We’re in the home stretch now, although perhaps I should have used a different expression because the Gators will not return home to The Swamp the rest of this season. And if it seems like Florida has hardly played any games at home this year, it’s because the Gators have only taken the field in Gainesville five times - and have only done so twice outside of their first three games in September.
The Gators’ last home appearance for 2016 was a good one. Florida sent their seniors out on top, despite mounting injuries, and ended 2016 with an unblemished home record.
Would that home record have stayed as clean had the Gators played LSU on Steve Spurrier-Florida Field this season? I don’t think anyone can say for certain. Even the result of this weekend’s rescheduled date with the Tigers in Baton Rouge likely will not indicate how the two teams would have fared in a different location, on a different date, and under different circumstances.
Of course, there are contingents of the LSU fanbase, and other forces of the internet, that felt that Florida’s rescheduling of that game was due to the Gators’ being “scared” to play the Tigers and wanting to heal injured players prior to that match-up; and not because of a major category four hurricane bearing down on the coast of Florida.
How did that alleged “strategy” work out for Florida, you ask?
Well, on October 8th, the original date of the Florida vs. LSU match-up, star LSU running back Leonard Fournette was questionable to play and had not practiced all week. For Florida, Luke Del Rio, David Sharpe, Caleb Brantley, and Bryan Cox were injured, but were all noted as likely to play. Jordan Sherit and Joey Ivie were to be out.
On November 19th, Florida will be facing a largely healthy Leonard Fournette without their three leading tacklers - Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone, and Marcus Maye. The Gators will also be missing Luke Del Rio, Cameron Dillard, David Sharpe, Bryan Cox, and possibly Tyler Jordan and CeCe Jefferson.
But, y’know, narratives, I guess.
It’s going to be rough sledding for those in orange and blue from here on out. Of course, injuries are a natural occurrence in sports, and later in the season you will find more players playing through nicks and pains. The Gators have a difficult task ahead of them, finishing on the road against two ranked teams that have certainly had Florida's number in recent years. This weekend, the Gators’ offense will be facing a defense that held No. 1 Alabama to ten points. Next week, Florida heads to Tallahassee to face a talented rival FSU team.
Putting either of these games in the win column would be a great feat for the Gators. A victory this weekend would send Florida back to Atlanta for the second straight year as the SEC East Champion - something that the Gators have not done in back to back seasons since 2008 and 2009. And yet, should Florida fall short of Atlanta, or come up empty in Tallahassee, I know I can still find reasons to be hopeful and proud of this team, and of future Gator teams to come.