Flames envelop the LSU football team after its second straight loss and with five top 25 opponents due up over its final six games.
Injuries mount as discussions of coach Ed Orgeron’s $17 million contract buyout and potential replacements spread while the Tigers (3-3, 1-2 SEC) prepare to host No. 20 Florida (4-2, 2-2 SEC) in Tiger Stadium at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN.
So, the Tigers have chosen to fight fire with fire.
“Andre Anthony had a players-only meeting on Monday, and our team’s been on fire all week,” Orgeron said Thursday night.
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He was talking about a fire in a good way, not necessarily his future or the team’s dumpster fire of injuries.
Anthony is a senior defensive end who led the team with 5.5 sacks last season. Unfortunately, he will not be playing Saturday as he had surgery for a knee injury suffered in the third week of the season and is out for the year.
This week alone, LSU has lost three other starters due to various injuries — senior defensive end Ali Gaye (calf, Achilles tendon), sophomore leading wide receiver Kayshon Boutte (ankle) and sophomore cornerback Eli Ricks (shoulder). Boutte and Ricks have had surgery.
Orgeron delivered the news about Gaye on Thursday night and said he will have surgery soon after suffering the injury in the 42-21 loss at No. 11 Kentucky last Saturday. Sophomore starting defensive tackle Joseph Evans is also not expected to return this season, Orgeron said, but he did not say whether that was because of injury or discipline. Evans did not play last week.
Also likely lost for the season is starting All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (foot), who had surgery the week of the Kentucky game, as well as possible starting linebacker Jared Small (knee), who was injured before the season and had surgery. Senior quarterback Myles Brennan, who was expected to contend with sophomore Max Johnson for the starting job, broke his arm in a boating accident before August practices and is likely out for the season after surgery.
Freshman starting safety Major Burns suffered a foot injury in the loss to Auburn on Oct. 2 and is not expected back for another three weeks. And freshman tailback John Emery Jr., who was expected to start or play a lot, has missed the entire season for academic reasons.
The missing players remind Orgeron of being on NCAA probation.
“The only thing I can relate it to was when I was at USC, and I took over,” he said of his stint as interim coach in 2013. “Because of scholarship cuts from sanctions, we had maybe 55 guys at practice out there.”
LSU has been practicing with just one unit at a time as opposed to using multiple fields with a normal roster. Still, Orgeron says spirits have been high.
“I want to praise our team for a tremendous week of focus and preparation,” he said. “This has been our best week of preparation.”
Orgeron also said that last week.
“Today was the most spirited Thursday we’ve had,” he said. “These guys are fired up. Florida’s a rivalry. Ex-players have been talking to them, calling them. Our guys are ready to play. It’s going to be fun.”
Florida is a 12.5-point favorite by FanDuel, which had the Gators favored by 9.5 on Monday.
LSU was 3-5 on the season and a 22-point underdog last year and top players like wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. and Stingley had recently opted out of the season, yet the team still upset the No. 6 Gators, 37-34, on the road.
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“I think there’s a lot of fight left in this team,” Orgeron said. “I’ve been with them. I know we’re 3-3, but we’ve got a lot of games left. And from what I’ve seen this week, what I’ve seen from the coaching staff, there’s a lot of fight left from this team.”