Dooley: Signature statement


Florida Gators linebacker Neiron Ball celebrates with fans after the game against the LSU Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 in Gainesville, Fla. Florida defeated LSU 14-6. (Matt Stamey/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 10:19 p.m.

It wasn’t just that LSU was ranked fourth in the country. It wasn’t just that the Tigers had won 18 straight regular-season games. It wasn’t just that LSU was considered an elite team and was coming off a national title appearance.

It was much more than all of the reasons that Saturday’s game was a big one to you and the guy next to you and the TV commentators and radio talk show hosts.

This was big to them for another reason.

A year ago, LSU was the low point for Florida’s offensive line.

A year ago, the LSU game showed them what they weren’t. On Saturday, it showed them what they are.

“You could definitely say that,” said guard James Wilson. “It’s miles from where we were then to where we are now.”

Against as good of a defensive line as any team could want to face, the Florida offensive line spit on Will Muschamp’s soft label from a year ago. It took over the second half and paved the way for 160 rushing yards in the final two quarters.

Jeff Driskel threw only four second-half passes. The school that used to be known for its Fun ’n’ Gun offense is now a Run ’n’ Run school. To end the game, the Gators ran the ball 22 straight times.

If you have any complaints about this three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-Bermuda-grass offense, save them. Your team was stronger, tougher, more physical than LSU on Saturday. Swirl that around in your mouth for awhile before you swallow.

Tastes pretty good, eh?

This was validation for Will Muschamp, the coach who wants to win the line of scrimmage and line coach Tim Davis, who has trained these guys into a formidable unit. It was one more indication that the best hire Muschamp has made in his two years as a head coach was strength coach Jeff Dillman.

Last year in Baton Rouge, they were boys playing with men.

This year in Gainesville, they beat up the bully.

And the fact that this signature win, this bold statement came against LSU was not lost on these players.

“There were a lot of regrets left on the field in Baton Rouge last year,” said guard Jon Halapio.

They couldn’t play with them last year. On Saturday, they outplayed them.

And they again dominated a second half and fourth quarter. If you have any questions about what a difference Dillman has made, just look at the five fourth quarters Florida has played and the zero points UF has allowed. No other team in the country can say that.

“He was fired up at halftime,” Wilson said of Dillman. “He was saying, ‘That’s why we play four of them, gentlemen.’ ”

And the third and fourth quarters have belonged to Florida so far this season.

“We believe it’s going to happen in the first half,” said quarterback Jeff Driskel, “but we know it’s going to happen in the second half.”

I don’t know what these guys are fed at halftime. Maybe Red Bull and Pixy Stix cocktails. Or maybe it’s just the confidence that they have done this before and they can do it again no matter how many NFL Draft picks are lining up against them.

“It’s easy to see the improvement we’ve made,” Muschamp said.

Especially if LSU is your barometer. Certainly, the Tigers have lost a bunch of players to suspensions and injuries, but that is still an excellent defense, an excellent team.

So is Florida. And what we saw Saturday goes back to a hot September day in College Station, Texas. It was there that the players learned how to win this kind of game, where they learned that all of the things their coaches were trying to pound into their brains might actually be worth buying into.

It’s a long season, and Florida hasn’t arrived.

But there is no question the Gators have come a long way from that day in Baton Rouge.

“This was great for me,” Muschamp said, “because of the way we lost last year.”

And that’s also why a 14-6 win looked so sexy to a Gator Nation that never thought it would feel that way.

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