By GLENN GUILBEAU | Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
BATON ROUGE – The Gators are back where they started during the original week leading up to their home game with LSU on Oct. 8 – back to their backup quarterback with several starters out due to injuries.
Starting quarterback Luke Del Rio injured his shoulder in the 31-10 loss to Arkansas on Nov. 5 and is not expected to play against the No. 14 Tigers (6-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) at noon Saturday on the SEC Network.
Austin Appleby, who replaced LSU quarterback Danny Etling when both were at Purdue in 2014, replaced Del Rio as he did earlier in the season when Del Rio injured his knee. Appleby completed 17 of 21 passes for 201 yards in the 20-7 win over South Carolina Saturday that improved the No. 18 Gators to 7-2 overall and 5-2 in the SEC.
A win Saturday against LSU clinches the SEC East for Florida, but it will have to do it with a skeleton crew, excluding that cat displayed at Florida’s home win over Missouri on Oct. 15 that Gator players put purple and gold beads around on the field. This was the same week that LSU’s Mike VI died.
Florida could be without as many as eight starters for LSU, including defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (leg), safety Marcus Maye (broken arm), linebacker Alex Anzalone (broken arm), linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle), left tackle David Sharpe (leg), defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson (leg), center Cameron Dillard (leg), backup center Tyler Jordan (ankle).
“You got guys dropping left and right and new guys go in there,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said after the game. “I think we sold some extra programs because they didn’t know who the jersey numbers were in there. And I think the athletic director (Scott Stricklin) will be excited about that. That’ll help the budget.”
Appleby suffered a fumbled exchange with third team center T.J. McCoy, a redshirt freshman, against South Carolina.
“Well, I deal with the twos the entire spring camp and the entire fall camp, so those are my dudes,” Appleby said during postgame interviews Saturday. “I actually felt more comfortable with them. We just go play football the Gators way. We’re so deep. We’ve got so much talent on this team that it doesn’t matter who’s out there. If we play to our standards, we’ll be successful.”
Not really. The Gators in the second year of McElwain, who came to Florida as an offensive coach, are 12th in the SEC and 95th nationally in total offense with 378.1 yards a game and 12th in the SEC and 93rd in rushing offense with 152.7 yards a game. Florida managed just 12 yards on 14 rushes in the loss to Arkansas. LSU put up 390 yards on 51 carries in a 38-10 win at Arkansas Saturday as backup tailback Derrius Guice carried 21 times for 252 yards – the second highest game rushing total in LSU history.
Florida is also not so good at passing the ball either as it is sixth in the SEC and 73rd nationally with 225.4 yards a game.
Largely because of the defensive talent left by former coach Will Muschamp, the Gators are very good on defense and will be the best opponent to play LSU’s offense since Alabama shut out the Tigers on Nov. 5. The Gators are DBU. They are No. 1 in the SEC and No. 2 in the nation in pass efficiency defense with a 92.27 rating based on allowing just six touchdowns and intercepting 12 passes. In passing yards allowed, Florida is No. 1 in the SEC and No. 3 in the nation with 155.1 a game.
So, Etling may not have the greatest of games in this Purdue Bowl, though if LSU keeps playing defense like it has, neither will Appleby.
Florida is also strong against the run as it is No. 2 in the SEC and No. 12 nationally in that category with 111.7 yards allowed a game. The Gators are also No. 2 in the SEC and No. 3 nationally in total defense with 266.8 yards allowed a game – just behind Alabama with 259.5 allowed a game. Florida is No. 2 in the SEC and No. 5 in the nation in points allowed with 13.3 and No. 1 in the SEC and No. 7 nationally in third down defense as opponents are succeeding just 29 percent of the time – 36 first downs in 124 attempts.
The key for LSU will be if its offensive line can play as it did against Arkansas and not as it did against Alabama.
Guice sees a very motivated O-Line continuing what it did at Arkansas.
“The offensive line was tired of being told they’re (expletive deleted),” Guice said after his 252 yards. “Arkansas sees us an easy victory because we lose to Alabama before we play them. We’re tired of hearing that, and we’re tired of hearing that we can’t run the ball against Alabama and after we play them. So, we brought it to them.”
And LSU brought home The Boot.
“I just want to applaud the offensive line for setting all that up for me,” said Guice, who set the LSU record for longest play from scrimmage with a 96-yard touchdown run on his last carry. “The offensive line just blocked great. It was a team effort. The receivers blocked great downfield.”
He also praised fullback John David Moore, who said it was simple football.
“We didn’t try to do anything extravagant,” he said. “It was execution and being physical. We got over 300 yards of rushing offense. We didn’t want to have a slump after the Alabama loss again.”
Now, it’s Florida and its depleted roster. The Gators will also be without athletic director/weather expert Jeremy Foley, who retired as of Nov. 1 and may be pursuing a position with the Weather Channel.
He could host, “Strangest Weather On Earth,” about how an athletic director who refused to reschedule a game postponed by a hurricane to a day or two later on his campus as schools in very similar situations to the north and south managed to do it.
Foley could have SEC commissioner Greg Sankey on as a guest as he hosts “When Weather Changed History,” about how the SEC office “discovered” it had a rule about schools needing to play all eight league games in order to be eligible for the SEC Championship Game. That rule could have created a sense of urgency in Foley’s and Sankey’s world on the weekend of Oct. 8 and maybe got that game rescheduled that weekend. Had that been done, Florida might already be SEC East champions.
Makes you wonder what other rules the SEC office does not know it has written down somewhere.
GUILBEAU POLL: 1. Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC). 2. LSU (6-3, 4-2). 3. Texas A&M (7-3, 4-3). 4. Auburn (7-3, 5-2). 5. Tennessee (7-3, 3-3). 6. Florida (7-2, 5-2). 7. Georgia (6-4, 4-4). 8. Kentucky (5-5, 4-4). 9. Arkansas (6-4, 2-4). 10. Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4). 11. Mississippi State (4-6, 2-4). 12. South Carolina (5-5, 3-5. 13. Missouri (4-6, 1-5). 14. Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5).
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “All that stuff about postponing the game adds fuel to the fire.”
—LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron on Saturday’s Florida game.