This is exactly the sort of week that draws fans to LSU football like a Washington State flag to the “College Game Day” mosh pit.
A top-10 matchup between 5-0 LSU and 6-0 Florida. An actual, honest-to-goodness 7 p.m. kickoff in a sold-out Tiger Stadium (thank you, CBS, for taking a pass on this one). The arrival of “CGD’s” Lee Corso and his traveling circus of college mascot heads. And the promise of actual football weather (local meteorologists, you’ve got to deliver, OK?).
Can't see video below? Click here.
“This is what you come to LSU to do,” deep snapper Blake Ferguson said. “It’s going to be everything you expect and more. We’re looking forward to it, Florida is looking forward to it, and I’m sure the fans are, too.”
Speaking of fans, the tailgating should be at an Olympic-class level for this one with all day to, ahem, marinate the mix going on the grill. Perhaps a little Florida alligator, eh Ed Orgeron?
“I love the tradition, I promise you that,” Coach O said Monday at his weekly news conference to kick off what is easily the biggest week of LSU’s season so far. “And I hope our fans have a blast.
“But there will be no gimmicks with our football team on Saturday. This is going to be a hard-nosed football game. We're going to be focused all week, we're going to block out the noise, we're not going to pay attention to anything that's going on except the task at hand and that's beating Florida. That's going to be a big monumental task for us, and we plan on getting it done.”
No one seriously thought they might be tossing chunks of lightly charred gator to the Tigers before the game — though I’m quite sure LSU’s new-fangled nutrition center could handle the order. But Orgeron’s response was telling.
He’s 1-2 against Florida going back to when he was named LSU’s interim coach in 2016. The Gators beat LSU here 16-10 in 2016, stuffing Derrius Guice at the goal line in a loss that probably kept the Tigers out of the Sugar Bowl. LSU won 17-16 in 2017 in Gainesville on guts and heart and a missed Florida extra point. And the Gators turned the Tigers away 27-19 there last year, turning a late LSU possession into a pick six to reach the final eight-point margin.
Both teams certainly come in with their offense wonders on tap. But this will be a grinder in the classic Southeastern Conference mold.
Oh, give me that old-time SEC religion, y’all.
“No question,” Orgeron said, “controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides is going to be a key to this football game. It's going to be a battle. We're going to have to win our blocks up front, we have to win our gaps, and we're going to have to tackle. Florida has run the ball on us the last two years, very, very well. We have to stop the run. I think that's my biggest concern right now is stopping the run.”
The Gators this season have been a glittering mishmash of great plays and huge mistakes. Florida has forced an SEC-best 17 turnovers and has committed an SEC-high 13 (though only two other conference teams have played six games). They could have lost to Miami, should have lost to Kentucky and somehow balanced four turnovers with four by Auburn and the temporary loss of quarterback Kyle Trask to pull out a 24-13 victory over those previously unbeaten Tigers.
In other words, the Gators just find a way to win and win and win, often throwing in some “trickeration” like a pass back to the quarterback like late in the game against Auburn. Like late in the game last year against LSU on Florida’s go-ahead drive.
One can certainly debate the wisdom of a trick-play pass Saturday to an injured Trask, who got pretzeled earlier in the game and came away with an MCL sprain. But the craziness that flows like a fountain from the mind of Florida coach Dan Mullen finds its mark often enough that it’s a frightening prospect for an LSU team trying to navigate its way to one of those special seasons.
The Tigers are trying to keep from being stung by that, and from being lured into what outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson described as a lot of Florida-brand chippiness, or the “pregame tussle” Orgeron recalled from a few years back.
“We have to be composed the whole game,” Chaisson said. “Their guys punch our guys after plays. We don’t need to be pushovers, but we need to play hard and not do things that will cost the team.”
It may be a fun-filled week for everyone else, but the Tigers’ seem to be clinging close to a very businesslike approach.
No gator on the menu. No mindgames. Just faith in their own effort and planning and precision being enough.