ATLANTA — A few years ago, the rivalry between Florida and LSU became stirred up a little bit by a Twitter debate over which school is the real DBU.
That seems tame now. Very minor stuff.
What really ramped up this rivalry was Hurricane Matthew two years ago, and what has followed in its path.
An intense hurricane cranked up the intensity in what was already a contentious rivalry between two teams from opposite sides of the SEC.
This thing has blown up.
It was evident on Nov. 19, 2016, when the Gators celebrated the Eastern Division championship with a “home” win in Baton Rouge.
It was maybe even more evident last season when the Tigers celebrated like they’d just won a championship with a one-point win in The Swamp thanks, in part, to a botched execution on an extra-point attempt.
Now, the rivalry moves to a new level of heat with LSU having to come back to The Swamp for the second year in a row thanks to the postponement and rescheduling of that game two years ago.
“To go there for two straight years, it’s going to be a war,” LSU defensive end Rashard Lawrence said at SEC Media Days on Monday. “And we’re expecting nothing less than that. From the first snap to the last it’s going to be a big-time game.
“It’s a big rivalry. They’re a great team. The biggest offensive line we play all year. Physical. And it’s a battle every play.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron, the interim coach for that UF win in Baton Rouge two years ago, hasn’t been at LSU very long, but long enough to develop a good feel for the rivalry and what it means to both teams, especially given their recent history.
“Well, from what I know and me being from Louisiana and my history with LSU, it’s always been an intense rivalry,” Orgeron said. “Whether it’s intense or not because of those circumstances, I can’t say. But I tell you what, it’s about as intense a rivalry we have, and we respect the University of Florida and we look forward to going and playing a very good Florida team at Gainesville again this year.”
Many in The Swamp were offended by the way the Tigers reacted after last season’s victory. The players danced on the field, hugged, celebrated with their fans who had made the trip to Gainesville.
It seemed a little much for just the sixth game of the season.
But the Tigers want everyone to know, that victory did feel like it was for a championship. Because going into the game, LSU was 3-2 and coming off a home loss to Troy, and the heat was intensifying on everyone.
The Tigers entered The Swamp knowing their season was on the line.
“It was a big, big win because at the point we were a 3-2 football team and it really could have slid either way,” senior tight end Foster Moreau said. “That win was pivotal for our season.”
Moreau said the Tigers are always ready and fired up to play the Gators. But they were especially jacked after getting a motivational talk from former LSU linebacker Duke Riley, who is now with the Atlanta Falcons, after the Thursday practice.
“I think what really changed was Duke Riley came and talked to us,” Moreau said. “He’s really a light-hearted guy. We were waiting to see that funny Duke Riley, but he really laid into us for about 20 minutes after practice.
“He talked to us about tradition and legacy and which way we were going to go because we could have gone either way. We could have gone 9-4 or 4-9.”
The Tigers went 9-4. The week after the win in Gainesville, LSU upset Auburn in Baton Rouge. The Tigers went on to win four of their last regular-season games, losing only to Alabama on the road by 14 points.
They ended up losing to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl. But that loss did not define their season. What did was the win at Florida and what followed in SEC play.
“It was crucial,” Lawrence said of beating the Gators.
“It was monumental,” Orgeron said. “What happened on the sideline is the leadership of the team came through. We’re winning this football game. And that catapulted us into a great win against Auburn.
“So, that win for us last year was monumental to prove that we can go and beat Florida on the road.”
Now they get to go back and try again. The Tigers say they’ll be ready.
“I’m looking forward to going back there this year,” Orgeron said. “I think Dan Mullen is an excellent coach. It will be a tremendous challenge for us. Again, that’s why you come to LSU.”
To play in a rivalry game like this.