GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida football program certainly got the short end of the stick in the postponement of its game against LSU.
Not only did the Gators lose two home games and now have to play in Baton Rouge, but they’ll be missing seven starters Saturday with the SEC East on the line.
Oh, and Tigers running back Leonard Fournette — who would’ve been out on Oct. 8 at Florida — is now healthy.
The cards seem stacked against Gators coach Jim McElwain and his team heading into this week. As a fellow colleague, does LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron somewhat sympathize with McElwain?
“No,” Orgeron said bluntly during his Monday news conference.
After SEC fans and media members claimed Florida used Hurricane Matthew to dodge a Fournette-less LSU, the talk now is that the banged-up Gators are scared to play. But this time, it’s coming from the Tigers themselves.
“A lot of injuries,” linebacker Arden Key told LSU reporters this week. “They were injured when we were about to play (the first time). Then I guess they got a couple guys back, and now they lost multiple guys. I watched the South Carolina game this past weekend. It was just injury after injury.
“I know they’re scared to come up here because they don’t have all their stars or whatnot. So, we feel comfortable.”
Meanwhile, McElwain undoubtedly has lost some confidence — and comfort — with his team after the recent injuries. But when asked if Florida’s postponement predicament is simply bad luck, McElwain didn’t concede.
“Hmm, yeah, I don’t … you know, I don’t know,” McElwain said. “Look, anything that comes up that really is out of your control. You can sit and cry about it or do whatever, or you can just move on. That’s what we’ve got to do. You know what, it is what it is. We’re going there to play.”
SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears, a former LSU defensive end and Baton Rouge native, told SEC Country the initial outcry about the game being canceled should have been a secondary concern.
“I know people go crazy about football, and they plan weddings around it and babies don’t need to be born until the spring,” Spears said. “But in the grand scheme of things, man, it was more about making sure that these people are going to live and survive. So when I saw the rhetoric back and forth, I thought it was a little immature on LSU’s part and Florida’s part.
“It also let’s you know how important football is in the Southeast, too. It’s almost like you decide to go to either church or the game. I think for a lot of people at that time, there was a lot of confusion because you really didn’t know. I had people tweeting me with the sun up in Gainesville the next day. I would tweet, it was a hurricane, like we’ve been through this in Louisiana.”
Florida had several players with families in the path of Hurricane Matthew, including safety Nick Washington. He’s from Jacksonville, and his parents were without power for multiple days.
“It’s not like we had a vote, like, ‘Hey, do you guys wanna play LSU this week?’ It was kind of just something that was told to us — this game is canceled for this reason,” Washington said. “The fans played a role into it, but at the end of the day we couldn’t do anything about it.
“They think we had a choice of avoiding this game when there’s a hurricane. Not just me but a lot of my teammates, a lot of us had family in places where the hurricane was hitting. It kind of bothered us a little bit, but we had to let it go.”
McElwain and the Gators had to let go of another home game when LSU refused to reschedule the matchup in Gainesville on Nov. 19. As a compromise, the Tigers will travel to Florida in 2017 and 2018.
McElwain is confident the SEC will create a new protocol to better handle future game cancellations.
“I think smarter people will put something together, figure out something that makes it right,” McElwain said. “And, yet, it’s amazing when some things that you don’t ever really kind of think of come up that are totally out of your control.
“I’m talking in general, that we better maybe do something about this should it ever come up again. And who knows if it will ever come up again? … I’ve got total trust in the SEC. It’s a quality organization led by a guy that knows what the heck he’s doing.”
Spears said this game needed to be rescheduled to maintain integrity of the league and applauded SEC commissioner Greg Sankey for making it happen. However, Spears didn’t like the jockeying between schools about the location.
“Where the game is played matters to fans,” Spears said, “but as a football player it shouldn’t matter. … Not one time has anyone gone on television and said, ‘Man, the crowd was loud. That’s why we lost.’
“Everybody tries to feed you all the home-field advantage, whatever it is you want to call it. For football players that are in their uniforms, if you’re thinking about home-field advantage you’re in the wrong business, you’re in the wrong line of work.”
Gators star cornerback Jalen “Teez” Tabor appears to have the right job.
“I don’t think we’re scared,” Tabor said in response to Key’s comments. “It says something about somebody who is going in someone else’s neighborhood when you’re supposed to come to our neighborhood and fight. I don’t see how that is scared at all. You’re going into the enemy territory.”