University of Florida

A month in the making, McElwain setting up a game plan for LSU

LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) carries for a touchdown past Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Sat., Oct. 17, 2015.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) carries for a touchdown past Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Sat., Oct. 17, 2015. AP

The manila folder on Jim McElwain’s desk Sunday read “Presbyterian.” A red flag immediately popped up in the coach’s brain.

“Wait a minute,” McElwain said. “Something’s not right.”

Yes, the No. 21 Gators were originally supposed to play Presbyterian College at home this weekend.

But instead of a matchup with a 2-8 Blue Hose team that hails from the Big South Conference, the Gators will travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to make up its game against No. 16 LSU that was postponed last month due to the impending threat of Hurricane Matthew.

“Look, anything that comes up that really is out of your control, I mean, you can sit and cry about it or do whatever or you can just move on,” McElwain said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. … We’re going there to play and that’s the way it is.”

Florida (7-2, 5-2 SEC), which needs a win Saturday or a Tennessee loss in the next to weeks to clinch the SEC East, will need to play at its best against the Tigers (6-3, 4-2 SEC) if it wants to leave Death Valley with a win.

Since LSU fired longtime head coach Les Miles following an 18-13 loss to Auburn, the team has gone 4-1. Its lone loss is a 10-0 defeat at the hands of No. 1 Alabama, a game that was scoreless until the fourth quarter. The Tigers averaged 538.75 yards in the four wins and the average margin of victory was 28 points.

For context, the Gators’ offense is averaging 26.2 points per game and have eclipsed the 28-point mark once in its five games since the start of October.

To quarterback Austin Appleby, who will be making his overall fourth start of the season, his third on the road and his second straight in place of Luke Del Rio, the key for the offense is staying in rhythm.

“[We need to] get our foot on the gas pedal and not take it off,” Appleby said. “No lull periods. Don’t exhale.”

While LSU is hitting its stride, the Gators are getting hit by the injury bug. Up to three starting offensive linemen will be out this week, and UF will be without its three leading tacklers in linebackers Jarrad Davis (56) and Alex Anzalone (53) and safety Marcus Maye (50) as it prepares to face a dangerous one-two running back punch in Leonard Fournette and Darrius Guice.

Fournette, a Heisman trophy hopeful a year ago, has rushed for 803 yards and eight touchdowns in six games this year despite being hobbled by an ankle injury for most of the year. Guice, a 5-11, 212-pound true sophomore, has rushed for 881 yards and nine scores.

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.

In Saturday’s 38-10 dismantling against Arkansas, the duo amassed 350 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 38 carries -- averaging staggering 9.2 yards per carry.

“They want to run the ball, you know establish the line of scrimmage,” safety Nick Washington said. “We have to be strong up front.”

And McElwain said he’ll prepare for just that.

When he goes back into his office, the coach has a manila folder with the information he needs, a folder that was pushed to the side a month ago when the game was postponed.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” McElwain said. “We’ve got to answer the ball and go play like the Gators.”

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