For the time being, the Gators will be playing at The Swamp this Saturday.
Despite the impending threat of Hurricane Matthew, No. 18 Florida will still host LSU on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the school announced Wednesday afternoon. The game is still slated to kick off at noon and be televised on ESPN, but a final decision about the time of the game will be made by 1 p.m. Thursday.
“We are working closely with local, state and University officials as well as the Southeastern Conference to monitor the progress of Hurricane Matthew and its potential impact on campus and the safety of the fans,” UF said in a statement. “... The game will not be moved out of Gainesville.”
Based on the latest forecast, Gainesville is supposed to be hit by the outskirts of Hurricane Matthew on Friday afternoon, although the storm’s track has been moving west over the past two days. It is projected to be either a Category 3 or Category 4 storm at the time. Winds in Alachua are expected to reach sustained speeds of as high as 50 mph on Friday, with three to five inches of rain expected throughout the day. A tropical storm watch has been in effect for Alachua County since Tuesday.
“Obviously, [we were] well aware of what could happen and the preparation for that,” UF coach Jim McElwain said on the weekly SEC coaches teleconference late Wednesday morning. “It’s one of those deals that whatever happens will obviously be the best for the campus, the state of Florida, first responders, all those type of things. ”
The university is monitoring the progression of the hurricane, but UF Police Chief Linda Stump-Kurnick wrote in an email to Florida students on Wednesday that the uncertainty of the forecast makes it difficult for the school to jump to any conclusions.
According to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate in Louisiana, LSU President F. King Alexander said he was not optimistic about the chances of the game moving to Death Valley.
“We can’t just turn the lights on,” Alexander said. “We have 450 police officers working our games. They have duties and shifts.”
The Tigers (3-2, 2-1 SEC) will fly into Tampa on Friday afternoon instead of Ocala because of the storm, Alexander told The Advocate.
Should the hurricane affect the kickoff time or force an eventual cancellation and rescheduling, it will be the first time since the 2004 season that a Florida football game was affected by a hurricane. The season opener that year against Middle Tennessee was pushed back to mid-November because of Hurricane Frances.
“What we try to do is do a good job of focusing on the now and what we can control,” McElwain said.
“I think what happens to us a lot of times in a lot of situations, there’s a lot of things that we can’t control, yet we worry about them. As long as you’re prepared ahead and give yourself the best opportunity, that’s really what it’s all about.”
The Gators (4-1, 2-1 SEC) have not beaten LSU since 2012. Last season, they rallied from a 28-14 halftime deficit with a pair of unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter to tie the game at 28-28 before a trick play on a fake field goal gave LSU the decisive touchdown in the 35-28 victory.
The Tigers are coming off a 42-7 win over Missouri on Saturday, the team’s first game with interim coach Ed Orgeron at the helm.
Florida is coming off back-to-back road games — a 38-28 loss to Tennessee and a 13-6 win over Vanderbilt.
“At the end of the day, they were built to road grade you,” McElwain said of LSU, “and we’ve been road graded the last couple weeks, plain and simple.”