Remember back on Oct. 6, when Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on the East Coast and the Florida-LSU football game was postponed — looking more like canceled — and folks from Baton Rouge to Knoxville were outraged? “They have to play that game,” Volunteers coach Butch Jones told a Nashville radio station before anyone even knew how bad that storm might end up being.
Remember back then, when some on the LSU side wanted to paint the Gators as a cowering crew afraid to play the mighty Tigers? When Tennessee people were assuming Florida was ducking that game because it might mean a sneaky, backdoor path to the SEC East title despite a loss to the Vols?
On Saturday, the Gators finally met LSU. They met the Tigers not at home, as scheduled, but in Death Valley. They met them missing seven starters. And in the final, deciding moments, Florida met LSU twice at the 1-yard line.
The Fighting Ed Orgerons had driven to within feet of a winning touchdown, but the Gators did what their critics can do now: stuff it. Florida 16, LSU 10.
Those supposedly scheming, spineless Gators (8-2, 6-2 SEC) bowed all the way up and drove the Tigers all the way back, and they clinched the East fair and square on Saturday. They did what no one else could or would in that miserable division. They took it.
So now LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, who was so appalled by Florida’s handling of the postponement, can get about the business of finding a new football coach. (We assume, since Orgeron, eminently likable as he is, has now done no better than any given Les Miles season.)
And Tennessee can go back to hyping itself for another next year. Maybe in 2017 the Vols finally can snap their decade-long division title drought. Sure, Jones’ team beat Florida in Knoxville early this season, but no trophies are won in September.
Instead of worrying about whether the Gators were dodging LSU, maybe the Volunteers should’ve focused on not turning it over seven times at Texas A&M. And not getting gutted by Alabama. And especially not wetting the bed at South Carolina.
As it turned out, if Tennessee had just taken care of business in Columbia on Oct. 30, Florida would’ve had no say in the matter anyway. But when that door swung back open, the Gators sprinted through it like wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland on a 98-yard touchdown with 8:57 to go in the third quarter.
Florida, playing once again with its backup quarterback, had mustered a mere 60 total yards at that point. It rolled up 210 yards against that fearsome LSU defense over the final quarter and a half. Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine — 29 carries for 146 yards between them — started dragging Tigers on their backs.
Then, when it all came down to a single yard, the Gators’ defense denied one of the best rushing attacks in the country. Twice.
Remember when some said Florida was scared? Nah, me either.
Postscript: It’s a good thing, too, because playing No. 1 Alabama, a nuclear weapon disguised as a football team, is no kind of reward for reaching Atlanta. But the Gators certainly earned the right.