No. 21 Florida in tough spot with 16th-ranked LSU looming
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) When Florida coach Jim McElwain got to his desk Sunday, there was a folder sitting on top labeled ''Presbyterian.'' One peek inside revealed a significant mistake.
''I was like, `Wait a minute. Something's wrong here,''' McElwain said Monday. ''I don't have disrespect for them, but this didn't look like Presbyterian.''
Nope, it was No. 16 LSU.
Different jerseys. Different numbers. Much different talent.
Hurricane Matthew, which forced Florida to reschedule a home game against the Tigers and cancel a home game against lower-division Presbyterian, could end up costing the 21st-ranked Gators a trip to the Southeastern Conference title game. There's little doubt McElwain's banged-up team would have been better off playing LSU last month - in Gainesville.
Now, Tigers star running back Leonard Fournette is healthy , Florida is down seven starters - including their top three tacklers - and the game is being played in Baton Rouge.
''To me, you want to go play somebody at their best,'' McElwain said. ''I don't ever look for a win to have an asterisk on it, does that make sense?''
It might make sense. But it's surely not ideal for Florida (7-2, 5-2 SEC), which likely needs a victory Saturday to clinch the Eastern Division. The Gators could still wrap up a spot in the title game with a loss to the Tigers, but they would need Tennessee to lose to Missouri or Vanderbilt.
And Florida will be without at least seven starters Saturday, including quarterback Luke Del Rio (shoulder).
''You can sit and cry about it or do whatever or you can just move on,'' McElwain said. ''That's what we've got to do. You know what, it is what it is. We're going there to play and that's the way it is.''
McElwain also ruled out center Cam Dillard (knee), left tackle David Sharpe (foot), defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (ankle), safety Marcus Maye (arm) and linebackers Alex Anzalone (arm) and Jarrad Davis (ankle). Two others, guard/center Tyler Jordan (ankle) and defensive end CeCe Jefferson (ankle), are questionable to play.
''They're struggling with injuries, so it's going to be 10 times harder now,'' LSU defensive end Arden Key said. ''Either way it goes, if they played here or there, it was going to be hard for them to get the W. I don't feel like they were going to get the win when we play then or now.''
Florida and LSU (6-3, 4-2) were initially scheduled to play Oct. 8 at Florida Field. When the threat of the Category 4 hurricane forced the SEC to postpone the game, LSU took a hard stance on not giving up a home game to reschedule.
The Tigers said Florida wanted to postpone it because Del Rio was coming off a sprained knee and two defensive linemen looked like they wouldn't play. Now, the Gators would love to have that short of an injury report.
''That part bothered me a little bit,'' Florida safety Nick Washington said. ''They think we had a choice of avoiding this game when there's a hurricane. Not just me but a lot of my teammates, a lot of us had family in places where the hurricane was hitting. It kind of bothered us a little bit, but we had to let it go.''
What was supposed to be a relatively relaxing week and a game against a seemingly overmatched opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision has become an all-or-nothing affair against one of the hottest teams in the country and in the one the nation's least-hospitable stadiums.
The Tigers have won four of five games, the only loss a 10-0 setback against top-ranked Alabama, have Fournette at full speed and have allowed the fewest touchdowns (10) in the nation.
Florida, meanwhile, continues to struggle offensively and will have to shuffle guys up front again since it will be without at least two linemen. It's a scenario the Gators surely would be able to handle if the matchup - or the folder on McElwain's desk - really was Presbyterian.
''It's the biggest game of the year because it's the next one,'' quarterback Austin Appleby said. ''With that said, we know what's at stake. We want to go back to Atlanta. That's why you come to Florida. You want to play for championships. We've got everything that we want right in front of us.''
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge contributed to this report.
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