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Florida vs. LSU, Game Thread: A reign in Tiger Stadium?

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Pictured above: The last Florida quarterback to win in Baton Rouge, Austin Appleby.

Florida v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

I wrote earlier this week about how fans can choose their own adventures — and how being Florida-first fans seems to rob some in Gator Nation of the perspective necessary to enjoy the wider and more bountiful sport of college football.

But that’s not to say I don’t get the expectations of Florida fans when it comes to games like this one against LSU, too.

LSU is a listing program, one that is doing almost all the things most thought LSU would do over the head coaching tenure of interesting character but largely unimpressive coach Ed Orgeron.

Orgeron, a career defensive line coach and indefatigable recruiter who had already failed to translate those skills to other duties of head coaching at Ole Miss and USC in two tries by the time he was retained as LSU’s full-time coach after an interim stint as the elevated lieutenant from Les Miles’s staff, was thought of as a coach whose narrow excellence might mean he would need great assistants around him to be a great head coach. So LSU ponied up to allow Orgeron to outfit himself with great assistants, retaining respected defensive schemer Dave Aranda and adding offensive whiz Joe Brady; those coaches, equipped with the roster Orgeron built, had one of the great seasons in college football history in 2019, rolling off a 15-0 campaign en route to a national title and getting their greatest challenge from Florida. (It is amusing to consider how many great national title teams of recent vintage have crossed paths with Florida.)

Since the game that allowed them to hoist a national championship trophy, Brady and Aranda have both decamped from Baton Rouge because the Carolina Panthers hired Matt Rhule as head coach, the Tigers have lost seemingly every other big-name player they have brought to Baton Rouge to one injury or another, and, most damningly, they are 8-8 on the field, and have carried a record better than .500 into just two games. Had Marco Wilson not catapulted a shoe to a different part of The Swamp last December, LSU would very probably be 7-9 in its last 16 games — with losses to Alabama and Texas A&M, yeah, but also one to Kentucky, one — and nearly two — to Mississippi State, and one to Missouri.

Today, Florida faces what looks like its last major test of the year outside of its meeting with Georgia. The rest of the Gators’ schedule pits them against SEC East programs that appear to be well removed from their level of performance, FCS stalwart Samford, and a Florida State squad that has had to scrap hard for two wins. LSU, even in this diminished form, is formidable in a way those teams are not — on paper, at least — and a trip to Tiger Stadium, where the Gators have just three wins this century, remains a visit to a fortress.

But for LSU, today begins a six-week string of games which will probably see the Tigers favored once, with meetings with Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M following this game against the Gators. And LSU is already at a point of no return with many fans, making its vaunted home-field advantage in Tiger Stadium something that this program suddenly cannot count on. If things go wrong, the bottom could fall out.

Florida should beat LSU today, and probably handily. The Gators have an offense that approaches their 2020 team’s magnificence at times, and its prowess on the ground would seem to be a nightmare matchup for LSU’s oft-indifferent run defense. Florida’s defense is also better than it was a year ago, though the degree to which it is better is debatable.

But Florida should have beaten LSU a year ago, and probably handily — even given some of the dumbnesses of the game. LSU purloined the pigskin at massively consequential times, took advantage of stultifying errors, and still needed a stunning field goal make and a surprising field goal miss to win by a scant three points.

A game Florida should have had in hand slipped out of its grasp, and in ways that were at turns absurd and arguably embarrassing. So Florida fans have approached this game with a sort of trepidatious confidence — knowing, in their heads, that these Gators should roll these Tigers, while also feeling in their bones that anything can happen when these two teams meet because we’ve all seen virtually everything happen in this rivalry.

For those fans, seeing is believing. And for the Gators, putting on a show worth remembering today would be a rather good idea.

Here are 10 predictions for Florida’s trip to LSU.

  1. Emory Jones will account for at least 225 yards of total offense.
  2. Anthony Richardson will account for no more than 17 touches.
  3. Florida will gain at least 175 rushing yards.
  4. Florida will score more than 30 points.
  5. Jacob Copeland will have four or more catches.
  6. Florida’s defense will force multiple turnovers.
  7. Florida will allow fewer than 24 points.
  8. Florida’s defense will not allow more than 4.9 yards per play.
  9. Florida will lead by double digits for at least 15:00 of game clock.
  10. Florida will defeat LSU, 38-20.