Ah, nothing like a trip to Florida to help you get away from your troubles back home.
Of course, what the LSU Tigers are doing in Florida on Saturday doesn’t exactly qualify as “R and R.” They’re going to The Swamp to wrestle with the Gators. Perhaps the Tigers would be best served to bring along a well-armed Troy Landry as an honorary guest captain and gator grabber.
This is the second straight time the Tigers head to Florida while the folks back on the home front are ready to “choot ’em.”
Two years ago, it was the 12-car pileup of an ending against Tennessee that had Tigers fans worried. A game that LSU should have won, then should have lost, but then finally won in the most improbable, impossible style imaginable: the old “Snap the ball while time is running down to catch Tennessee with too many men on the field” ploy.
LSU looked like a basket case having to play at Florida the next week. But thanks to the old “Flip the ball on a hop to the kicker on a fake field goal” ploy, the Tigers pulled out a dramatic 33-29 stunner of a win.
That victory was the springboard for the current run of success LSU is still riding. Dating to that night in Gainesville, Fla., two years ago, the Tigers have won 23 of their last 26 games.
The last win, though, didn’t sit well with anyone.
LSU’s game against Towson started with rain and disinterest in front of a half-empty Tiger Stadium against an opponent everyone (LSU included) needed a GPS to find. It ended with extreme dissatisfaction over the sloppy, lackluster effort the Tigers displayed in a just-enough-to-get-it-done 38-22 victory.
Make that two sloppy wins in a row. LSU’s 12-10 win at Auburn two weeks ago was its own festival of penalties and turnovers, spiked with just enough big plays to allow LSU to escape a winner.
It’s an uncannily similar situation. Doubt about the LSU program has crept back in just like in 2010, when the memory of the Tigers’ debacle of a loss at Ole Miss was still a fresh backdrop. For this LSU team, the dismal failure of its showing in the BCS national championship game against Alabama has many questioning just how good and how well-coached this LSU team is.
“I can definitely understand that point of view,” said Josh Dworaczyk, LSU’s sixth-year senior offensive lineman.
“We hold ourselves to higher expectations. For me, as a senior, playing my last year, there’s a lot I want to accomplish.”
A lot was expected of this LSU team, which has had to overcome the loss of 15 players expected to be on the roster before the season began, players from superstar emotional leaders like Tyrann Mathieu to unproven but depth-providing newcomers like Avery Johnson.
Johnson isn’t coming until next year and his big brother (Patrick Peterson) isn’t coming back. And we just heard Troy Landry is tied up on a TV “choot,” so he’s not coming, either.
The Tigers have to play with who they’ve got. Fortunately, what they’ve got is still good enough to take the measure of a team like Florida that has improved mightily from that 30-point smackdown LSU administered last year in Tiger Stadium, though it still isn’t a classic Florida powerhouse yet.
The players LSU brings to The Swamp on Saturday just have to play better than they have. Particularly on offense. Ultimately, this game comes down to how well the LSU offense can manage to perform against a vastly improved Florida defense.
If LSU can manage to score 24 to 28 points, this is the Tigers’ game to win. Though Jeff Driskel Version 2.0 is new and improved and Mike Gillislee runs like he’s channeling his inner Fred Taylor, it’s hard to envision LSU’s defense giving up that many or more points to the Gators unless the LSU offense puts it in bad yardage positions. The Tigers’ “D” is quite adept at stopping people from driving the field on them — its heartless effort on Towson’s final two drives aside — but is also quite vulnerable when the opposition gets set up with a short field.
So the key element of this game circles back to the fact that the LSU offense must not just score points, but execute well. Boil down the penalties to a more respectable number, and avoid the toxic turnovers that can poison the Tigers’ hopes of proving those Las Vegas oddsmakers are still a savvy bunch.
It’s the Tigers against the Gators, but perhaps just as importantly, the Tigers have to overcome themselves as well.