There comes a time in a young Tiger fan’s life when they realize that a certain game is more than just a rivalry. In the case of LSU vs. Florida, the competition has been going on for years.
“When Tebow was there. That’s when I first realized,” LSU junior linebacker Patrick Queen said. “I saw everybody in my neighborhood going against Florida, so that’s what really grew me into the mold of loving LSU and hating Florida.”
On Oct. 7, 2007, the No. 1 ranked Tigers hosted the No. 9 Gators in what would become the most memorable game in a legendary series of games. The 2007 Heisman winner Tim Tebow shredded the best defense in the nation, leading the Gators to multiple two-score leads.
Ten points down in the second half, LSU took advantage of a pair of Florida turnovers and some tricky play-calling to complete their comeback. Five fourth-down conversions, two fourth-down touchdowns and a fake field goal later, the Tigers walked out of Death Valley with a four-point win.
Since then, Florida games have been especially significant for Tiger fans and LSU football players.
“We respect every opponent. It is what it is,” LSU junior pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson said. “But at the same time, [there’s] a strong dislike for them.”
Dislike is a common sentiment when Florida comes marching into Tiger Stadium. The Gators currently own the UF vs LSU title, grasping onto a 33-29-3 lead. However, LSU has won 10 of the last 19 games. The Tigers come into this year’s game with the nation’s best offense, ready to make up for last year's loss.
With two touchdowns from Florida running back Lamical Perine and a trick play that resulted in a touchdown reception by Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks, LSU’s playoff hopes were killed.
“I think a lot of guys remember it, but I feel like we gotta let that go at the same time,” Patrick Queen said. “Can’t let that hold us down cause then you start overthinking. [We] just gotta go into this week, have a good week of practice and play cool, calm and relaxed.”
For a game this big it may be hard to stay calm on the field. The fans and players of both teams have been known to get into confrontations.
In 2016, after Hurricane Matthew caused a postponement of the game, which then had to be held in Baton Rouge, the enmity between the two seemed to get worse.
“Ever since that 2016 game, when we were on the one yard line and didn’t punch it in, [the rivalry] has just gotten more and more drama every year,” junior punter Zach Von Rosenberg said. “I don’t know what it is about Florida or the fans or whatever, but it makes it that much more special when you do win.”
The original game was supposed to be played on Oct. 8 in Gainesville, but the potential for severe weather pushed it back more than a month. To make matters worse, the game was scheduled for one of LSU’s bye weeks, adding fuel to the rivalry’s fire.
Florida fans and players were irate over the decision to play the game in Baton Rouge.
On Oct. 11, 2016, the University’s mascot, Mike VI was euthanized due to complications with cancer. Less than a week later, Florida players were seen petting a toy cat skeleton adorned with Mardi Gras beads, presumably to mock the recently deceased mascot.
😛😛😛😛😛😛😛 🐅🐊 pic.twitter.com/Zy6Kl0zAlL— D.SHARPE (@Sharpe_Theory) November 20, 2016
“You watch [the mockery] show up on Twitter from their guys punching our guys after the play, physically, literally after the play. Just things that don’t need to be happening,” Chaisson said. “Obviously we aren’t gonna be pushovers, we’re going to play between the whistles, but we’re not going to do things that cost the team.”
During the final minute of the game, Florida was up 16-10 on the Tigers. LSU quickly drove the length of the field, settling in at the 5 yard-line with 30 seconds remaining.
First down, star running back Derrius Guice went up the middle for four yards. Down at the one. Timeout Tigers, 10 seconds left.
Quarterback Danny Etling handed it off to full back, J.D. Moore, who was stuffed at the goal line. Timeout LSU, 3 seconds left.
The ball was snapped as the stadium went silent. The student section could be heard gasping in the distance. Guice fumbled at the goal line leaving his team to scramble for the ball with no time left. The heartbreak over the stadium as fans walked out was perceptible.
The memory of that game, along with more recent games against Florida, led to excitement throughout this week, with both players and fans full of anticipation, ready to fight for a win.
“I was walking around kinda giddy and happy, people on campus were kinda looking at me weird,” Jacoby Stevens said. “You know, I don’t care, It’s Florida week. I’m kinda hyped up, jittery, ready to go.”
For LSU players, there is no sweeter victory than one against Florida, junior punter Zach Von Rosenberg said.
“It’s a game we always look forward to and after last year, losing, we feel like we owe them something,” senior long snapper Blake Ferguson added.
Senior quarterback Joe Burrow was explicit about his dislike of the Florida Gators.
“I don’t like them very much,” Burrow said. “I know they don’t like us very much. That’s been the talk around here. You just have to keep your emotions in check with a game like this.”
Burrow’s calm demeanor is encouraging for Tiger fans considering Florida’s stout defense.
LSU’s defense has been nothing to mess with either, even with giving up 38 points to Texas and Vanderbilt.
According to NCAA.com (hyperlink), here’s how each team stacks up against one another:
This is the Tigers’ first game against a top 20 defense ranked nationally. While the Tigers’ defense have struggled somewhat, they have still been good, ranking in the top 30 in each major defensive category.
Coach Ed Orgeron had some words on the team’s gameplan going against a dominant defense like Florida.
"This is by far the best pass rush we have seen," Coach O said in his presser on Monday. "We're going to be tested. Last year, we did not block their pass rush very well. The biggest thing that we have to do in practice is simulate the speed of their defensive line.”
Florida’s defensive line has been the driving force behind their defensive success and will look to pressure Burrow and give the Tigers’ offensive linemen something to deal with.
This game always carries extra weight for the players and coaching staff, and the key to success is motivation and determination.
“At this point, if you need a speech for this game, you don’t need to be playing. If you need a pregame speech or motivation, you're not at the right school,” Chaisson said.
The intensity and drive both teams have, along with their long animosity toward each other, will make this game one to remember.