GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Hurricane Matthew will forever be a footnote in LSU-Florida lore.
The storm that skirted Florida’s east coast last October prompted the game to be postponed six weeks and moved from Gainesville to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It also created angst on both campuses, including bickering athletic directors, accusations and an acrimonious solution eventually handed down by the Southeastern Conference.
The Gators ended up making the final statement — a 16-10 victory at Tiger Stadium that landed them in the SEC championship game for the second straight season.
Matthew’s football fallout concludes Saturday, when reeling LSU (3-2, 0-1 SEC) plays at 21st-ranked Florida (3-1, 3-0) in a game that was switched from Baton Rouge to Gainesville. Although many players and coaches said there are no hard feelings this time around, at least one acknowledged what many expect — a little lingering resentment.
“Going through what we went through last year with them, that’ll kind of bring the emotions up and make it a game that we’re ready to play,” LSU linebacker Devin White said.
Florida chose LSU to serve as its homecoming opponent, a decision top officials were quick to distance themselves from. Coach Jim McElwain and athletic director Scott Stricklin made it clear they had no say in the selection.
Maybe so, but it doesn’t change the reality of the situation.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva criticized Florida for failing to find a way to play the game that week. With the hurricane approaching, the Gators, Tigers and conference officials discussed potential options 72 hours before kickoff but ended up delaying any decisions a day.
LSU offered to host the game in Baton Rouge, but Florida declined because then-AD Jeremy Foley said it was too difficult to put that kind of trip together on short notice. Foley said his staff believed the game could be played Saturday with a later start time.
The SEC ended up postponing the game Thursday afternoon, and both sides seemed aggravated with how they got to the outcome.
There were reports Foley intentionally delayed the decision because the banged-up Gators could use a bye week to get healthy and thought SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey should have moved the game to Baton Rouge early in the week.
A week after the postponement, and despite Alleva’s objections, the game was rescheduled for mid-November in Baton Rouge.
The teams also had to buy out nonconference opponents scheduled for that Saturday: LSU paid $1.5 million to South Alabama; Florida $500,000 to Presbyterian.
There were bitter feelings on both sides, with the Tigers suggesting Florida was scared to play the game outside Gainesville and Foley saying “LSU was never a true partner in our discussions.”
The league also changed its rules regarding rescheduling games and gained more control.
“I think people make a lot more of it than it was,” McElwain said.
The Gators really would get the last word with another victory. They needed a goal-line stand as time expired to beat the Tigers in November. Derrius Guice dived over the pile on a fourth-and-goal play with 3 seconds remaining, but was stopped short.
Florida celebrated wildly, first on the field, then in the locker room and all the way back home.
“It’s just a rivalry,” Gators receiver Josh Hammond said. “I feel like they’re always going to play Florida with a little chip on the shoulder. We’ve just got to be ready to come to play.”