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Gators’ vaunted defense eager to face high-octane LSU, Tigers QB Joe Burrow

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has been virtually unstoppable this season, pushing a once-conservative Tigers offense to the cutting edge of college football.

Florida's defense buried Burrow last season in the Swamp, but expects to face a much more confident, capable player during Saturday's visit to the Tiger Stadium.

"He'll be the best quarterback, obviously, we've seen so far this year," coach Dan Mullen said.

Burrow also has not faced a defense quite like the Gators will throw at him during this matchup of SEC unbeatens.

The No. 5 Tigers' attack leads the nation with an average of 54.6 points per game, while the No. 7 Gators have given up 57 points all season.

Something's gotta give when the teams square off at 8 p.m. Saturday. The game will air on ESPN.

"We gonna keep doing what we do on our side," UF defensive tackle Kyree Campbell said. "Offense gonna do what they do."

This contrast of styles introduces a new facet to a long-standing SEC cross-over series that has evolved into one of the most heated rivalries for each school.

UF (6-0, 3-0 SEC) and LSU (5-0, 1-0 SEC) rarely engage in shootouts, primarily because the Tigers' offense has been stuck in the past. But the Tigers' grind-it-out approach has been replaced by a quick-strike passing game.

LSU's Ed Orgeron, seemingly as old school as coaches come, hired 30-year-old wunderkind Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints to retool the Tigers' passing game. Burrow suddenly is putting up Drew Brees-like numbers – LSU averages 416 passing yards and more than four passing touchdowns per game.

"He's a great player," UF linebacker Jeremiah Moon said. "I'm excited to get after him a little bit. May the best man win."

The Gators' confidence is high following a defensive gem last Saturday against Auburn and offensive-minded coach Gus Malzahn. The Tigers finished with a season-low 269 yards and scored their only touchdown following a botched fake punt by UF.

Freshman quarterback Bo Nix looked rattled from the opening drive.

But the Tigers' experience at the game's key position and complexity of their scheme will be different animals for the Gators.

"The quarterback's reads are a little more developed than last week. That part of it is a challenge," UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "They're kind of changing as the play goes on, whereas last week the changes occurred more pre-snap. Both offenses are effective, but this one is a little more challenging from the standpoint of the passing game, and you have an effective quarterback who knows where to throw the ball and you've got good skill guys.

"We've got to play well."

LSU's attack also will have to be on point, while Burrow will have to shake off some scar tissue.

Last season, UF sacked Burrow – then a highly touted Ohio State transfer – five times and forced him to throw his first two interceptions of the season. This included a game-sealing pick-six by safety Brad Stewart.

"I don't like them very much," Burrow said Monday. "They did beat us pretty good last year."

The 2019 Tigers have not been challenged thus far. They also have not faced a defense allowing fewer than 25 points a game or a pass rush with more than 11 sacks.

Meanwhile, the Gators have not allowed more than 21 points in a game and lead the SEC with 26 sacks.

UF also expects top defensive end Jabari Zuniga back in the lineup for the first time since suffering an ankle injury during the first quarter of a Sept. 14 visit to Kentucky. Zuniga had three sacks through two games before the injury.

"That's just another weapon for us," Florida safety Donovan Stiner said.

Orgeron, a longtime defensive line coach, realizes what his team is up against.

"We have a lot of work to do this week," he said. "But the biggest thing that we have to do in practice is simulate the speed of their defensive line."

No one has matched it yet.

Yet, no one has contained Burrow, either.

"He's a hell of a thrower," Campbell said. "We just gotta keep him in the pocket and we gotta press him. We gotta make him do things he's not used to doing."

UF's defense is an ill-advised fake punt away from not allowing a single touchdown during four home games. Away from the Swamp, the Gators' defense has not been quite so formidable, but was good enough during wins against Miami and Kentucky.

The Gators know they will have to be at their best Saturday night on the road against an LSU quarterback and offense that has been untouchable.

"We're just gonna have to play our ball. We're not too much worried about what they have to offer," linebacker David Reese said. "We know they're gonna be an unbelievable team, unbelievable talent, and that's obvious. They're a top-five team in the country. It's basically based upon what we do, how we execute and Grantham is an aggressive coach, so we're not gonna wait on the offense to make decisions."

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