Once more into the storm, dear friends, that is the LSU-Florida game.
How is it that the annual meeting between the Tigers and Gators is almost always shrouded in so much drama? Hurricanes. Hurt feelings. Anxiety and accusations. Maybe the football gods are trying to tell everyone they’re strongly in favor of keeping this permanent cross-division rivalry thing the Tigers and Gators have had going on for so many years. A huge, karmic thumbs up. Who is the Southeastern Conference brass to argue with that?
Whatever the reason, the game usually falls for these two schools when the tropics still run hot. The emotions as well.
For LSU, once again it’s the Desperate Times Bowl.
The past three weeks has seen the Tigers run off the field by Mississippi State, underwhelm against Syracuse and be so stunned by Troy that Mike the Tiger couldn’t have been more shocked if he tripped over an exposed power cable leading to Tiger Stadium’s floodlights. The coach, who has publicly dissed his players and exhibited an alarming amount of disconnect between his offensive coordinator and the scheme he was brought in to run, is in big trouble, although by any logical measure protected for now by the staggering weight of his buyout clause.
It’s nothing new around here for the coach to have to be fending off slings and arrows. But this time the athletic director, the one who signed him to a contract tied anchor-like to that enormous buyout, is edging closer and closer to a dip in the hot tub as well.
The schedule does neither any favors. After Florida comes Auburn, a trip to Ole Miss and a visit to Alabama. An extended losing streak could be in the offing, the kind that could make the three-game November nosedive in 2015 that pushed Les Miles to the brink look merely like mild turbulence at 30,000 feet.
All this against a backdrop of a Hurricane named Nate churning in the Gulf — no offense to all the Nates out there, but what kind of name is that for a hurricane? — an unwanted “You’ve got to be kidding?!?” homage to Hurricane Matthew and the subsequent scheduling fiasco that has LSU going to Florida this year in the first place.
Turns out, this year’s storm is more likely to veer closer to Baton Rouge than to Gainesville. Maybe that’s a fortunate factor for LSU. For this and other reasons it may be a good time to be getting out of town for a weekend in Florida. At least when the Tigers get booed in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday it will be because of the old rivalry and new rancor over Matthewgate, not because the home fans think, well, they stink.
There are only four LSU players who were on the team in 2014, the last time the Tigers played at Florida. That game found LSU in pretty similarly dire straits to this one. The Tigers were 4-2 and 0-2 in the SEC, having been upset by Dak Prescott and Mississippi State 34-29 in a game that wasn’t that close and routed 41-7 at Auburn in a game that was as bad as advertised.
Toting that baggage, LSU marched into Gainesville and came away with a surprising 30-27 victory, Colby Delahoussaye drilling a 50-yard field goal with :03 left for the winning points. Maybe that recent history can lift this LSU team to what will have to be its best performance of the season.
“It was kind of like a must-win situation,” said Christian LaCourture, one of three active Tigers on the team then. “We had some bad losses that year, Mississippi State and Auburn, and it was something that hurt. We talked to the team and said this is enough and we have to make sure what’s going on. We have to understand the problems and fix them during the week in practice and fix them on the field and we got the win. As the year went on we steadily improved.”
Flip the calendar forward three years and the Tigers are on a similar self-help kick. After the Troy loss and the flurry of recrimination that followed came a wave of meetings. Coach O and his coordinators and Alleva, LSU players among themselves.
LaCouture was hopeful it would help.
“We just need to adjust,” he said. “The big thing that we talk about all the time is communication, lining up, signal, whatever it might be. We have to make sure that stuff doesn’t happen any more.”
Where the Tigers are right now, chased like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid to the edge of a cliff by a relentless posse, there’s no choice but to take a leap of faith. Light a candle, hold hands and sing “Hey Fighting Tigers.” Go back full bore into the trickery Matt Canada’s offense was supposed to provide. Do some gambling on defense. Try to block a punt, onside kick, bring back the fumblerooski.
As President Trump said to great personal effect during last year’s campaign, “What the hell do you have to lose?” especially when the status quo would seem to make another loss a virtual certainty anyway.