Hurricane Matthew … and some political leveraging from Florida athletic officials blockaded LSU’s first attempt to play Florida in early October.
But luckily for the Gators, the game was moved to Baton Rouge … and it never rains in Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers and Gators will finally lock horns on Saturday afternoon in Death Valley – ending more than a month of off-field jockeying between athletic officials of both schools regarding when and where the matchup would be played – if at all.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said he’s aware of the heightened emotions surrounding the contest, adding that the Tigers will be ready to answer the bell when the ball is put into play this weekend.
The game will kickoff at noon. It will be shown live before a nationally televised audience on ESPN.
“Florida is a well-coached football team,” Orgeron said. “We know about their record. We know what they have on the line. But it’s not about them. It’s going to be about us. … We know it’s going to be a tough game, but we’re going to prepare well. We’re excited again that we’re playing at home. … We’re excited again for a big challenge from a very good team.”
LSU enters the game with a lot of momentum.
The Tigers walloped Arkansas last Saturday – showing the world loud and proud that they’re not going to give up on the season after falling to Alabama.
LSU gained 547 yards in the win, 390 of those yards coming on the ground.
Sophomore halfback Derrius Guice was the main culprit, gaining a career-high 252 yards on 21 carriers with two scores.
But Leonard Fournette wasn’t bad, either, scoring three touchdowns, while gaining 98 yards.
But against the Gators, the running game likely won’t come as easily.
Florida allows just 111.7 rushing yards per game – a mark that is No. 2 in the SEC behind just Alabama.
That statistic likely means that LSU will need some efficient plays in the passing game from junior quarterback Danny Etling, who rebounded from a poor game against Alabama and completed 10-of-16 passes for 157 yards against the Razorbacks.
“I was really proud for Danny,” Orgeron said. “I think maybe out of all of us, he probably had the toughest week (after Alabama). I know him. … He’s competitive and he fought back. … I thought he played well and I thought he threw the ball. He did what we asked him to do.”
Etling and the LSU offense may not need a huge number of points to win Saturday’s game, because on paper, it looks like the Tigers defense will be able to control the offensive attack presented by the Gators.
Florida has struggled to sustain drives throughout the season, ranking just No. 95 in the country in yards per game.
Like LSU, it’s the Gators passing game that’s been a bit topsy-turvy at times.
As a team, Florida has completed 175-of-294 passes for 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
On Saturday, senior Austin Appleby will get the start under center for the Gators, replacing Luke Del Rio, who is out with an injury.
Appleby was efficient last week against South Carolina, completing 17-of-21 passes for 201 yards.
But that wasn’t against the mighty LSU defense, which enters the game, having allowed the fewest touchdowns of anyone in college football.
Florida coach Jim McElwain said the key to victory on Saturday is balance and making sure that Appleby isn’t thrown into impossible situations in a tough environment.
The Gators will lean heavily on their running game – a multi-faceted attack led by Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson.
Through that, they attempt to stay in front of the chains and in reasonable down and distance situations.
“Austin did a pretty good job (last week),” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “It will be a real challenge for our entire football team this week. It isn’t about one player. It’s about our entire group of men. We have to be ready to go to work against a team that’s sound in all areas of play.”
Saturday’s game has significant postseason implications for both teams.
With a win, Florida would clinch the SEC Eastern Division Championship and would keep its slim hopes at making the College Football Playoff alive.
If the Tigers win, they can still reach the Sugar Bowl — an opportunity that could impress administration and give Orgeron a leg up in his quest to secure a multi-year deal to be LSU’s next coach.
LSU offense v. Florida defense
Florida’s defense isn’t Alabama-level good, but they’re not too far off. Those guys will make things uncomfortable for the Tigers throughout the game.
LSU defense v. Florida offense
Under Dave Aranda, LSU has emerged to become one of the top defensive teams in the country – if not the best. With a revolving door at quarterback and an inconsistent running game, the Gators likely won’t sprint out to many points against the dominant Tigers front.
The Gators can score from just about anywhere beyond the opponents 50-yard-line. Kicker Eddy Pineiro is one of the best in college football, owning a perfect 3-of-3 mark in kicks beyond 50 yards.
LSU 21, Florida 9