Coach Les Miles may not agree with his LSU team being ranked No. 1, but he and his Tigers are embracing the challenge of trying to defend the top ranking heading into a pivotal SEC clash with Florida on Saturday.
LSU (5-0, 1-0) supplanted Southern California atop the rankings by a mere two points Sunday. The Tigers, who have a 12-game overall winning streak and are on a 16-game run at home, will play their first contest as the No. 1 team in the nation since Nov. 7, 1959, when they lost 14-13 to Tennessee at Knoxville.
Miles seemed genuinely surprised his team was able to overtake the Trojans given their first-half struggles Saturday at Tulane before scoring 24 unanswered second-half points in a 34-9 victory.
“The truth of the matter is anybody that voted us No. 1, it’s obvious they didn’t get up in the morning and watch us play,” he said Monday. “If they would have watched the first half, there is no way they would have voted us No. 1.
“It’s probably good that we didn’t play great football last week because it proves there is a lot to accomplish and improve on. They understand there is a great challenge in front of us with Florida.”
Charles Scott rushed for two touchdowns and quarterback Matt Flynn shook off the effects of a sprained ankle and six sacks to finish with a career-high 258 yards against the Green Wave. The senior signal-caller is eager to avenge last season’s 23-10 loss - LSU’s last defeat - to the Gators in which Tigers quarterback and eventual No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell was intercepted three times.
“I think last year that was one game we wish we could have played again,” Flynn said. “We are looking forward to this game. We’ll watch some film and study up and come out and play our best game.”
Flynn is expected to have the services of wide receiver Early Doucet, who missed the last three games with an undisclosed injury. Doucet had 15 receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games.
LSU - attempting to start 6-0 for the first time since the 1973 team won its first nine games - has outscored opponents 199-32 and leads the nation in rushing defense (39.0 yards per game) and total defense (174.6). The Tigers also are second in scoring defense, allowing 6.4 points a contest.
The Tigers trio of tailbacks - Jacob Hester, Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday - has accumulated 700 yards and nine touchdowns rushing.
Given the rash of upsets that padded the Gators’ fall from fourth to ninth in the rankings this week, the defending national champions can quickly play themselves back into the national title picture with a victory at arguably one of the most intimidating atmospheres in college football.
But Florida (4-1, 2-1) must first move forward from Saturday’s 20-17 loss to Auburn that ended an 11-game overall winning streak and 17-game run at home. Tim Tebow accounted for 276 total yards with 201 passing and 75 rushing, but may have been asked to do too much by running the ball 19 times into a very stout Auburn defensive line.
“At no point in that game did I feel comfortable enough to turn around and hand it off,” coach Urban Meyer said in defending his game plan.
Meyer may have to add wrinkles to his offensive plan considering LSU’s defense, anchored by perhaps the best defensive player in the nation in Glenn Dorsey. The senior tackle has 25 tackles and three sacks through the first five games.
Tebow first made a national name for himself at the expense of LSU last year, though, completing both his passes for touchdowns and rushing for 35 yards and a score. He has completed just under 70 percent of his passes for 1,297 yards and 11 touchdowns with only two interceptions, and realizes that redemption for Saturday’s loss could quickly come with a victory.
“I think there is a lot that guys are going to take as motivation,” Tebow said about losing to Auburn. “That’s one of the things (Meyer) talks about, that we’re going to do what made (his) program great in the past, outworking teams, winning special teams in games, going out there and out-practicing people and having hard practices.”
Tebow also leads the team with 433 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, while receivers Percy Harvin and Cornelius Ingram have combined for 45 catches, 705 yards and six TDs.
Florida, which forced five turnovers in last year’s win over LSU, leads the all-time series 28-22-3. The Gators had a three-game winning streak in Baton Rouge snapped with a 21-17 loss on Oct. 15, 2005.