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October 6, 2006
Game of the Week: No. 9 LSU at No. 5 Florida
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Chris Leak probably would rather forget the last time he faced LSU.
The Florida quarterback's slow adjustment to new Gators coach Urban Meyer's scheme reached its low point that October afternoon. Leak was sacked four times and went 11-of-30 for just 107 yards in the Tigers' 21-17 victory.
"Was he put in a tough situation?" Meyer said. "Sure. A quarterback who has a lack of firepower and (is) not being protected is in a tough situation."
Leak hasn't been the same quarterback since. He's been far, far better.
In the 10 games that have followed that loss to LSU, Leak has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,304 yards with 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Florida has gone 9-1 during that stretch and has won its first five games this season.
The typically slow-footed Leak even showed some mobility last week with a career-long 45-yard run that set up the Gators' first touchdown in a 28-13 victory over Alabama. He completed 70 percent of his passes for two touchdowns in that game.
"I think the game we played last week is an indication of how far Chris has come," Meyer said.
But the senior quarterback's career renaissance is about to face its biggest test.
The fifth-ranked Gators (5-0) put their undefeated record on the line Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS) against No. 9 LSU. These Tigers boast a defense every bit as good as the unit that harassed Leak a year ago.
LSU (4-1) leads the nation in total defense and is ranked third in pass defense. The Tigers have allowed only three touchdowns all season.
"They play with a lot of confidence," LSU coach Les Miles said of his defense. "They understand what they're supposed to do. There's a real pride in the unit. They go out there with the idea they're going to stop somebody and (force) a three-and-out. They're a physical group that has great speed to the ball.
"It appears to me just from watching on the sideline that they're a very physical defense. When you go up in there, they're going to hit you."
Leak knows the feeling.
He remembers how the Tigers came after him again and again last season. The senior quarterback wants to absorb the hits without making the mistakes that have haunted so many previous LSU opponents.
"We can't have early turnovers or miscues in this game," Leak said. "Obviously great teams like LSU will capitalize on them and put points on the board. We have to make sure we stay on schedule and make plays that need to be made."
Leak may have to make more plays than usual.
DeShawn Wynn, who leads the Gators with 354 rushing yards, has a sprained knee that could prevent him from playing this weekend. Wynn's injury should result in more carries for Kestahn Moore, who has gained 160 yards on 30 carries this year.
"Kestahn has been doing a great job of moving the ball," Leak said. "Obviously, Wynn is a big part of the running game. We just have to make sure our running game is ready. I think DeShawn will be ready to go."
Florida discovered last year that it takes a balanced offense to beat LSU.
The Gators' lack of a consistent running attack allowed the Tigers to go after Leak early and often. At that point in the 2005 season, the Gators' inability to settle on a starting tailback made their offense somewhat one-dimensional.
Florida's running game has come a long way since then.
So has its quarterback.