GAINESVILLE, Fla. — No one needs to remind Florida what happened the last two years. No one needs to remind LSU what happened the last two weeks.
Those vivid and somewhat painful memories give the 10th-ranked Gators and fourth-ranked Tigers something to prove when they meet in The Swamp on Saturday.
Florida would like nothing more than to avenge consecutive losses to LSU, including a humbling, 41-11 beatdown in Baton Rouge last season. The Tigers, meanwhile, have been far from perfect in their last two games — closer-than-expected wins against Auburn and lower division Towson.
How the Gators (4-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) and Tigers (5-0, 1-0) respond probably will determine who remains undefeated and who is left scrambling in its division race.
“A lot of people still doubt us and don’t really believe in this Florida team,” Gators fullback Hunter Joyer said. “So I think we need to make a statement this weekend.”
Although Florida already has three conference wins, including two on the road, there are still plenty of questions surrounding coach Will Muschamp’s team.
Will sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel continue to improve? Can Florida’s offensive line hold up against an elite defensive front? Can the Gators consistently stop the run?
LSU manhandled Florida on both lines of scrimmage the last two years, gaining 161 yards on the ground in a 33-29 win in 2010 and then gouging the Gators for 238 yards rushing last season.
“We got beat really bad. Really bad,” Florida defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. “It was a sick feeling.”
And one Muschamp doesn’t want the Gators to forget.
He used that lopsided loss and a 0-for-October as motivation during the offseason, and following impressive, second-half efforts at Texas A&M and Tennessee, players and coaches are confident things will be different against the Tigers.
“I think we’re much better than we were a year ago,” Muschamp said. “We’re much deeper, more mature, more experienced. I think we’re stronger. I think we handle adversity a lot better. … I think anybody that was a part of watching us and being a part of our organization last year and this year will notice a night and day difference between our football team.
“I think we’ve made tremendous improvement in a short period of time.”
The Tigers have noticed the changes, starting with Driskel’s play. He has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 698 yards, with four touchdowns and an interception. He also has 148 yards rushing and a score, able to keep plays alive when protection breaks down around him.
“They certainly look like a better team than last year,” LSU cornerback Tharold Simon said. “I think they’re going to really be ready because, like I said, we put a whooping on them last year.”
The Tigers expect to be ready, too.
They don’t believe they can play any worse than they did against Auburn and Towson. They fumbled seven times in those games and lost five. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger lost all three of his fumbles, including one near the goal line against Auburn that cost his team a touchdown.
His other two led to opponent touchdowns.
Nonetheless, LSU pulled out both games, edging Auburn 12-10 and rallying past Towson 38-22. But the turnovers, sacks, dropped passes, penalties and Mettenberger’s indecision in the pocket have become cause for concern.
“We’re not satisfied with the way we performed the last couple weeks,” LSU offensive tackle Josh Dworaczyk said. “There needs to be more positive energy. There needs to be more guys that are excited about this. It’s a wonderful opportunity that we get to do. There’s only so many of us that ever get to put this uniform on, and we have to take pride in that.”
LSU has won 29 of its last 32 games, with two of the losses coming against eventual national champion Auburn in 2010 and against Alabama in last year’s Bowl Championship Series title game. It’s an impressive run for sure, but it may have come with a price.
The team’s performance the last two weeks created panic among some of the fan base.
“With the season we had last year, you know, the fans, the people pulling for us, we kind of spoiled them in a sense because we didn’t beat people. We beat people bad,” LSU receiver Russell Shepard said. “We beat highly ranked teams bad. It had been a year and a half since they’d seen us play a tough game besides Bama and it’s going to happen. That’s regular football. You can’t beat everybody by 40.”
A victory against Florida certainly would go a long way toward ending some concerns.
The Gators, meanwhile, know it’s an opportunity for them to move closer to rejoining the SEC elite.
“This is obviously a signature game for us,” Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “It’s a good measuring stick for us to see what we’re up against or how we handle being against a ranked team, a team that’s got talent across the board.”