The Gators and LSU renew their annual rivalry Saturday at the Swamp and that’s the right word for what it’s become: rivalry.
Even though most Florida has more prominent long-standing rivals like Georgia, Florida State and even over the last 30 years, Tennessee, the recent games with the Bayou Bengals have taken on significance on an SEC and even, the national scale.
Likewise, LSU’s biggest rivals are Ole Miss, who they clobbered last week, and of course, the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide.
Still, there have been some dramatic, hotly-contested and huge national implication games over the last 15 years or so, in the playing of this game.
Take for example the 2007 game in Baton Rouge, where Florida was the defending National Champion but LSU was ranked number one in the country.
A sophomore quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow was gaining all kinds of national fame and LSU fans had obtained his cell phone number, publicized it and sent him hundreds of threatening and harassing voicemail and text messages the week of the game.
Tebow used it as motivation and actually taunted the LSU fans after a touchdown at Tiger Stadium by motioning to the crowd in the endzone to call him by putting his thumb and finger up to his ear. This was part of the Gators building a 10 point fourth quarter lead. Tiger fans would remind everyone that they converted twice on fourth down on the final game winning drive, and scored with an under a minute to go to defeat Florida 28 to 24.
LSU went on to win the BCS National Championship later that year with a decisive win over Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Tebow and the Gators got their revenge the following season, when he threw for two scores and ran for another, as Florida annihilated #4 LSU 51-21 handing them their first loss of the season.
Tebow went on to win the Heisman Trophy and Florida went on to a perfect season beating Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the BCS National Championship.
Fast forward to 2015, when the embattled LSU coach Les Miles used this fake field goal in a tie game in the fourth quarter with the Gators
LSU went on to win and improve to 6-0 in that 2015 season. However, they faltered down the stretch and Miles, who was almost fired at the end of 2015, was fired mid-season 2016.
That same year, with Hurricane Matthew bearing down on the east coast of Florida, the Florida-LSU game was postponed after controversy as to where and when it would be played arose. Eventually, it was decided that Florida would give up their home game for that season and play the game at the end of the year in Baton Rouge.
The Gators won the game with a dramatic goal-line stand stopping LSU running back Derrius Guice on 4th and foal in the final seconds clinching the SEC East Division title for the 2016 team.
Because of that Hurricane, Florida will get to host LSU for the second consecutive season at home. And, the Bayou Bengals once again come in undefeated and ranked #5 this time.
And whether it be cell phone messages, fake field goals, or goal line stands, these games have been wild, narrow margin and fun to watch most of the time.
Now, let’s see what happens in the 2018 version.
Gators struggle early-survive Saturday in Nashville
The Gators can’t say they weren’t warned.
A young team with an unproven quarterback had just scored the biggest victory of its season against a top-10 opponent. The misery of early September had been washed away by a series of steadily better and more encouraging performances. The Gators grew and developed, just as any fan would hope for in a transitional season under a first-year head coach. No one expected all the pieces to perfectly fit together, but Florida gradually assembled the puzzle and solved several of its biggest problems.
The next step for a team which evolves from chaos into continuity: Maintaining that evolutionary process instead of stopping to rest and think it has it all figured out. Weeks 1 through 6 of the college football season brought the Gators to a much better place, but with a month and a half left in the journey, Florida needed to realize the race — entering its daunting middle stages — was only beginning to take on added textures and tones.
Every challenge surrounding a young football team was neatly crystallized — or not-so-neatly, as it were — in Saturday’s game against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
The Florida team which had begun to figure out how it wanted to play; the Florida team which had begun to establish and cement the template for the rest of the season; the Florida team which had begun to breathe in the intoxicating aroma of success, and all the temptations that go with prosperity, had to develop tunnel vision and not rest on recent achievements. Playing a late-morning game in a half-filled stadium against a reeling Vanderbilt side, Florida had to shove complacency and human nature into a dungeon, lock the door, and move on.
That proved to be a huge challenge… and not unexpectedly, either.
Believing you are better than you actually are — in that first moment when a team tastes considerable success — is not an easy thing to confront. Young teams and imperfect teams inevitably have to go through the process of playing a game (or many games) in the face of that complacency before they learn how to master and subdue that inclination.
This game against Vanderbilt was a maiden voyage for the 2018 iteration of the Gators. Without question, this experience will do UF a lot of good in 2019, but the more immediate question emerged as Florida sleepwalked through most of the first half in Nashville: Could this 2018 team, warts and all, find the clarity to dig its way out of trouble?
The answer: Yes… and in the way which has defined the Gators in their upward climb this season.
The central characteristic of the Vanderbilt team which limped into Week 7 is that it had been punched in the mouth, outworked and outplayed by two SEC opponents… and Tennessee State. Vanderbilt had conclusively shown that it could not handle a street fight.
In the first half, Vanderbilt threw and landed the punches, en route to a 21-3 lead.
Would the Gators get off the canvas?
Would they immediately show they could take several body blows?
The eruption of tempers among various players and coaches from both teams late in the first half could have cut in either direction. It could have become an indication of how unfocused and unprepared this team was… or it could have become the application of smelling salts the Gators needed.
Safe to say, they woke the heck up.
The Florida offensive line, which has to flex its muscles in order to minimize and guard against Feleipe Franks’ limitations as a passer, began to roll up its sleeves. The concept of physically dominating an opponent is not hard to grasp, but doing it is the hard part, especially after a first half which sent frustrations past the boiling point.
Florida was tested — physically, emotionally, and situationally — on Saturday in Nashville. The Gators were far from perfect, just as they have been all season… and will continue to be.
That is what they are: very flawed, and unlikely to become a great team by the end of November.
What they also are, however, is a team that is winning more than most people expected at the start of this season, especially after the Kentucky game.
Four wins in a row in the SEC is nothing to disregard.
These Gators don’t play beautiful football… but what they lack in aesthetics is more than made up for in the intangible realm.
Gators trip to Vandy starts our Saturday college primer
It’s the second Saturday in October and the games in conference play start to heat up for state schools. Leading of our primer, USF has already won dramatically on Friday night 25-24 over Tulsa in the final seconds. And Florida State has the bye week off their heart breaking 28-27 loss to Miami and now, dealing with the aftermath and cleanup after Hurricane Michael slammed the Panhandle Wednesday.
Still the games will go on an for all three state school teams in action Saturday, they are on the road. So, here here we go in order:
Gators at Vanderbilt
It’s an early kickoff in Nashville for Florida off an emotional hard fought SEC win over newly formed rival LSU last Saturday in the Swamp. The Gators defense locked the Tigers (above) led by linebacker Vosean Joseph’s 14 tackles and two sacks. Florida had three takeaways, including a pick six in the final two minutes that sealed the deal.
Now, off three straight SEC wins, will the Gators stumble against a mediocre Vanderbilt team with an 11 a.m. local kickoff in Nashville?
It would be a third straight SEC road win, if coach Dan Mullen’s team can get it.
UCF at Memphis
In what is sure to be a wild, high-scoring affair, UCF is the “River City” of Memphis, TN, for their second road game of the year (they had one with UNC wiped out by Hurricane Florence in September).
And this is big one.
The unbeaten Knights have risen to #10 in the AP Poll and are on an 18 game win streak. Led by all everything QB McKenzie Milton, UCF goes for yet another win over the Tigers. They bombed Memphis is in the regular season meeting in Orlando and then, won a cliffhanger 62-55 double OT game for the American Conference Title in December and a perfect regular season at 12-0.
Will Memphis, a team that stumbled two weeks ago at Tulane, be able to score with the Knights? Will UCF turn the ball over and make it easier for them? Will UCF run away with this one and flex their muscle, again?
Miami at Virginia
As already written above, the Canes stormed back to beat rival FSU 28-27 a week ago and keep themselves unbeaten in the ACC. Now, they travel to a placed that has haunted them recently, Charlottesville, VA. The Cavaliers have won the last three meetings at home over Miami.
Will red-shirt freshman N’Kosi Perry improve on his overall play this week? Although he threw three TD passes in the second half of the comeback over the Noles, he was shaky for the first 2 1/2 quarters of the game, as Miami fell behind.
If the Cavaliers have a play maker it’s receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who has over 2,000 receiving and over 500 yards rushing in his career.
Miami hopes to continue to bring out the vaunted “Turnover Chain” again and again. They have 14 of them now in six games.
Guess who moved up on our Power Rankings?
We roll out our latest edition of our Power Rankings. And yes, there is definitely a college based theme:
5. Jacksonville Jaguars- The Jags are here mostly due to the fact the Bucs were on BYE, and the Dolphins fell to Cincinnati. FAU and FIU haven’t done enough in the conference USA yet either. The Jags had a rough trip to Kansas City suffering their worse loss of the year. The Chiefs came into the game with a defense that was known to be the weak point of the team. They took that to heart and forced five turnovers. Since the impressive win vs. the Patriots, they have had bad games against Tennessee and Kansas City, and a thumping of the Jets. The Jags look to get back into the win column against the average Cowboys offense.
4. USF Bulls- Jordan Cronkrite ran for 302 yards, and three touchdowns and South Florida improved to 5-0 for the second straight season by beating UMass 58-42. The performance earned the former Gator the AAC player of the week. This was the third game in a row Cronkrite has surpassed 100 yards. Barnett finished 17 for 24 for 209 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He once again didn’t have to do much with the ground game on point. The Bulls will be in action again Friday night against Tulsa on national television.
3. Miami Hurricanes- The Hurricanes drop a spot after they sure made last week interesting last week. They were close to letting FSU and Willie Taggart get his first signature win. Instead, the Canes found their mojo and broke out the turnover chain a few times, followed by 21 unanswered points, and all was well in the Hard Rock. N’Kosi Perry threw four touchdown passes and bounced back from early game struggles. The Hurricanes hadn’t beaten Florida State in consecutive seasons since 2003 and 2004, and still control their destiny in the ACC Coastal. They will take on the Virginia Cavaliers Saturday.
2. Florida Gators- Are the Gators back? Tim Tebow delivered a pre-game speech, so they must be right? They sure looked the part after defeating the LSU Tigers and we’ve moved them up. The defense continued to flex its muscles holding the Tigers to less than 200 yards passing. Lamical Perine was able to grind for 85 yards and two scores, and it was just enough for the Gators to win. Up next is a trip to Nashville against Vanderbilt a program they have struggled with in the past.
1. UCF Knights- Another week another game on the Knights roll. This is just becoming a regular thing like drinking water it seems. McKenzie Milton threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns, Adrian Killins rushed for 113 yards and a TD for the Knights in their win over SMU. The Knights got some help with a few top 10 losses and find themselves inside of it now. The question is: if the Knights continue to roll the way they are, can they crash the playoff party? UCF takes on Memphis in an AAC title rematch that will air on ABC at 3:30.
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