Florida coach Will Mushcamp, left, grimaces as he congratulates LSU coach Les Miles after LSU won 41-11 in Baton Rouge in 2008. Florida would like nothing more than to avenge consecutive losses to LSU when the undefeated teams meet Saturday in The Swamp. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, October 05, 2012 6:15 PM
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s pretty simple, actually.
LSU spent the month of September going undefeated without really impressing anybody, mostly accused of playing down to the competition, such that it was.
Those days are over.
Now it’s time to find out if the Tigers, who fell from No. 2 in the country to No. 4 while winning their first five games, can play up to their talent and potential.
October dawns, as it usually does for LSU, with the Tigers (5-0, 1-0 Southeastern Confernce) taking on No. 10 Florida (4-0, 2-0), this time in the infamous Swamp, a venue that hasn’t always been kind to them in the past.
“This week is going to show what kind of character this team has,” said LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who might best typify his team in that he has struggled at times to live up to the summer hype.
“This game is going to be the defining moment for this team,” Mettenberger said. “How we execute is going to be the set point for the rest of the season.”
In other words, after today’s game, LSU should know if it belongs in the same conversation with No. 1-ranked Alabama. That hasn’t been the case in recent weeks after the Tigers, especially after muddling through a 12-10 victory at Auburn and letting Towson hang around well into the second half.
There aren’t any more Towsons and Idahos or North Texas teams on the schedule to work out the kinks against.
“I think this will be one of those games where you get their attention,” said LSU head coach Les Miles, who admitted he evidently didn’t last week. “They’ll want to come to play.”
Before getting an open date the final week of this month, LSU will also play No. 6 South Carolina and at high-octane Texas A&M before getting a week’s respite before the Alabama game kicks off November.
Miles main focus this week has been cleaning up the rash of penalties and turnovers that have held the Tigers back.
“It’s not where we thought we’d be,” Mettenberger said. “If we can just get through this tough time and turn the ship around, we’ll be fine.”
But it has to start today against a Florida team (4-0, 3-0) that, even with an open date last week had a much more challenging first month. The Gators already have come-from-behind road victories at SEC newcomer Texas A&M and Tennessee.
The Gators also have a revenge motive, as well as a chance to make a statement that they’re back among the national elite in head coach Will Muschamp’s second season.
In a series that has produced a lot of high drama over the last dozen years, LSU hammered the Gators 41-11 last season in Baton Rouge.
Muschamp, a former LSU defensive coordinator during the Nick Saban days, called it the low point of the season.
“We weren’t physical enough on either side to compete,” Mushchamp said.
This year’s Gators should look more like the Florida teams that LSU got used to tangling against with national implications at stake.
“I think we’re much better,” Muschamp said. “I think we’re stronger and I think we handle adversity better.
“I think anybody that was watching us last year to this year will notice a night and day difference.”
That’s been a difference here for LSU too.
The Tigers used a fake field goal to get a late touchdown for a 33-29 in their last visit to The Swamp.
That was at night. But LSU hasn’t won a day game here since Tommy Hodson led the Tigers to a 28-17 victory in 1986.
“I think it’s a great place to play,” Miles said, confident as ever. “I suspect that we will play well against Florida.”