LSU and Florida have a lot in common Saturday going into this year’s Showdown in the Swamp.
Little of it is good.
Quarterback uncertainty. Embattled coaches. Questions about the direction of their programs. It would give one fan base or the other a chuckle if they weren’t struggling with the same issues.
At least the Tigers and Gators haven’t resorted to wearing hideous alternative uniforms, though maybe this would be a good time for both teams to play under assumed gear.
Once upon a time, not very long ago, the annual game between LSU and Florida was one of the biggest games on not only the Southeastern Conference schedule but the national scene to boot. CBS made the Permanent Opponents Bowl its prime-time showcase game. The game was appointment television for college football fans, and a bonanza for ticket scalpers.
This year, one wonders what would fetch a higher price: a Todd Gurley-autographed jersey or an LSU-Florida ticket on the secondary market?
As far as TV goes, this is being played in prime time, all right. But it’s on the off, off Broadway of a night slot on the SEC Network. The big cameras are trained on Auburn-Mississippi State and Ole Miss-Texas A&M.
It’s understandable. Those games feature showdowns of ranked opponents. For the first time since 1989, the Tigers and Gators square off with both teams parked outside the Top 25.
A win would bring a booster shot of respectability for both.
Florida coach Will Muschamp, a former LSU defensive coordinator under Nick Saban, has been taking a soak in a bubbly hot tub since his Gators sank to a 4-8 record last season, Florida’s first losing campaign since 1979.
Even a scrappy (read: ugly) 10-9 comeback win at Tennessee did little to stem the drumbeat of negative news in Gainesville, although the narrative took an unexpected turn Friday.
After leading said comeback, Florida quarterback Treon Harris was accused of sexual assault and was suspended from the team, only to be reinstated Friday by the university after the complaint was dropped.
However, Muschamp said in a statement Friday afternoon that Harris won’t play against LSU. That means the quarterback job will still default to junior Jeff Driskel, who threw for just 59 yards with three interceptions at Tennessee.
Rewind back to Monday night, when backup quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg and New Orleans native Gerald Willis, last seen spurning LSU at the Under Armour All-American Game while his mom reprised her love for LSU (as she did when Willis’ half-brother Landon Collins picked Alabama), got in a fight outside the football stadium over cleats. Apparently. Mornhinweg went to the hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
All these issues may not impact Florida’s effort against LSU, but they’re just more clouds on what lately has been a perpetually stormy Gators’ horizon.
None of it is what you want on the eve of such a pivotal game, that’s for sure.
At LSU, the drama is pretty much on the field.
The starting quarterback job has been a barrage of baseline volleys between sophomore Anthony Jennings — who did all he could to hand the job to freshman Brandon Harris with a disastrous first quarter against New Mexico State — and Harris, who may have handed him the job back with a nervous-looking start at Auburn.
LSU coach Les Miles said both would play at Florida but didn’t reveal who would take the first snap, saying it was of little consequence. If the plan is indeed to play both Miles will be proven right, and both may be given their turn at the controls to see who has the hotter hand.
But what kind off offense will they be allowed to run? That question looms just as large. Will it be the power running attack Miles has square-pegged his quarterbacks into, or will he allow his young quarterbacks room to roam and freelance through seldom-used chapters of Cam Cameron’s playbook?
I think we all know the likely answer to that one. What remains a question is whether LSU can improve what has so far looked like the “Red Sea” defense, parting before opposing ball carriers to the point where the Tigers are dead last in the SEC in rushing defense?
Hmmm. After running through all the dramatic subplots, turns out this game is a lot more intriguing than it looked at first glance.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.