GAINESVILLE The Florida Gators have heard the whispers from the bayou.
But once Saturday is said and done, the Gators are hoping to have the last word.
No. 21 Florida kicks off its final regular-season Southeastern Conference game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Tiger Stadium against LSU. A win for the Gators, who come in as more than a two-touchdown underdog, will lock up Florida’s second consecutive SEC East title and a trip to the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 3.
The game was originally supposed to be played in Gainesville on Oct. 8 but was postponed by the SEC because of the threat of Hurricane Matthew. Two weeks after the postponement, the schools agreed to play the game in Tiger Stadium this week.
“We love playing in The Swamp, but we gotta go over there,” junior cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “One of the toughest places to play in all of college football. It’s gonna be a tough challenge.”
Tough enough to be scared?
That’s what at least one LSU player has conjectured this week. Tigers linebacker Arden Key told local reporters in Baton Rouge he feels the Gators are “scared to come up here” because they are down at least six starters with three more expected to be game-time decisions.
“We feel comfortable,” Key continued.
But to Florida players, that’s far from the truth.
“It says something about somebody who is going in someone else’s neighborhood when you’re supposed to come to our neighborhood and fight,” Tabor said. “I don’t see how that is scared at all. You’re going into the enemy territory.”
Florida’s performances in enemy territory as of late have not been sparkling, though.
The Gators are 6-5 away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and 4-3 in true road games under second-year coach Jim McElwain. They have yet to defeat a ranked opponent away from The Swamp and haven’t won at LSU since 2009. With that said, McElwain isn’t putting any additional emphasis on this game, even with everything on the line.
“Well, every game you’ve got to win to take a step forward,” McElwain said. “... It’s about taking advantage of an opportunity and going and testing who you are and not being afraid to put yourself out there.”
Florida will need to put itself out there against LSU. The Tigers have one of the top running back tandems in junior Leonard Fournette and sophomore Derrius Guice. The two have combined for 1,684 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns this season. They are one of four running back duos in the Football Bowl Subdivision to have each rushed for at least 800 yards and five touchdowns — and they have done so with one less game than the other three pairings.
LSU has allowed a nation-low 10 touchdowns and is sixth nationally in scoring defense (13.9 points allowed per game).
“It’s the biggest game of the year because it’s the next one,” said UF quarterback Austin Appleby, who will start his second game in a row and fourth overall on Saturday.
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Saturday: No. 21 Florida @ No. 16 LSU
Kickoff: 1 p.m.; Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
TV/radio: SECN; WINZ 940.
Favorite: LSU by 14 1/2.
Records: Florida 7-2 (5-2 SEC); LSU 6-3 (4-2 SEC).
Florida injuries: Out — DL Bryan Cox Jr. (ankle); DL Justus Reed (undisclosed); WR C.J. Worton (ankle); OL Cameron Dillard (knee); RB Mark Herndon (undisclosed); LB Jarrad Davis (ankle); QB Luke Del Rio (shoulder); DB Marcus Maye (arm); LB Alex Anzalone (arm); WR Dre Massey (knee); DB C.J. McWilliams (knee); OL Antonio Riles (knee).
LSU injuries: Questionable — C Ethan Pocic (undisclosed); S John Battle (hip); DE Tashawn Bower (undisclosed); WR Travin Dural (undisclosed). Out — WR Jazz Ferguson (suspension); LB Corey Thompson (ankle); S Rickey Jefferson (ankle); DE Isaiah Washington (leg); DT Christian LaCouture (knee).