GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Swamp is sold out for the first time in nearly three years, a setting first-year Florida coach Dan Mullen would like to see more often.
Beating No. 5 LSU on Saturday surely would help Mullen’s push to return Florida Field — and the 22nd-ranked Gators — to Southeastern Conference and national prominence.
Coming off consecutive road wins against Tennessee and Mississippi State, Florida (4-1, 2-1 SEC) returns home in hopes of topping last year’s win total and notching its most significant victory since upsetting then-No. 3 Mississippi in 2015.
LSU (5-0, 2-0) is looking for a third resume-building win away from Death Valley. The Tigers opened the season by thumping Miami in Texas and then eked out a win at Auburn two weeks later.
They’re on the road again to start a daunting stretch that includes games against Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama.
“It’s the biggest game of the year for both teams,” Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said.
The Tigers have won six of the last eight in the annual series, including two in a row in Gainesville. The last four meetings have been decided by seven points or less.
“It’s probably going to come down to the last play or so,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said.
The last two essentially have.
The Gators made two goal-line stops in the final seconds in 2016 to seal a 16-10 victory in Baton Rouge. Florida’s Eddy Pineiro missed the first extra point of his college career last year in Gainesville, and LSU held on to win 17-16.
No one would be surprised to see another close, low-scoring affair even though both quarterbacks — LSU’s Joe Burrow and Florida’s Feleipe Franks — have been surprisingly efficient to start the season.
“Points are going to be hard to come by,” Gardner-Johnson said.
A packed stadium should help Florida, although the team has dropped three consecutive conference games at the Swamp. The Gators haven’t lost four straight in league play at home since a six-game slide spanning seven years and World War II (1942-49).
Florida’s last home sellout came against rival Florida State in the 2015 home finale. Mullen has made it a priority to get the energy and atmosphere back to what it used to be when the Gators were among the SEC elite.
“I expect (there) to not be an open seat anywhere in the Swamp,” Mullen said. “If you look at college football, student bodies set the tempo and really set the atmosphere for everybody else out there. … They come in and they’re on their feet, jumping up and down, going crazy in the game. I think the rest of the crowd feeds off that. That’s one of the things that I want us to get back to: having the student body really dominating the environment.”
Some other things to know before LSU and Florida play for the 65th time and 48th straight year:
Florida will induct 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow into the program’s Ring of Honor at the end of the first quarter. Tebow, currently working as a college football analyst at SEC Network, will become the sixth player with his name prominently and permanently displayed inside the Swamp. The Gators also will celebrate the 2008 national championship team at halftime.
LSU’s banged-up offensive line is “about as healthy as we’ve been,” Orgeron said. The Tigers have yet to start the same combination of blockers in any game this season, but left tackle Sahdiq Charles is expected to return from a two-game absence. Right tackle Adrian Magee played last week for the first time since the season opener. LSU will be without left guard Garrett Brumfield.
Expect Florida to continue to get Franks to make quick reads and get rid of the football, a scheme that worked well at Mississippi State. The Gators realize their offensive line is a weak link and want to minimize unfavorable matchups and avoid negative plays against LSU.
LSU didn’t have a turnover during its first three games, but has lost three fumbles in the last two outings. The lack of ball security has Orgeron concerned against Florida, which has a league-leading 14 takeaways.
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