GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It looked like the wheels had come off this LSU program.
Or the shoes. As Spike Lee said in that long ago Nike commercial with Michael Jordan, it’s gotta be the shoes.
Internal strife. A self-imposed bowl ban. One of LSU’s best defensive players doesn’t make the trip to Florida. The other is a pregame injury scratch. Once said game was played, with a freshman quarterback getting his first collegiate start in the sparsely populated yet still scary Swamp, LSU had to deal with an early ejection and a parade of players going to the bench with injuries.
That was the week that was for LSU. Coming in the wake of a 55-17 beatdown by Alabama, it had to qualify as the worst week for Tigers football in a very long time.
But after a gutsy effort by what is left of this LSU football team, it turned out to be one of the best.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — LSU won.
It was a brave effort by the Tigers. Truly. Somehow they believed, blocked out the noise from fans and all us too-clever media types and turned a huge break served up by one of the biggest brain cramps of all time by Florida cornerback Marco Wilson into one of the biggest, craziest upsets in LSU history.
Nothing in this left-is-right, black-is-white, down-is-up year was as improbable as LSU’s 37-34 upset of No. 6-ranked Florida on Saturday night in a fog right out of a John Carpenter movie. In one fantastical sequence, the Tigers put a knife in the Gators’ College Football Playoff hopes and put some much-needed salve on this open wound of a season for themselves.
It won’t make up for everything that LSU has lost, everything that has happened. But this is the Tigers’ biggest upset since the “Pigs will fly” shocker against Alabama in 1993. And that is worth a great deal to a team, a program, trying to get back on its feet. Or, more appropriately, its cleats.
LSU was a 23-point underdog coming into this one and looked every bit like it should be down by even longer odds than that.
Linebacker Micah Baskerville didn’t make the trip. Star cornerback Derek Stingley was dressed out but couldn’t go. LSU’s other starting corner, CorDale Flott, was an early ejection for targeting. And over the course of the game, running backs Ty Davis-Price and John Emery had to retire with injuries and right guard Chasen Hines also went down for a time, as did cornerback Eli Ricks, whose 68-yard pick-six was a key moment (complete with a major amount of taunting) that went a long way to helping the Tigers believe they could win.
And did we mention that freshman Max Johnson, long on quarterbacking pedigree but short on experience, was starting his first career game against Heisman Trophy front-runner Kyle Trask? Sure, Florida was without its injured star tight end Kyle Pitts, but the Tigers can give a raspberry to that. No sympathy from LSU. Not with the battalions of players that have been marching out of Baton Rouge this whole year.
In the end it came down to a drive, an instance, a thing so improbable it completely defines why we love college football so much.
Florida looked like it was about to force an LSU punt when Wilson picked up tight end Kole Taylor’s dislodged shoe and flung it 25 yards after he was tackled well short of the first-down marker.
“I didn’t see it,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “But I saw three flags and I was happy.
“We needed a break and we got a break.”
The unsportsmanlike call put LSU back on course for a 57-yard, game-winning, school-record tying, fog-cutting field goal by Cade York. Florida had a chance to force overtime, but Evan McPherson’s 51-yard try at the final horn drifted wide left.
Wilson’s shoe throw looked arrow straight. Maybe Dan Mullen should have let him kick it.
“It went down the middle, right?” York asked of his three-pointer that he didn’t see go through the uprights.
Sure, kid. Even if it wasn’t, don’t remember it any other way. No one can tell you different. And these beleaguered Tigers will remember this one fondly. Maybe forever.
“When we’re 50, 60 years old we’ll be talking about York kicking the field goal and Max stretching for first downs,” safety JaCoby Stevens said. “These moments can never be taken away.”
A momentous moment. A momentous win. A win that may allow LSU to begin the healing it so desperately seeks after a season that has gone so awry after so much greatness a year ago.
“I told them if we beat Florida this could be the building blocks to turning around our program,” Orgeron said. “It gives us confidence. We’re building a championship team.”
This is a win LSU can build upon going into the early signing period and beyond.
Pigs will fly? The Tigers will, too. They can step out onto the fog bank and be home before they know it.