BATON ROUGE – Thank you, Southeastern Conference office, for not letting former LSU athletic director Joe Alleva and former LSU football coach Les Miles end the annual LSU-Florida series several years ago.
If they would have had the power (and they were never close), a beautiful night like Saturday with No. 6 LSU beating No. 7 Florida, 42-28, may not have happened.
Alleva called LSU having to play Florida while Alabama gets to play Tennessee, “competitive inequity.” He had a good point at the time, but times change very frequently. Florida’s much better than Tennessee now, but it depends on the era. And when scheduling, one must keep an eye on the big picture. So, it was shortsighted point.
Just three years ago, Tennessee was in its second straight 9-4 season and third straight winning campaign. Florida, meanwhile, was 4-7 just two years ago. Schedules even out over time. That’s what former Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer believed, and Alleva and Miles never quite grasped that.
And some schedules stay even – like the one between LSU and Florida, which might as well be border schools. Remember, they played annually for decades before Kramer expanded the SEC from 10 to 12 teams and went to two divisions and permanent East-West opponents in 1992.
Over the last 12 games, for example, LSU has won seven and Florida five. Neither program has won more than three straight in the series since the Gators from 1998-2001. The last eight meetings have been decided by two touchdowns or less.
This is a real rivalry because it’s basically even with national significance to boot, which The Boot trophy for the LSU-Arkansas series does not have. Saturday’s game was the third top 10 pairing since 2012.
Two of LSU’s most treasured home games of all time were against Florida – Oct. 11, 1997, when No. 14 LSU beat the No. 1 Gators, 28-21, and Oct. 6, 2007, when No. 1 LSU beat No. 9 Florida, 28-24. You still see T-shirts from both games.
And you can add this one to that classic hit list. This was very much like 2007 all over again. It was 28-28 in the third quarter, 21-21 at the half, 14-14 in the second quarter and 7-7 in the first quarter.
For every nightmare against Alabama since Jan. 9, 2012, there is Florida to fall back on just as autumn arrives in October for LSU. Amid the 0-for-8 Alabama slide, LSU is 5-3 against Florida.
“This is going to be one I’ll hold close to my heart for a long time,” said Baton Rouge junior tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who had a career-long 57-yard run to set up LSU’s first touchdown and finished with 134 yards on 13 carries for a game career-high 10.3 yards a carry.
“Saturday night in Death Valley,” said LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who is from Ohio. “Nobody beats it. I don’t know where that hand clap came from at the end of the game. That was pretty cool.”
LSU fans were mimicking the Gators’ chomp with their arms. Burrow doesn’t even know everything about LSU-Florida, but he loves it.
One gets the feeling LSU coach Ed Orgeron would not like to see the Florida series end.
“What a great night for Louisiana State University,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere. I want to thank our fans for being the best. That was the best stadium I have ever seen.”
“It was wonderful to be the head coach at LSU and march this team into victory and see the fans so happy,” Orgeron said. “What a big night for the Tigers.”