The LSU/Florida rivalry is a bit new fangled as far as college football rivalries go. Just 64 total matchups, only two of which occurred before 1954. It’s an entirely modern era rivalry that still didn’t truly hit its stride until the last three decades.
Most LSU fans will tell you that Steve Spurrier became the man that haunted their dreams, but we can really trace the seeds to 1988. Spurrier is oft-credited as the man who awakened the sleeping giant that was his alma mater, but it started with Galen Hall, the Gators coach from 1984-1989. Hall won 40 games in four seasons, bringing the type of winning back to Gainesville that they hadn’t experienced since 60s. But alas, Hall’s reign was mired in scandal, ultimately leading to his resignation midway through the 1989 season. But in 1988 he lead Florida to victory over LSU, igniting a 9-game winning streak that would be carried on by Spurrier. Florida won closely in ‘88 (19-6) and ‘89 (16-13), but when Spurrier showed up they kicked it to the next level. Here are the scores once Spurrier took the reigns:
That’s an average margin of victory of 27 points. So every year, for damn near a decade, LSU and Florida showed up on a football field and Florida won by nearly four damn touchdowns. That is massacre of the highest order. And that is why so many LSU fans grew to loathe the Gators and their wise cracking head coach. And that is exactly why the game in 1997 is one of the greatest games in the history of LSU football.
The Greatest Game from 1997: Florida
Florida domination painted the picture of 1997. By ‘97 LSU fans gained some measure of confidence. Dinardo showed up in ‘95 and quickly orchestrated a turn around in performance, even delivering 10 wins in ‘96, on the back of the heroic Kevin Faulk. Dinardo brought winning back to Baton Rouge but in two tries vs. Florida, he looked absolutely hapless.
Florida entered especially confident. The ‘96 Gators won their first ever National Championship, dominating in-state rival Florida State. They were also riding an in-conference winning streak stretching over two seasons. The Gators ruled the SEC and little stood in their way.
They rolled into ‘97 in style. Dropping 82 on Central Michigan just to, you know, work some things out on offense. Then they welcomed no. 4 Tennessee to town and beat them by 13 points. Yawn. Stretch. This before brutalizing Kentucky and Arkansas. The Gators showed absolutely no signs of bending off their trail of destruction.
LSU’s expectations ran wild in ‘97, but after a pair of wins to open the season, the Tigers stumbled at home to no. 12 Auburn. Auburn scored with just :30 left on the clock to take a late lead and steal the victory. LSU would rebound to win two in a row, though needing a far tougher effort vs. Vanderbilt, blocking a late XP that would have tied the game, than one would expect. Clearly, the Tigers were looking ahead to the dominant, unstoppable Gators, who would travel to Baton Rouge the next weekend.
The Tigers energy showed early. LSU looked in business, romping 58 yards down the field on seven plays, six of which were runs, before Rondell Mealey fumbled the ball away inside the Florida red zone.
Florida’s unstoppable offense took over but the defense came to play. After Fred Taylor picked up five yards on first down, LSU sacked Doug Johnson for 14-yard loss and then gobbled up a screen pass for another four-yard loss. The mighty Gators must punt to the lethal Kevin Faulk. And Faulk did damage, ripping off a 30-yard return, shortened because he narrowly stepped out of bounds.
On the very next play, well, let this serve as your reminder that Herb Tyler could boogie.
40 yards. Rondell Mealey atoned for his earlier sin. Pay Dirt. The crowd erupted. The Tigers were ready.
Florida took over and again went back to Fred Taylor. Taylor again found space, this time picking up 14 yards. On the new set of downs, Johnson threw incomplete and on 2nd and 10 he fired an INT into the waiting arms of Cedric Donaldson. Donaldson stiff armed the Florida WR Jamie Richardson to the ground like the pansy that he was and then zipped and weaved 68 yards to the UF 7. On the next play, LSU gave to FB Tommy Banks who squeezed right up the middle for another touchdown. In a couple of breaths, LSU lead 14-0 on the ass-kicking Gators.
You can’t really overstate how utterly surprising it was that LSU, a good team, was outright putting a beating on Florida. Not only did they shut down the Gator offense, every single LSU offensive possession was a success. It felt like fool’s gold, and the crowd didn’t disengage. It was only a matter of time before Florida got their shit together and put the beat down on. After all, that’s what always happened.
Florida took the ball back and immediately put their foot on the gas, looking like the vintage Gators. Johnson orchestrated a 13-play, 80-yard drive ending in a Fred Taylor touchdown. The Mighty Gators were awake. It’s here where LSU teams of the past nine years would have wilted. LSU gave it’s knockout blows and the Gators were woozy but still standing and now coming back with body blows of their own.
LSU’s next drive didn’t inspire confidence. They traveled only six yards on six plays, but they did retain possession for over three minutes, giving the defense a much needed rest after being on the field for 13 plays. Realistically, this gave the team the chance to regroup. Gone is the early adrenaline. Gone were the nerves. Now, they had to hunker down and play winning football.
The 2nd quarter turned into a defensive struggle. Florida managed only 11 yards on their next drive, showing the Tiger defense wasn’t ready to yield. LSU started with favorable field position near midfield, but stalled out at the UF 23 before Wade Richey missed a field goal. Florida took over driving themselves to the LSU 27, attempting a FG of their own, which was blocked.
LSU looked content to get out of the half, but failed to convert a first down on three straight Faulk runs. Florida took over with 1:13 to go and points on the mind. They moved down the field, but only reaching the LSU 38 before half. LSU took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
Florida started the second half with the ball and looked like the Gators of old. Seven plays and 80 yards later, Fred Taylor found paydirt again. LSU’s 14-point lead vanished.
But LSU did not relent. Tyler found Tyrone Frazier for 12 and Larry Foster for 29. When LSU stalled out on a 3rd down, a UF facemask kept the drive alive. Knocking on the Florida red zone, LSU was unable to push further. On came Wade Richey for another FG attempt and this time Florida got redemption with a block of their own.
Florida took over, using a balance of Johnson’s passing and Taylor’s running to move down the field. But when the Gators reached the red zone, the LSU defense stiffened. First, they held Taylor to no gain. On 2nd down, LSU sacked Johnson for 13-yard loss. On 3rd and 23, Johnson stepped back and launched a pass right to LSU S Mark Roman for LSU’s 2nd INT of the game.
On LSU’s next possession they turned to Faulk, but it wouldn’t be his day. Heisman Herb stepped up on 3rd and 7, finding Abram Booty for 20 yards and then, on the next play, another 51. Yet again, when the opposing team reached the red zone, the offense stalled out. Wade Richey came on for yet another FG attempt and he missed. Again. In three FG tries Richey missed two and had another blocked. Not a banner day for LSU’s kicking game.
The LSU defense was on fire though. Florida’s next drive consisted of three plays and a loss of nine yards before punting back to LSU, giving the Tigers great field position. But LSU proved unable to capitalize. Four plays later they punted the ball back to Florida.
Starting from their own 20, Florida came out passing, but incomplete on first down. On 2nd down, the Gators came out throwing again. As pressure arrived to Johnson, he looped a pass out to his receiver, throwing off his back foot. Cedric Donaldson read it all the way, sprinting in front of the UF WR for the easy pick and clean path to the endzone for a touchdown. 21-14 LSU. Spurrier removed his visor in disbelief.
LSU kicked off to Bo Carroll who weaved up the sideline returning it 29 yards before the damnedest thing happened: he just dropped it. With the nearest defender five yards away from him, Carroll just... coughed it up. Troy Twillie hopped on the fumble. Three plays later, Herb Tyler 2: Electric Bugaloo. Tyler found the endzone on a tap dancing run on the option play. LSU’s 14-point lead restored.
Plenty of time remained for the explosive Gators. Florida took the ball and put together a 13-play, 78-yard drive to get back seven of the points they just gave away. The drive did take 4:54 seconds, which left LSU with the ball with just over six minutes remaining.
The Tigers couldn’t muster much, running it three times before punting it away. Dinardo clearly looked content to sit on his lead and try and run the clock out. Florida was ready and took the ball back with 4:20 to go. Tension rose but the crowd stayed thick with bourbon and plastered with excitement.
Florida opened with a completion, but had the play called back due to illegal formation. On 1st and 15, Johnson found Taylor to pick up half the yardage to a first down. On 2nd down, Johnson threw incomplete. Now 3rd and 8, Spurrier inserts Jesse Palmer. Vintage Spurrier here. Palmer, of course, delivers, connecting with Nafis Karim for 19 yards. Except... the Gators committed another illegal procedure penalty and thus lost the gain. Spurrier re-inserts Johnson, on what is now 3rd and 13. Then the Gators committed an unsporstmanlike conduct. Florida, now on 3rd and 22 were backed up on their own 9. Throwing from his own end zone, Johnson fired deep down field and Raion Hill intercepted it. It was Florida’s fifth turnover of the evening.
This time, LSU would take over and successfully run out the clock. The crowd stormed the field. LSU football was back, baby. Until the next week.
L 21-28 vs. Auburn
W 27-0 @ Alabama
W 27-9 vs. Notre Dame
C’mon. You really gonna pick anything else?
What’s the Greatest Game of 1997?
This poll is closed
It’s Florida, duh
That Auburn game was close though
I’ll take any beatdown vs. Bama, Pawl
Shellacking the Irish