(WVUE) - Let’s face it. While the Alabama game might be a close one later this year, for quite a while now, it’s been a pretty one-sided “rivalry.” And if you ask me, that makes it less of a rivalry.
The annual meetings with Florida, however, are must-see TV. The last few years, in particular, it's been an entire week of drama. Especially since the Les Miles era, the Tigers-Gators series has produced some of the most thrilling, unpredictable games. So I'm going to rank my top five. It's worth noting that I graduated from LSU in 2011 (wink face emoji).
Honorable mention: 2016 in Tiger Stadium - Florida 16, LSU 10
This was the plot and game that took the rivalry to new heights. After their original game date had to be postponed due to Hurricane Matthew, the Tigers got their wish to play the game in Death Valley instead of the Swamp. However, a few pivotal plays turned what would have been the highlight of Ed Orgeron’s interim season into a nightmare.
A Derrius Guice fumble inside the Gators' 10 yard line cost them the chance to take a 14-3 lead. A 98-yard Florida touchdown from Austin Appleby (courtesy of Donte Jackson falling down) gave Florida a 10-7 lead. But the worst, the Gators' goal line stand, including two plays from the one yard line, that sealed the game in the final seconds. Then-head coach Jim McElwain couldn't help himself after the game with his quote, "The way I look at it, they got what they deserved, and it should have been worse."
He's no longer Florida's head coach.
5. 2011 in Tiger Stadium - LSU 41, Florida 11
In the midst of LSU's undefeated regular season, Florida was but a speed bump, and it was a welcome change for Tiger fans from what's usually a close game. To be fair, the Gators were down to back-up quarterback Jacoby Brissett. But honestly, I don't think anyone Florida put under center in that game was going to best that LSU defense. The highlight of the game was a touchdown that didn't count. Punter Brad Wing rushed for a 52-yard touchdown off his own instincts, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty erased it. Still, it remains the most memorable moment of day and Wing's claim to fame.
4. 2010 in the Swamp - LSU 33, Florida 29
One week removed from narrowly avoiding an ugly upset to Tennessee at home, Les Miles must have doubled up on his deal with the devil. The craziness that went down in the Swamp on that October night was something only Les would be a part of. Considering their last trip to Gainesville was the 51-21 beat down in 2008 that I witnessed as a student, I vividly remember turning down that trip back to Florida. For a while, I thought I made the right decision. Despite leading 26-14 in the fourth quarter, the Tigers allowed 15 unanswered points to give the Gators a 29-26 lead with less than four minutes to play.
Then things got crazy.
With 35 seconds remaining, LSU had a chance to kick a 53-yarder to tie the game. Josh Jasper, a very capable kicker, was two for two at the time after nailing a 45-yarder earlier in the contest. But for Les Miles, a chance to tie the game wasn’t good enough. What ensued was the flip from Derek Helton to Jasper. With the luckiest bounce that I’ve ever seen, Jasper caught the lateral and picked up the first down. From there, it was all on Jarrett Lee and Terrence Toliver. The pair connected for a 28-yard pass inside the Florida 10. And then with just six seconds left, Lee found Toliver in the end zone for the game-winner.
That was head coach Urban Meyer's last year at Florida. I don't blame you, man.
3. 2017 in the Swamp - LSU 17, Florida 16
Timing and context are everything. Not only was this the year after the painful loss in Tiger Stadium, but it was ONE WEEK after that unbelievable LSU loss to Troy at home. Questioning the hire of Ed Orgeron was at an all-time high. The offense was far from clicking. And behind the scenes, Orgeron and 2017 offensive coordinator Matt Canada weren't seeing eye-to-eye.
Still, they willed themselves to victory against all odds. The leading rusher on the day: Russell Gage. His 30-yard jet sweep (really the best part about Canada's offense) gave them a 10-3 lead. Then on the opening drive of the third quarter, Danny Etling found Tory Carter for a two-yard touchdown pass to give them a 17-3 lead.
By no means whatsoever was this a pretty game. In fact, that game, along with several that year, were some of the ugliest LSU wins you might see. But it was a defining moment for Coach O. It was proof that he could motivate a team to achieve the improbable, and they've trended upward ever since.
Then-Florida head coach Jim McElwain was relieved of his duties later on that very month. You hate to see it.
2. 2014 in the Swamp - LSU 30, Florida 27
Once again, LSU was backed into a corner pretty good before heading to Gainesville. They were fresh off the failed Brandon Harris experiment at Auburn where they lost 41-7. Anthony Jennings, whether you liked it or not, was the starting quarterback once again. Florida wasn't much better at the time, struggling to find their way with their own struggling starter, Jeff Driskel. It was only match-up during this 15-year stretch where neither team was ranked.
The story of this one was what I view as the true beginning of Leonard Fournette's legacy. During his freshman season, this was his breakout SEC performance.
The Tigers had been reluctant to give him a heavy workload in their previous games that year, but his 27 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns set the tone for his career. Fournette was a workhorse. He proved that even as a teenager, he could carry an offense against an SEC defense.
But that wasn't all that was on display. LSU's defense, that was torched the week before, made the big plays when they counted. Late in the fourth quarter, with Florida looking at first and goal from LSU's two-yard line, the Tigers held their ground and forced a field goal. Instead of taking the lead, Florida could only tie the game 27-27.
The next drive, LSU couldn’t gain a yard and was forced to punt. The Gators started what could have been their game-winning drive at their own 42, only needing a field goal to win. But Rickey Jefferson made arguably the best play of his LSU career and intercepted Driskel. It set up a Colby Delahoussaye 50-yarder for LSU to win the game.
Head coach Will Muschamp was no longer leading the Gators after that season. Crazy.
1. 2007 in Tiger Stadium - LSU 28, Florida 24
This is my all-time favorite, and it's not even close.
The Coaches' Poll that week had USC ranked number one with LSU right behind them. Needless to say, this was a huge week for the Tigers to make their case.
I was a freshman. College Gameday was on campus. I literally did not sleep the night before (unless you count a nap in a lawn chair on the parade grounds).
LSU found themselves in a battle, and with about five minutes left in the third quarter, it appeared to be Floria's night. Tim Tebow (despite our profane chants from the student section) found Cornelius Ingram for a touchdown to make it 24-14.
But when it was announced that the Trojans were upset by Stanford, Tiger Stadium collectively lost its mind at the start of the fourth quarter. That energy must have gone straight to the LSU sideline.
It started with a Kirston Pittman interception in Florida territory. But when LSU faced a fourth down a few plays later, rather than take the field goal, still with more than 12 minutes to play, Les Miles opted to go for it on fourth down. The gamble paid off as Matt Flynn connected with Demetrius Byrd for the touchdown.
But Les was just getting started. After forcing Florida three and out, the Tigers put together one of their most epic drives of all time. The Tigers trailed 24-21. Conventional wisdom says you're looking for a field goal. Les Miles says you're going for the kill.
Facing fourth and one at their own 49, they had to go for it. Jacob Hester converted. Then a few plays later, Hester put an iconic play on tape when he trucked Gator safety Major Wright on a 19 yard run. But once again, they'd be faced with a tough decision (probably wasn't tough for Les). On fourth down at the Florida seven yard line, instead of tying the game with two minutes to play, LSU went for it.
And they did it again. Hester picked up the first down followed it up with two more runs to the end zone. In all, it was a 15-play, 60-yard drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock. Winning 28-24, it was a monumental effort from the Tigers within a national championship season. It’s a game that you’ll forever remember Les Miles for, no matter how you feel about his coaching now.
It’s one of many reasons that LSU vs. Florida is always must-see football.