It’s a game that will embody the SEC mentality “Football above all else.” A game that caused a logistical argument, a human rights upheaval and a national punchline will be played in “Death Valley” Saturday.
Rather ironic, considering the only reason Florida and LSU are playing in “Death Valley” is due to the path Hurricane Matthew carved out taking lives, uprooting families and causing massive devastation. But the game goes on, albeit a month and a half later than originally scheduled and not in Gainesville.
“Anything that comes up that is really is out of your control, you can sit and cry about it or you just got to move on and that’s what we have to do,” said coach Jim McElwain.
Yet, it also gives the Bayou Bengals a chance to wreak havoc to the Gators SEC Championship game hopes. A victory would give McElwain a unique distinction at Florida, as the first head coach to win the SEC East in each of his first two seasons. (Divisions weren’t created until Steve Spurrier’s second season)
It will be an uphill climb for the Gators to achieve that second consecutive SEC East title. Injuries have sidelined 7 starters, including leading tacklers LB Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis and S Marcus Maye.
“The ones that are able to get on the bus, we’ll load up and go play,” said McElwain. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, we got to answer the bell.”
QB Austin Appleby is expected to make his fourth start with Luke Del Rio still sidelined with a shoulder injury. Appleby served as a jolt in the arm for a struggling offense last week against South Carolina. But that was in The Swamp, not in a raucous road environment like Tiger Stadium.
“The thing that Austin did was he got the ball out of his hands, made decisions and he didn’t see a bunch of ghosts,” said McElwain.
LSU has also laid witness to an uptick in performance. Since Ed Orgeron has taken over for Les Miles as head coach. The Tigers have gone 4-1 with their lone loss coming in a grind out game with number one ranked Alabama.
The Tigers’ All-American RB Leonard Fournette was stifled against the Crimson Tide, but with Florida’s biggest defensive weapons out, reaching 1,000 yards for the season could be in reach. While that is unlikely with the way Darius Grice is running the ball in relief of Fournette, it’s imperative for Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins to dial up a scheme to halt the run.
While LSU seniors will be given roses as they walk in for Senior Day, Las Vegas is also giving them a seven-point favorite. The Gators on the other hand could get a handout of their own by Missouri this week or Vanderbilt next week, if either one can beat Tennessee. A Volunteers loss would ensure there will by plenty of orange and blue in the Georgia Dome on December 3.