GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain had to laugh at the question Monday, the implication that his team could possibly be underestimating LSU after the Tigers’ stunning loss last Saturday as the Gators prepare this week for a much-anticipated showdown in The Swamp this Saturday.
“Us, overlook somebody? Wow. No,” McElwain said. “We know what kind of players they have, and you probably have written about the guys they held out in that game, probably getting them ready to come here. No, not at all.”
While No. 21 Florida (3-1, 3-0 SEC) has certainly dealt with its share of adversity and setbacks already this fall, it has nonetheless managed to string together three straight conference wins.
LSU (3-2, 0-1), on the other hand, was dealt a shocking 24-21 loss last weekend at the hands of Sun Belt foe Troy, a team it reportedly paid a $985,000 guarantee to play in Baton Rouge.
The previous week, the Tigers lacked bite against a middling Syracuse team in a 35-26 win; the week before that they were dominated in a 37-7 loss to Mississippi State in their SEC opener.
The scrutiny is intensifying on Ed Orgeron, who is in his first full season as LSU’s head coach, and even more so on Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva, who named Orgeron the interim head coach during the middle of last season before signing him to a long-term contract.
McElwain has had his own drama to worry about in Gainesville, though, and he wasn’t about to discuss LSU’s struggles leading into this game.
He accurately noted that the Tigers were without star running back Derrius Guice, who rested with a leg injury, and three other starters in right tackle Toby Weathersby, defensive end Rashard Lawrence and tight end J.D. Moore.
And veteran QB Danny Etling was replaced for the whole third quarter by freshman Myles Brennan after sustaining a chest injury in the first half.
“I know the last game they were without a whole bunch of guys. And I’m sure that they’ll be all hands on deck when they come in here and play us. And (that’s) the way it should be,” McElwain said. “This is a good rivalry. Obviously, what makes it that is it’s your game in the East-West that is on your calendar every year. I think the fan base enjoys it. Two good football teams playing.”
Sure, but what also make this such an anticipated game is everything that transpired last year.
Florida was supposed to host LSU last Oct. 8, but Hurricane Matthew forced a postponement. That drew criticism and aggressive social media chatter from Tigers fans taunting that the Gators were looking to avoid the game, which in turn drew a harsh rebuke from McElwain and Florida’s players. Alleva then drew a line in the sand on the rescheduling and the game was eventually moved to Baton Rouge, La., in November.
Florida went on to score a momentous 16-10 win as the defense delivered back-to-back goal-line stands with LSU facing third- and fourth-and-goal from the 1.
As part of the agreement to move the rescheduled game last year, the Gators will host the Tigers this year and next. Florida then selected LSU as its homecoming opponent for this season, adding more heat to the growing rivalry.
Heat which McElwain and his players tried to downplay Monday.
“You know, I think people make a lot more of it than it was,” he said of all that transpired last season. “I think, you know, there’s a lot of things going on out there. I think this is, again, just historically, these two teams, the fact they’re playing every year, is something both teams look forward to because you know you’re playing … when you’re Florida, you’re playing against some of the best players in the country every single year. That’s good. That’s what makes the game what it is. But, you know, at the same time, we’ve played [that 2016] game and these are two separate teams.”
McElwain’s players mostly stuck to the company line, as well.
“There hasn’t been carry over,” cornerback Duke Dawson said. “We’re just focusing on what we can focus on. We’re just focused on this year and the things we can do to improve our team and ourselves.”
Said right tackle Jawaan Taylor: “Just another great team coming in ready to compete. We’ve just got to prepare and be ready for them.”
But wide receiver Josh Hammond acknowledged the obvious, that this is surely a game LSU and its fans have been anticipating since last season.
“LSU’s definitely going to come and play. Even though they lost last week they’re definitely going to come and play us probably totally different so we’re going to be prepared for it. We know that they’ve probably circled this game on their calendar, been ready to play Florida since the season started. And we’re ready for it,” Hammond said.
“I feel like they always play Florida with an extra chip on their shoulder. It’s just a rivalry that’s [grown] in the past years before. I feel like they’re always going to play Florida with a little chip on the shoulder.”
Meanwhile, Florida middle linebacker David Reese grew up in Detroit, far from the SEC spotlight. That epic 2016 clash was his first taste of the rivalry, but he said it didn’t take long to see how much this game means to both sides.
“I learned quick, when I first got here. Playing against them my freshman year, that was my first time realizing how big that game is to Florida. That was a great game,” he said. “There’s [nothing] like playing LSU at their home, after the hurricane and stuff like that. It meant a lot to win that game, and it’s going to mean a lot to win this game in The Swamp this year.”
The post Gators downplay carryover effect of 2016 drama with LSU ahead of rematch appeared first on SEC Country.
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