UF runs down No. 4 LSU
Published: Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 10:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 10:20 p.m.
Back in the not-too-distant past, producing a defining victory at Florida usually meant throwing the ball all over the ballyard and bedazzling the opposing defenses with big passing plays and quick-strike touchdown drives that took only mere seconds off the clock.
That’s old-school stuff now in the SEC. Real old school.
In the steamy Swamp on Saturday, the Gators crafted the first signature win in the Will Muschamp era using the new blood-and-guts blueprint in this fast and physical conference.
They got tough and physical. They lined up and ran the ball down LSU’s throat. They stuffed the run on defense. They won both lines of scrimmage. They won the second half. And they won the game — dismantling LSU the new-fashioned way, 14-6 before a loud and energized crowd of 90,824.
The victory improves No. 10 Florida to 5-0 on the season and 4-0 in the SEC. For No. 4 LSU (5-1 and 1-1), the Tigers saw their 18-game regular-season winning streak end.
“I’m very proud of the resilient effort and what (the players) did and how we won the game,” Muschamp said. “This is just one win. It doesn’t count for one-and-a-half and it doesn’t count for two.
“We have a huge challenge in front of us next Saturday night in Nashville against a very well-coached (Vanderbilt) team. So, we will enjoy this tonight and get back tomorrow.”
As much as Muschamp tried to temper some of the enthusiasm generated by the biggest win of his head-coaching career, the Gators and their fans certainly were in a celebratory mood following Saturday’s big victory — and the way it was achieved.
The Gators trailed 6-0 at the half and the UF offense had been manhandled by the big, fast and physical LSU defense, which sacked quarterback Jeff Driskel five times in the half and held the Gators to a mere 47 yards of total offense.
UF, which has become a strong second-half team in Muschamp’s second season, came out in the second half and took the fight to the Tigers with a strong inside running game, led by senior Mike Gillislee.
The Gators pushed around one of the nation’s strongest defenses, and the Tigers knew what was coming. Gillislee and more Gillislee behind a grind-it-out offensive line.
Gillislee rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns (both from 12 yards out) on 34 carries to lead the Gators’ punishing ground game. UF ran the ball on its final 25 plays of the game and did not throw a single pass in the fourth quarter.
The Gators passed yet another toughness test in a big way.
“We made some adjustments in the second half and we felt like the running game was there,” Muschamp said. “We just had to be patient with it. Mike Gillislee ran hard, and that is a talented bunch he did that against.”
Gillislee said after the game he was tired after carrying the ball 34 times. If he was tired, the proud LSU defense was exhausted after chasing him and tackling him the entire second half.
“I don’t know (if UF is more physical than last year). I will have to check the tape,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “But I thought they were a physical group last year. I think they had a concerted effort to run the football today, and it certainly made a difference.
“I have to give credit to the Florida Gators. They played awfully hard today.”
The Gators, who seemed to have no answer for the LSU defense in the first half, turned the game around midway through the third quarter, when they drove 85 yards, mostly on the ground, to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 12-yard run by Gillislee.
A few minutes later, the UF defense also produced a game-changing play. At the end of a 56-yard pass play from Zach Mettenberger to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., safety Matt Elam stripped the ball and safety De’Ante Saunders recovered on the UF 23-yard line.
The officials did not rule the strip a fumble. But as LSU hurried to the line to run another play, the officials decided to review the play and it was reversed.
“I was just trying to keep him (Beckham) from getting into the end zone, and it turned into much more than that,” Elam said.
It turned into a huge momentum shift in favor of Florida.
The Gators then punched out the LSU defense with 11 straight running plays, the final being Gillislee’s second 12-yard TD dash to give UF a 14-6 lead with 13:18 left to play in the game.
“The vertical passing game wasn’t there (in the first half),” Muschamp said. “We needed to run the ball and then move to other things. But we never really had to get to that. Brent (Pease) and our offensive staff did a really nice job of changing things up in the second half, especially in the run game.
“It was huge against a quality football team. They’ve won 18 straight (regular-season) games for a reason. It adds more confidence in what you’re doing and more belief in your system.”
The Muschamp system is working, and no one is thriving more in it than Gillislee, who has run for more than 100 yards in three games this season and is emerging as one of the SEC’s top offensive players.
“I had faith in my offensive line and I was just going to keep on pounding the ball today,” Gillislee said. “I’ll never forget this moment — the feeling and the win.”
While Gillislee was running through the Tigers, the Florida defense was shutting down a powerful LSU running game — and offense. The Gators held the Tigers to only 42 yards rushing and 200 total yards, and were monsters on third down. LSU managed to convert only one third down in 13 tries.
“Dan Quinn and the defensive staff did a fabulous job,” Muschamp said. “We played well at the point of attack. We have more trust in some guys and more quality depth. Hats off to our defensive staff for understanding what we have to do to be successful.”
Strong defense. Strong running game. That’s how it’s done in the SEC now. And that’s how UF achieved a defining victory Saturday.