Just another typical Florida-LSU week

Oct 14, 2020 | 0 comments

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Some of the most bizarre and impactful events in recent Florida football history have coincidentally occurred during LSU game week.

In 2006, Tim Tebow threw his first jump pass and launched himself into superstardom. In 2007, the Tigers went 5-for-5 on fourth downs in an upset win. Tebow was questionable to play in the 2009 meeting due to a concussion he suffered two weeks prior against Kentucky. Top-two quarterbacks John Brantley and Jeff Driskel got injured in the game prior to the 2011 game. After leading the Gators to a comeback win at Tennessee in 2014, freshman quarterback Treon Harris was suspended for the LSU game after he was accused of sexual assault, though he was never charged.

The 2016 meeting was controversially moved from Gainesville to Baton Rouge due to Hurricane Matthew. Florida won on a goal-line stand for the ages. Gainesville native Tom Petty died the week of the 2017 meeting, sparking a new end-of-third-quarter tradition.

It should be no surprise, then, that this Florida-LSU game week went off the rails by the end of Tuesday. First, the Gators reported five new positive COVID-19 tests over the past week. It’s unfortunate that they’ll be without a few players for this weekend’s game, but no big deal, right?

Then, out of nowhere, UF announced late Tuesday afternoon that it was pausing all team activities due to a recent spike in virus cases. Shortly thereafter, the Independent Florida Alligator reported that 19 players were currently COVID-positive. That figure was then largely dismissed as being too high of a number until it was later proven correct.

On Wednesday, coach Dan Mullen said they saw a spike in positive tests on Sunday, and some other players were experiencing COVID, cold and flu symptoms. So, they decided to test the entire program daily instead of the three days a week that the SEC requires. Two assistant coaches also tested positive in Tuesday’s round of testing. Both are asymptomatic, but the game between No. 10 Florida and LSU is in serious jeopardy.

Got all that?

The team tested for the fourth consecutive day on Wednesday morning. Mullen is hopeful that they’ll get back on the practice field on Wednesday but won’t know for sure until the testing results come back.

Mullen said the positive cases appeared to be random at first, but now that they’ve started to get more data, they’re starting to get an idea of how the outbreak happened. Still, he doesn’t want to speculate until he has all of the information.

Despite this week’s surge of positive tests, Mullen credited UF’s medical staff for putting effective protocols in place to keep the players safe and the team for making a commitment to keep each other healthy. After speaking with some of his coaching colleagues, he believes they’re still on the lower end of the spectrum with regards to positive tests. LSU coach Ed Orgeron said they went a week without their entire offensive line practicing earlier this fall.

As for the game’s status, Mullen hopes to have an answer by the end of Wednesday, but it’s hard to speculate about which way things are heading without seeing Wednesday’s testing results first.

When news of the outbreak broke, Mullen got dragged through the mud on social media and in the press, with one reporter with the Palm Beach Post claiming that Mullen wanted to turn the Swamp into Death Valley.

After the loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, a frustrated and upset Mullen made a controversial comment regarding the size of the Aggies’ crowd and the impact they had on the game.

“Crowd was certainly a factor in the game,” Mullen said after the game. “I will certainly say that. I know our governor passed that rule, so certainly, hopefully, the university administration decides to let us pack the Swamp against LSU 100 percent because that crowd was a major factor in the game. So, I certainly hope our university administration follows the governor. The governor has passed a rule that we’re allowed to pack the Swamp and have 90,000 in the Swamp to give us the home-field advantage Texas A&M had today.”

He was asked about his comments during his Monday press conference but deflected the issue and chose to focus on football. So, when the news of Florida’s COVID outbreak broke, there was a national perception that Mullen wasn’t taking medical guidance seriously and putting his players at increased risk.

Mullen clarified his comments on Wednesday.

“We played Texas A&M last weekend,” he said. “I don’t know what their capacity within the stadium was, but I thought the people that were at the game, all of their fans, created an exciting game day environment. They brought a lot of energy to the stadium, and I think that certainly helps all the players on the field. We’re pretty blessed here at Florida to play in the Swamp and the Gator Nation, and when the Gator Nation’s in the stands, they bring a tremendous amount of energy. That’s one of the great things about playing at Florida.

“I have tremendous respect for our local health officials. I think they’ve done a great job for us here at Florida. I think one of the things that I think a lot of my comments maybe got taken into what I’m demanding, but it was more that whatever our health officials allow us to have in, that’s what we want to have in the stadium to keep everybody safe and healthy, as well as create an unbelievable environment for our players and create energy within the stadium.”

Mullen encouraged fans to show up and create that same environment against LSU on Saturday after the Gators had about 2,000 unsold tickets for their home opener against South Carolina. He apologized to anyone who was offended by his postgame comments.

Meanwhile, LSU has a major problem of its own this week. Redshirt senior quarterback Myles Brennan didn’t practice on Monday or Tuesday and will be out again on Wednesday following a big hit he took on the goal line against Missouri last week. Orgeron said they’re hoping he’ll be able to get some work in later this week but is doubtful to play in the game. In Brennan’s place, true freshmen TJ Finley and Max Johnson have split reps 50-50.

“Both of those young men are doing a great job, and, if we have to start one of them, we’re going to do it, and I’m going to believe in them,” Orgeron said.

“They’re very similar in a lot of ways. I’d say Max is probably more of a runner a little bit. TJ has a strong arm, has had an excellent camp. I really think that both of them are phenomenal young players. It’s hard to distinguish the difference between both of them. They’re so good.”

With around 72 hours left until the scheduled kickoff between the Gators and the Tigers, LSU doesn’t know who will play quarterback for them, and Florida might be without a third of its roster.

Yep, that sounds about right for Florida-LSU week.

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