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Playin’ Nice: Alligator Army

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Andy Hutchins fills us in on the hypothetically kind-of-possible game.

alligator army

**Ed. Note: Obviously, this game is in serious jeopardy of being played. Should it be, this Q&A will stay relevant.**

1. Luke del Rio's injury status remains up in the air. Do you expect to see him, and how is the offense different under Austin Appleby?

I do expect to see Del Rio. He's reportedly been practicing, and he has been targeting this game for his return since his injury ... but was healthy enough to be an emergency option at Vanderbilt. If he was healthy enough to go then, he's probably healthy enough to go now.

With Del Rio, Florida's offense is a little smoother and more functional, rather than the boom-or-bust attack it has been with Appleby. Appleby throws a better deep ball and has a stronger arm, but Del Rio appeared to be a competent game manager over his nearly three games of play this fall, and that's what the Gators need more than anything.

2. Florida's offense hasn't been flashy, but the Gators are converting half of their third downs, so they're finding ways to move the ball. What's worked?

I think Florida's done a fairly good job of managing down and distance situations when they've had success on first and second down, and that Del Rio has had success in the intermediate passing game, but I would also caution that Florida was far better with Del Rio and against lesser competition than not. Good numbers built on the backs of bad teams can be deceptive.

3. Despite this, the offense has been uneven through the first five games. How much of that is just due to the injury to del Rio, or are there larger issues?

The injury to Del Rio has helped to reveal how much his competence was concealing the weaknesses on Florida's offensive line, which has a number of talented players who are not performing up to their pedigrees. Del Rio makes swifter decisions than Appleby, and kept the trains running and the chains moving; without a quicker-trigger field general, Florida's line has allowed many more pressures over the last two games.

But the line struggled to pass block against North Texas, and has struggled to run block since the end of the first half against Tennessee. I don't have high hopes for its performance against LSU's slew of talented linemen.

4. Reports have as many as five members of Florida's front seven injured going into this. How much of a concern is that for the Gators?

Going by how difficult it was for Florida's backups to deal with Vanderbilt's running game last week, it's a huge concern. I think only two of those five injured players -- Joey Ivie and Jordan Sherit, who have each been confirmed as out -- will miss the game, with linemen Caleb Brantley and Bryan Cox, Jr. and linebacker Alex Anzalone all likely to play through injuries, but even diminished versions of those players diminish what Florida can do up front. And even without Leonard Fournette, the Tigers have the best back Florida will have seen yet this year in Derrius Guice, whose explosiveness gives him an edge over the more powerful Jalen Hurd in that competition.

5. Most LSU fans understand that this is an incredibly difficult spot for LSU, going on the road against a very talented defense. What's the feel on the Florida side? Has the Tennessee comeback and the slugfest versus Vanderbilt shaken the confidence level?

I think there's a lot of fear and loathing for Florida fans, who have seen this show before. Florida has been without its starting quarterback (or presumptive starter) for parts of each of the last six years, and fans have watched adamant defenses perform Sisyphean feats for much of that span. This doesn't feel all that different for many, and the sky-is-falling pessimism that infects a fan base that has absurdly high standards is nearly epidemic again.

But I have been struck by what seems like quiet confidence from Florida's players, who have not seemed shaken by their loss at Tennessee or their close call at Vandy -- they see that play as simply well beneath their standards, and they parroted what was obviously Jim McElwain's message about no Florida team winning a national title without sustaining a loss after the Tennessee game, suggesting they're still very much listening to their head coach.

Is confidence enough, especially if this game happens mere hours after players will have been calling family members to make sure everyone is safe from Hurricane Matthew's wrath? I don't know. But that confidence exists.

6. Finally, how do you see this game shaking out?

It depends on whether there is a game, I think, and also on when the game is: Florida playing before desperate, loaded fans in an impromptu night game or an unprecedented Sunday matchup might produce a cauldron of emotion that the Gators thrive in. But I think this is destined to be another close, hard-fought contest -- and I think LSU ekes out a win by controlling the ball and the clock.