Gators prepare for challenge in Baton Rouge

Florida coach Jim McElwain watches his team run onto the field before the first half at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., on Oct. 17, 2015. LSU defeated Florida 35-28. The Gators again visit the bayou Saturday. (Matt Stamey/Correspondent/file) Florida coach Jim McElwain embraces road games, and the challenges and opportunities they present.

It’s a chance to test guts, character and your game plan, an opportunity to see how your players perform in a hostile, us-against-the-world environment.

A chance to find out who you are and what you’re all about.

On Saturday in Baton Rouge, the injury-depleted Gators will face one of the biggest and most daunting road challenges in the young McElwain era — LSU in Death Valley with the SEC East title on the line for UF.

“Obviously, the environment, this is one of those special ones,” McElwain said. “It’s something that you should really look forward to go do. I think the change of environment in understanding the routine and the piece of focus that it takes, just a little bit more, we’ve got to be able to do that.

“This is one of the great venues in all of college football to go play at. So my concern has to do with, are guys going to accept the challenge? That’s really what it’s all about."

So far under McElwain, the Gators have been just an OK road team. They’re 4-3, but the wins have come against teams they were favored to beat (Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina), while the losses have been to more quality opponents (Tennessee, Arkansas and LSU).

In those seven road games, Florida has averaged only 19.7 points and 313 total yards of offense a game.

The Gators have been especially vulnerable on the road this season. They melted down in the second half in a 38-28 loss to Tennessee, then followed with a lackluster 13-6 win over Vanderbilt in which they were outgained and beaten on both lines of scrimmage.

More than a week ago came the most devastating road defeat under McElwain — a 31-10 loss at Arkansas that saw the Gators get physically beat up.

Now, Florida heads into its biggest road challenge and most hostile environment of the season down seven starters against an LSU team that routed the same Arkansas team that routed the Gators on Nov. 5.

McElwain wants his players to look at this as an opportunity. The Gators can capture the SEC East crown with an upset win.

“You’re getting tested here, all right? You’re getting a chance to go into somebody else’s neighborhood and go take something they want,” he said. “It has nothing to do about the rest of it. The rest of it is because you were successful in those environments that allow you to maybe go get that championship. And that’s really what it’s all about.“It’s looking inside yourself and saying do you really want to put yourself out there and give everything you have or do you want to just say, ‘It’s OK. You know, we aren’t supposed to do […]