Friday, April 27, 2018
Colleges

Last year's hurricane hoopla gives LSU-UF a little more juice

GAINESVILLE — Gators linebacker David Reese grew up in Michigan, so he didn't really understand the Florida-LSU rivalry until he played in it last season.

"I learned quick," Reese said.

He couldn't have picked a more dramatic year for his lesson.

The Gators were scheduled to host the Tigers until Hurricane Matthew began to threaten the state. LSU offered multiple alternatives to no avail, and the Tigers suggested Florida was trying to avoid the game to boost its chances of winning the SEC East.

LSU refused to lose a home game in the rescheduling process, so the game was moved to Baton Rouge — where the Gators won the East on the biggest goal-line stand in program history.

"I think people make a lot more of it than it was," UF coach Jim McElwain said.

But McElwain sounded quite different last October, when he seemed offended that anyone would accuse his program of dodging a game, especially in the face of a storm. He also struck a different tone in November, after his team won its home game on the road in Tiger Stadium.

"The way I look at it," McElwain said then, "they got what they deserved."

In the process, Florida and LSU gave the series the jolt it needed. The teams have met every year since 1971, but the game isn't the biggest rivalry for either team — it probably ranks fourth for the Gators, behind Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee. When Chris Doering was playing receiver at UF (1992-95), LSU was "one lower down on the list."

But the once-lukewarm crossover game began to heat up as both programs evolved into consistent championship contenders last decade. If the rivalry isn't boiling yet, it's at least simmering.

"If you're going to have a cross-division rival, you might as well have some dislike between one another," said Doering, now an SEC Network analyst. "And that's really what developed between the issues with (athletic directors) Joe Alleva and Jeremy Foley last year."

It seemed to carry over into the offseason. When nearby lightning forced LSU to move its spring game inside, the Gators' football account chimed in with a short, sarcastic Twitter strike: "#SafetyFirst."

The digs — intentional or inadvertent — kept coming. No. 21 UF named LSU as its homecoming opponent for today's 3:30 p.m. matchup. Also, the honorary Mr. Two Bits is Alonso High alumnus Alex Faedo, the former ace who helped the Gators win the College World Series last season … over runnerup LSU.

"This game means a little more," LSU defensive end Rashard Lawrence told the Baton Rouge Advocate.

That was as close to trash talk as either team seemed to get this week. Both teams have enough to focus on internally without worrying about their opponent.

Florida (3-1, 3-0 SEC) is a miraculous throw and a controversial holding call away from being 2-2. LSU (3-2, 0-1) just showed how homecoming games can go wrong with an embarrassing 24-21 loss to Troy that sparked two players-only meetings and a sit-down with the athletic director, coach Ed Orgeron and both of his coordinators.

But even if last year's fireworks won't show up in pregame speeches or text message chains, the tension between the programs is still there.

Just ask Reese.

"It meant a lot to win that game (last year)," Reese said, "and it's going to mean a lot to win this game in the Swamp this year."

Times staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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