and he still managed to average 5.7 yards per carry in his worst performance of 2015.
Fournette has been so good that he’s the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Las Vegas has allowed gambling on the potential winner of the award for the first time, and the LSU running back opened as an 8/5 favorite.
In their most recent win, LSU relied on the pass more than they have all year. Quarterback Brandon Harris averaged just 95.5 passing yards in the first four games of the season. When LSU beat South Carolina 45-24, he completed a season-high 18 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns.
“Everybody knew we could run the ball, but we had to come out and prove ourselves at the quarterback position and at the receiver position, and I feel like we’ve done that today,” LSU wide receiver Travin Dural said, via espn.com. “We were very balanced.”
With Grier out, the betting line moved up 9.5 points, after it had been 7.5 points earlier in the week, according to vegasinsider.com. Las Vegas sportsbooks have the over/under at 47.5 points.
Florida has been able to surprise with their ability to slow down opposing offenses, but there’s no stopping Fournette. The Gators came closest to losing when they let Tennessee rush for 254 yards on Sept. 26, and Saturday’s game should produce a similar result. The absence of Grier should hurt, and the Tigers could pull away by the fourth quarter.
LSU over Florida, 30-17