Les Miles probably didn’t mean to react as strongly as he did, and in the proper context the question by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt wasn’t that outrageous.
What, Van Pelt wanted to know, does Miles need to do to keep his team from thinking ahead to playing Alabama.
That would be Alabama, one month and three dangerous Southeastern Conference opponents from now.
Miles responded as though the phone by which he was doing the interview suddenly gave him a small but nasty electric shock.
“We’re playing Florida,” Miles said. “Are you kidding me?”
No coach, there’s no kidding when it comes to playing Florida.
Yes, the Gators come into Baton Rouge having just got their big alligator teeth kicked in by Alabama, 38-10. And in The Swamp, no less, where you might have thought the Florida state legislature would have passed a bill to make such Gator poaching illegal.
Florida (4-1) will be without senior starting quarterback John Brantley, who when last we saw him was having his foot inserted in his ear hole by the Bama blitz. The Gators will be starting a freshman quarterback today - that is, if their mom can drive them to Tiger Stadium on time.
History will of course not play a down Saturday, but if it has taught LSU anything it’s that the Tigers underestimate the Gators at their peril.
Set the Wayback Machine for 2003, when a downtrodden Florida team limped into Tiger Stadium with a 3-3 record coming off a 20-17 home loss to Ole Miss.
LSU was riding high, undefeated and ranked No. 6 in the country. Florida was starting a freshman quarterback, some kid named Chris Leak.
The Gators completely confounded the Tigers that day, holding LSU without an offensive touchdown in a 19-7 upset that would be the eventual BCS national champions’ only defeat.
It’s unlikely that Miles is going to let his team get overconfident (“Are you kidding me?”). His preparation for the games in which LSU is a big favorite is a big part of the reason the Tigers are 31-1 under Miles in nonconference encounters. Rarely do they let the low-hanging fruit get away.
Given their current state of quarterbacking affairs, the No. 17-ranked Gators have been installed as a two-touchdown underdog to top-ranked LSU and probably qualify as such. Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett will probably look like a hanging side of beef in a cooler to LSU’s man-hungry defenders. And you can hear PA announcer Dan Borne saying, “Chances that Tyrann Mathieu will force a turnover AS GOOD AS EVER!”
But something about Florida still says it’s too talented and too well-coached to allow me to believe LSU will win in a walk, freshman quarterbacks or no. It’s probably the ghosts of Florida quarterbacks past, players like Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews and Rex Grossman and others, who made LSU’s annual game with Florida look like a Wes Craven movie.
On the other side of the field, could LSU’s quarterback situation be one of too much instead of too little?
Maybe. Jordan Jefferson’s return certainly looks like a boon to LSU’s offense, adding the skills of an experienced quarterback who can both throw and run.
To these ears, those thousands of boos that descended on Jefferson’s entry into the Kentucky game - boos that turned to cheers when he scored the touchdown - were largely vocal disapproval of Miles’ decision to put him in so quickly.
Boos that said, in effect, don’t mess with a winning streak.
Miles, like any coach worth his whistle, doesn’t rule by acclimation. And he hasn’t won nearly 100 games in his career by being foolish. He said Jarrett Lee will continue to be his starter and that Jefferson will play situationally. It’s the only way to proceed unless Lee breaks down physically or performance-wise.
And if that happens, everyone who booed Jefferson being put into the game last Saturday will be thanking the football gods that he’s there. Ask Florida’s Will Muschamp if he wished he would have had a senior quarterback to turn to when Brantley went down.
The Gators don’t have anything like that, but they do still possess enough ability to turn this into a crying game for LSU.
Still, that will happen only if the Tigers allow it. Allow it by savoring the 1 vs. 2 hype which has started to percolate even though the LSU-Alabama game is still four weeks away.
Will that happen. Are you kidding me?
As big as LSU-Alabama may be, for today, LSU-Florida is all the football game anyone needs.