GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — LSU’s tumultuous week is about to take a turn — for better or worse.
The Tigers had one of the more chaotic stretches in recent program history, including a stunning home loss to Troy, two players-only meetings and another involving the athletic director, the head coach and both coordinators.
How LSU responds will be determined Saturday at No. 21 Florida (3-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference). Anything short of a victory could push the Tigers (3-2, 0-1) toward more drama and maybe even some difficult decisions down the road.
“I know people are not happy, but we have to make sure that we take the criticism and we have to understand that LSU is a premier football program and we’ve got to make sure when things like this happen we have to bounce back,” LSU defensive end Christian LaCouture said. “We can’t focus on this last game.”
The Tigers might want to draw from last year, though.
Florida escaped Tiger Stadium with a 16-10 victory last November thanks to a goal-line stand in the final seconds. Star running back Leonard Fournette watched from the sideline as teammate Derrius Guice was stuffed short of the end zone on a botched fourth-down play.
The Gators clinched the SEC East and celebrated wildly on the field, in the locker room and during the trip home. It capped six weeks of angst stemming from the game’s postponement and relocation from Gainesville to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, because of Hurricane Matthew. The Tigers suggested Florida was hoping to cancel the game or avoid playing it on the road.
It created a tense atmosphere and plenty of motivation for the Gators.
A year later, the Tigers seemingly have more at stake.
Two weeks after a 30-point drubbing at Mississippi State — LSU’s most lopsided setback in series history — the Tigers lost to a non-conference opponent at home for the first time since 2000.
Embattled coach Ed Orgeron was clearly the focal point of all the heat. Orgeron held a meeting with team leaders, who then had the first of two players-only sessions. Athletic director Joe Alleva also met with Orgeron, offensive coordinator Matt Canada and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to iron out differences. Orgeron got involved with the offense during the 24-21 loss to Troy and wanted to simplify Canada’s scheme by reducing pre-snap motions.
Alleva “wanted to know what was going on, what we could do better,” said Orgeron, who’s in his first season after serving as interim coach in 2016. “Let’s all get on the same page. It was a very positive meeting.”
Florida, which has endured its own issues this season, kept track from afar.
“They’re just trying to set the Gators up, right?” coach Jim McElwain said. “Anytime there’s a transition, you go through a learning curve. These guys will be coming in here crazed, nuts, ready to go to prove all the naysayers or whatever you want to do, but that’s why you play.”
Here are some other things to know about LSU and Florida:
GETTING HEALTHY: LSU expects to have several key players back this week, including Guice, defensive end Rashard Lawrence and nose tackle Ed Alexander. Senior right tackle Toby Weathersby, who also did not play last week, is questionable.
FRANKS RETURNS: Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks, who was once committed to LSU, regains his starting job this week following a season-ending injury to Luke Del Rio. Franks started the first three games of the season, but was benched in two of those.
LINE ITEMS: LSU’s offensive line has been a glaring weak spot the past three games and faces a tough test at Florida. Against Troy, the Tigers started two freshmen — right guard Ed Ingram and right tackle Saahdiq Charles — on the offensive line for the first time since 1986.
CLEVELAND OUT: Florida will be without big-play receiver Tyrie Cleveland because of a high-ankle sprain to his right foot. Cleveland leads the team in every receiving category, recording 15 catches, 326 yards and two touchdowns.
RECORD WATCH: The Gators can break an NCAA record Saturday by scoring in their 366th consecutive game. Florida is currently tied with Michigan, which set the mark between 1984 and 2014. The Gators haven’t been shut out since a 16-0 loss to Auburn on Oct. 29, 1988.
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