If all this negative noise blaring out of Baton Rouge is to be believed, then Tigerland is in complete and utter turmoil at the moment.
Ed Orgeron was the wrong hire.
These proven and respected coordinators — Matt Canada and Dave Aranda — have forgotten how to coach.
The players have forgotten how to win.
This once-promising season is now lost.
Jim McElwain isn’t buying it.
“No,” the Florida head coach said. “They’re just trying to set the Gators up, right? I mean, we all know what type of players they have. Any time there’s a transition, you go through a learning curve. These guys will be coming in here crazed, nuts, ready to go prove all the naysayers wrong.”
There is no shortage of naysayers, for sure.
Granted, things aren’t great right now for LSU’s tradition-rich program. The coaches are being criticized, the players are struggling on the field and the fans have become irate, especially after the home loss to Troy last Saturday, which came only a few weeks after the Tigers were blown out 37-7 in their SEC opener at Mississippi State.
So, things are bad, but not as bad as they may look, McElwain said.
When McElwain looks at the Tigers, he sees a typical LSU team — fast, physical, athletic, capable of beating anyone on the schedule.
The difference with this LSU team is that it is in transition with a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator (Canada). And this is a young team that has battled with injuries to several key players.
“They’ve got some new faces in there, but they’re all guys everybody in the country recruited,” McElwain said. “I know they’re going to band together and play their tails off. That’s what I do know. There have been a lot of years now that I have seen those guys run out of the tunnel. Wow. It’s a heck of a ball squad.”
The Tigers are coming to Gainesville hungry, and healthier than they’ve been all season. Star tailback Derrius Guice and standout defensive linemen Rashard Lawrence and Ed Alexander are all expected to return Saturday.
“This is an opportune time for them to rally the troops and come together and come here to play us,” McElwain said. “I think the big piece in the whole deal is, each week, each individual week and each game, is another opportunity. I know what great players they have. I know what they’ll come in here with.”
In sharp contrast to their animated head coach, the Tigers have been emotionally flat the past few weeks. McElwain expects that to change Saturday. So does Orgeron.
The Tigers have reasons to be highly motivated. They’re the Gators’ homecoming opponent and they were upset by UF in Baton Rouge last season in what was a home game on the road for Florida after the game in Gainesville was postponed due to the threat of Hurricane Matthew.
“It’s been a very positive week, looking forward to a very competitive football game,” Orgeron said. “We know it’s going to be a battle going down and playing the Florida Gators in The Swamp. We’re going to be ready. We’re ready to show the type of team we really are, playing really hard, play good defense, good offense and good on special teams.”
Like the Gators, the Tigers are very young in certain areas — the offensive line and in the secondary, where two true freshmen start. And the defensive line, usually an LSU strength, has been hit hard with injuries to Lawrence and Alexander.
On offense, it’s been a slow transition under Canada. Not having Guice available has hurt.
“We have some young players,” Orgeron said. “We’re very thin on the offensive line, where we’ve played two freshmen. We’ve lost a lot of starters on the defensive line and LSU has traditionally been strong on the lines of scrimmage.
“I think our physicality, we lost a little bit of our physicality. We’re going into games and we’re not starting very fast, so the team may get down on that, which is not an excuse. I have to control that. I think we just have to start faster, play well on both sides of the line of scrimmage and make big plays. I think we’ll play with a lot more emotion, that’s for sure.”
That would not surprise McElwain and the Gators. They are expecting it.
“LSU is definitely going to come ready to play,” sophomore wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “Even though they lost last week they’re definitely going to come and play us probably totally different, so we’re going to be prepared for it. We know that they’ve probably circled this game on their calendar, been ready to play Florida since the season started. And we’re ready for it.
“I feel like they always play Florida with an extra chip on their shoulder. We’ve just got to be ready to come to play.”
The Gators better be ready, McElwain said, because the Tigers certainly will. Struggling or not, LSU is still LSU.
“They’ve got really good players,” McElwain said. “I just know how hard they’re going to come in here and play.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.