For what turned out to be one glorious afternoon in The Swamp, the Florida Gators found a way to turn back the clock to 2008.
At least that’s what it looked and felt like.
There was Tim Tebow, on the field, pumping up the fans and receiving the loudest cheers from a raucous sellout crowd.
There was the Florida quarterback, taking a rocker step forward, then backing up and throwing a touchdown pass in the first half.
There was a lefty completing a crucial pass on the game-winning drive.
There was that atmosphere, that loud, insane environment that provided the ultimate home-field advantage.
And there were the Gators, playing like champions, responding big-time with a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the No. 5 team in the nation.
On the same afternoon that the 2008 national championship team was honored and Tebow went into the Ring of Honor, the 2018 Gators made a statement about themselves Saturday, rallying in the fourth quarter to upset LSU 27-19 before a full house (90,283) at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field.
“Man, just a big-time win,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “It feels so good, just getting the Gator standard back.
“Our fans, I ran to our fans after the game because they’re the guys who are helping us out when we’re in The Swamp. When we get The Swamp packed out like that, it’s hard to explain.
“A great team win, man.”
Does this really mean the Gator standard that coach Dan Mullen is always talking about is back? We’ll know more after we see what this win leads to the rest of the way.
Clearly, though, The Swamp is back, providing the energy and atmosphere that always meant so much back in those championship days.
“I want to thank the Gator Nation and all the fans, our student body, for the atmosphere,” said Mullen, whose team rises to 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC. “I came back to Florida, and there’s a Florida I know and there’s a Florida that I love and I know our players love.
“I’ll never forget all the former players that are right now celebrating with our guys in that locker room. There’s a Gator standard that they expect the team to live up to, but they also expect Gator Nation to live up to. And it was that way tonight.
“The Swamp was an intimidating place to come play. It gave us an incredible home-field advantage.”
The Gators rewarded their fans with the biggest home win since UF beat No. 3 Ole Miss in 2015.
Like a week ago, the Gators won the game in the fourth quarter with a clutch touchdown drive.
Responding to an LSU touchdown that put the Tigers up 19-14 with 11:14 left in the game, the UF offense, which had been struggling, drove 75 yards for the winning score, the TD coming on a 2-yard run by Lamical Perine with 8:48 to play.
“I would say given the circumstances (that was our best drive of the season),” Franks said. “We were down and had gotten punched in the mouth. It’s how you respond. Our guys responded really well. Putting it in the end zone was big time.”
The play before the score, the Gators got a key completion from a lefty passer — tight end Lucas Krull, who took an end-around handoff from Franks and headed left, then stopped and threw a pass back to Franks for a 15-yard gain.
As it turns out, Tebow was Krull’s idol growing up.
“I went up to him after the game and asked if I could get a picture with him,” Krull said. “He said, ‘Of course.’ He said, ‘Great throw, great team win.’”
The Gators pretty much sealed the victory when sophomore safety Brad Stewart Jr. intercepted a Joe Burrow pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown with just 1:45 to play.
“I saw the quarterback peek over at his receiver, and he knew our linebacker was about to blitz,” Stewart said. “So, I just made the play off of the receiver.”
The play brought the house down.
And Saturday’s outcome has some thinking the Gators are back as contenders in the SEC.
“We battled today,” Mullen said. “But we’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to improve on. “Now, our challenge as a team is to fix what we didn’t do well and get better.”
Who: No. 22 Florida (5-1) vs. Vanderbilt (3-3)
When: 12 p.m. Saturday
Where: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
TV: ESPN/SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850