Florida’s defense has faced the daunting task of containing LSU running back Leonard Fournette each of the last two seasons.
Fournette broke free each time.
And unless an injury-riddled Florida defense steps up, it’s likely that Fournette and the rest of the Tigers’ backfield will rip and shred its way through the Gators’ defense once again on Saturday.
“His play speaks for itself,” UF linebacker Alex Anzalone said. “He’s one of the best, or arguably the best running back in college football.”
He’s proven that against Florida.
In LSU’s 30-27 win over Florida in 2014 in Gainesville, Fournette torched UF’s defense for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns during his first career start. On his first touchdown run — a 12-yard run in the first quarter — Fournette pushed and carried three Florida defenders about five yards as he bullied his way into the end zone.
One year later, the 6-1, 235-pound running back had 180 yards and another pair of touchdowns against the Gators’ defense, leading the Tigers’ offensive attack in a 35-28 win in Death Valley.
This year’s rendition of the annual UF-LSU game could be worse for Florida considering Fournette is well rested after sitting out last week and Florida’s entire starting defensive line is injured heading into the week.
Nose tackle Joey Ivie (thumb) and defensive end Jordan Sherit (knee) have already been ruled out, while defensive tackle Caleb Brantley (finger) and defensive end Bryan Cox Jr (undisclosed) are questionable.
“The biggest thing is just making gang tackles, running towards the ball,” said Anzalone, who is second on the team with 32 tackles. “That’s something we do every week playing in the SEC but especially going against Leonard Fournette.”
But it’s not just Fournette the 18th-ranked Gators have to worry about when the Tigers come into Gainesville.
Complementing the physical, bruising Fournette is sophomore Derrius Guice.
On the season, Guice has racked up 402 yards and four touchdowns. In the two games Fournette did not play, Guice recorded 318 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, averaging 8.8 yards per carry in the process.
“He’s tough as nails,” LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron told reporters in Baton Rouge on Monday. “He runs the ball like Warren Sapp played defense, and he has an energy about him, and he has an attitude when he strikes you that he’s wanting to go through you.”
That’s an imposing threat for a Gators defense that has failed to stop the run as of late.
Not including sacks, which factor in as negative rushes, Florida’s defense gave up 343 rushing yards on 80 carries (4.3 yards/attempt) over the last two games — a 38-28 loss to Tennessee and a 13-6 win over Vanderbilt.
“At the end of the day,” UF coach Jim McElwain said, “you have to stop the run to be successful,”
Florida’s run of facing quality running backs doesn’t stop with LSU, though.
After this week, the Gators still have to face Georgia’s Nick Chubb (85 rushing yards per game), Arkansas’ Rawleigh Williams III (111.8) and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook (127) in the regular season.
“We gotta get a lot tougher,” cornerback Jalen Tabor said.
Facing Leonard Fournette and LSU’s run game on Saturday should do just the trick.
“We preach physicality,” UF linebacker Jarrad Davis said, “and that’s what it’s going to be this weekend coming up in the Swamp.”