BATON ROUGE, La. – Ed Orgeron emerged from the tunnel behind the north end zone clapping his hands. He pointed straight ahead and began a jog to lead his team onto the field.
At the time of Orgeron’s Saturday morning march, I thought I might be witnessing the LSU coach and Louisiana native’s final pregame entrance at Tiger Stadium.
But hang on just a second now. Don’t rule this Cajun out just yet.
“I love our team, I love LSU, and we went to work this week,” Orgeron said. “I know I’m not going to blink. I’m not going to blink until the day I die, and this team isn’t going to blink.”
Max Johnson’s winning touchdown pass on fourth-and-1 to Jaray Jenkins with 3:30 remaining means Orgeron hasn’t coached his last game in a purple polo.
The result isn’t shocking when viewed through the lens of this series history.
In the last 20 meetings between these rivals in which at least one team was ranked, the lower-ranked or unranked team has won 10 times. That includes five upsets in the past six meetings.
Orgeron improved to 4-2 against the Gators as LSU’s coach. Last season, LSU (4-3, 2-2 SEC) parlayed a 15-yard penalty on Florida’s Marco Wilson for throwing a shoe into an upset victory in the fog at The Swamp.
LSU STUNS FLORIDA: Injury-riddled Tigers chomp Gators in wild win
This installment featured no shoe throws but was plenty drunk on drama.
Florida (4-3, 2-3) quarterbacks threw interceptions on back-to-back offensive plays during the first half. Gators quarterback Emory Jones completed a 42-yard Hail Mary touchdown into a stiff breeze to end the first half. LSU’s Dwight McGlothern returned an interception for a touchdown on the third play of the second half. Florida’s backup quarterback led four consecutive touchdown drives. Florida blocked a punt. LSU blocked an extra point.
And an embattled coach known more for his skills as a recruiter and a motivator outcoached his counterpart who’s regarded as one of college football’s top strategic minds.
Gators coach Dan Mullen seemed to forget in the first half that Florida possesses one of the nation’s best rushing offenses. Just five of UF’s first 23 plays were rushes by Gators running backs.
Florida’s offense didn’t start humming until Anthony Richardson replaced Jones in the third quarter and led four straight touchdown drives. Richardson proved why he should have been given the keys to the offense earlier in the season.
Judging by the scores of empty seats inside Tiger Stadium, LSU fans didn’t expect this upset. During the first quarter, the stadium’s videoboard showed two LSU fans wearing brown paper bags on their head. By the closing seconds, fans were chanting “L-S-U!”
Some had questioned whether LSU displayed enough fire throughout a sluggish first half of the season, but no one could question the Tigers’ heart in this homecoming game.
LSU FOOTBALL RECORD: Tyrion Davis-Price breaks Leonard Fournette’s rushing record in Florida win
LSU’s beleaguered offensive line delivered its best performance of the season. It opened holes for Tyrion Davis-Price to enjoy three long scoring runs en route to a school-record 287 rushing yards. The ground game was needed, because LSU’s top offensive weapon, wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, is out for the season after a season-ending ankle injury suffered last week.
LSU’s offense provided critical support for its depleted defense, which was missing six starters because of injuries.
That defense supplied four interceptions, though, including Damone Clark’s pick of Richardson’s underthrown pass while under duress to cement the victory.
Orgeron isn’t out of the woods – not even close. His Tigers are now 9-8 since their undefeated 2019 national championship season, after all.
Four ranked foes remain on LSU’s schedule, and the Tigers remain in danger of suffering their first losing season since 1999. Back-to-back road games against Ole Miss and Alabama are immediately ahead. And one of Orgeron’s biggest problems remains that he’s working for an athletics director, Scott Woodward, who did not hire him.
Considering Woodward’s past hires have included Chris Petersen at Washington, Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey at LSU, he might be eager to put his stamp on this football program.
But beating Florida has given Orgeron new life before.
Orgeron’s Tigers entered their 2017 game against their SEC East rival with a 3-2 record, on the heels of a loss to Troy. Orgeron already was catching heat during his first season after being named the full-time coach the previous November.
But LSU upset Florida 17-16 to jumpstart a season that ended with a 9-4 record. The Gators’ loss that year started a five-game losing streak, during which coach Jim McElwain was fired.
And after Saturday, Mullen will be catching heat, while Orgeron’s tenure endures.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: LSU upsets No. 17 Florida to keep Ed Orgeron employed as head coach