Two years ago, on Oct. 13, 2019, a pair of future Heisman hopefuls met under the lights in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and lit the scoreboard on fire. Louisiana State’s Joe Burrow and Florida’s Kyle Trask each threw a trio of touchdowns before the Tigers rolled to a 42-28 victory en route to an undefeated national title run later that season.
The No. 20 Gators play LSU in Death Valley again at noon Saturday, and the situation couldn’t feel more different. Trask and Burrow both left for the NFL, the latter with the 2019 Heisman in tow. The Tigers won exactly half of their past 16 games. This weekend’s game will be illuminated by the sun rather than fluorescence and phone flashlights.
On the home sideline, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron seems like he’s inching closer to the perpetual door. After a 21-point loss to No. 11 Kentucky a week ago, the sixth-year coach admitted the Wildcats’ rushing game surprised him. UK sits fifth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards, and tailback Chris Rodriguez Jr. paces the SEC with 768 yards on the ground. Tigers fans want the former national champion to take off his headset, and Coach O might not be long for Baton Rouge.
The on-field product doesn’t give the Tigers fans many reasons to feel reassured. LSU lost three of its four games against Power 5 opponents this season, the sole triumph a three-point win over unranked Mississippi State. The Tigers sit 11th in the SEC in total offense and 10th in scoring offense with 379.33 yards and 29.67 points per game. They’ve been outgained this season by opponents, and their defense surrendered 385.0 yards and 26.17 points per game, only enough for 74th in the country in both categories, at a clip of 5.47 yards per play.
The injury bug ravaged LSU’s roster the past several weeks as well. Cornerback Derek Stingley, who broke out in 2019 as a freshman and experts tab as the top defensive back in the class? Out for the rest of the season after a procedure on his left foot, as is fellow starting cornerback Elias Ricks after he hurt his shoulder. So is wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, who paced the SEC with a staggering nine receiving touchdowns before he went down with an ankle injury against the Wildcats a week ago. Defensive end Ali Gaye won’t return this season either after he underwent surgery.
Florida needs to answer a few questions of its own, with the Tigers the only game between UF and its date with current No. 1 Georgia. The Gators finally opened up the offense against Vanderbilt last Saturday, with seven plays of 25 yards or longer and quarterback Emory Jones’ first career four-touchdown game, but the Commodores haven’t won an SEC game since Oct. 19, 2019, so not a high-intensity test.
Florida’s offense struggled this season when it left friendly confines. In the only real road game of the season against Kentucky two weeks ago, the Gators’ committed 15 penalties, including a shocking eight false starts, and UF only scored 13 points despite gathering 382 yards of offense. The Gators play one of their next five games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, with a neutral contest with the Bulldogs ahead of road trips to South Carolina and Missouri.
Florida remains third in the country with 273.7 rushing yards per game through six games and five players amassing over 180 yards on the ground through six games. The Gators haven’t rushed for less than 171 yards in a game this season, and the Tigers sacrificed 154.2 rushing yards per game and 4.2 yards per rush thus far in 2021.
Florida and LSU’s rivalry writes its latest chapter at noon eastern Saturday, and the game can be watched on ESPN.
Contact Ryan Haley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley.
Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.