The buildup for Florida’s clash with LSU has been in the works for more than a month, since it was initially postponed from Oct. 8 and ultimately relocated to Baton Rouge, La.
Of course, there was the backlash from the SEC’s decision to indefinitely postpone the game due to the expected impact of Hurricane Matthew that weekend in Gainesville, Fla., and then again from LSU’s subsequent refusal to have the game rescheduled anywhere but Tiger Stadium.
But more than that, it was clear all along that this game would have a pronounced impact on the SEC standings — particularly Florida’s push for an SEC East title — and that is indeed how it shapes up.
The No. 21 Gators (7-2, 5-2) close conference play Saturday at No. 16 LSU (6-3, 4-2) needing a win to assure their spot in the SEC championship game. A loss makes that goal far less likely.
Meanwhile, for a look at what the game means to fans in Baton Rouge and how the Tigers’ faithful are feeling about their team at this point, we reached out to Alex Hickey, who covers LSU for SEC Country, for a closer look and preview of the other side of this matchup.
Q: How much is the Oct. 8 postponement and ensuing fallout and rescheduling process still a story line for LSU and its fans this week?
Hickey: “I think it’s probably more of a story line for the people who actually have to travel to this game from Florida. There is, however, a perception among some LSU fans and players that Florida was trying to dodge the Tigers and this will serve as the comeuppance. That’s how badly Jeremy Foley handled the situation initially. People who have been through hurricanes in Louisiana were so stunned by his lack of preparation for alternative scenarios that the only logical place their minds could go was to a conspiracy theory where Florida wins the SEC East by playing one fewer game than Tennessee.”
Q: How much of the fanbase is sold on the idea of Ed Orgeron getting the full-time head coaching job?
Hickey: “I would say at least two-thirds of the fanbase is in Orgeron’s camp right now, though that bandwagon might empty quickly with a loss to the Gators. But the reaction to the news about Jimbo Fisher being in consideration for the position this week mostly elicited anger. He has won people over with the way the team has competed, and because he is a native son of Louisiana. That carries a lot of weight around here in any walk of life.”
Q: How different is this matchup from LSU’s perspective now than if it would have been played on Oct. 8?
Hickey: “More Gators are hurt than there were back then, which is a bit crazy since quite a few were hurt in October. And Leonard Fournette will play this week. He wouldn’t have in October. But the biggest difference from LSU’s perspective is this team has fully taken on Orgeron’s identity. I don’t know if that would have been true if they played in October.”
Q: Is there any concern about Fournette’s ankle, and what is your expectation for how he and Derrius Guice will fare against Florida’s defense?
Hickey: “Fournette’s ankle is a story every week, but it doesn’t seem to have detracted from his game too much. I’m not sure what to expect against a very good defense that is more than a bit banged up. LSU’s offense has been pretty explosive in its wins and anemic in its losses against some very solid fronts in Wisconsin, Auburn and Alabama. I could see the Tigers combining for 100 yards on the ground as easily as I could see Fournette and Guice breaking 100 apiece.”
Q: Finally, how do you see the game playing out?
Hickey: “Invest in punting. I think we’ll see a lot of it. I just can’t see LSU beating Florida by the 12.5-14 points I’ve seen out of Vegas. This is a pretty crucial game for both teams with the Gators trying to clinch the SEC East and LSU likely going to the Sugar Bowl if it wins out. I’ve got LSU winning 17-11. How Florida gets to 11, I don’t know. But weird things are supposed to happen in this game.”