Gators put it together to knock off Tigers

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Florida defensive back Brad Stewart Jr. dives for the end zone during the fourth quarter Saturday after intercepting a pass from LSU QB Joe Burrow (9). [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

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.”


Up next

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

43 COMMENTS

  1. I think in every game we lost in 2007, we had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to drive it and win it at the end. Franks, with all his weaknesses, got the job done tonight. Congrats to him and his teammates.

      • Franks Critics…ESPN SEC Network has a program: “SEC Film Room”. After the MSU game, they focused on Florida, with Coach Mullen breaking down film and explaing some of the offensive plays and Coach Grantham breaking down some of the defensive plays. Mullen showed how Franks was making a lot of smart calls getting the offense into the right plays. He complimented Franks for not taking a conservarive approach. Mullen is more interested in his qb being a game manager than anything else. Franks is starting to show a good understanding of how to run Mullens’ offense and let’s hope he stays healthy and keeps progressing. He’s a tough dude and based on his steady improvement his football IQ may be higher than many believed it to be.

  2. Gators the cool aid has been drunk. We are capable of winning all our contests. Again boot saying we will but we could. We were a few mistakes from a great game. Again they were on offense. There were stand out players on O but the O wasn’t stand out as a unit. The defense kept us in it and never gave up. Two picks on a QB that hasn’t has one all year. Special teams were solid. Wish we were a little more aggressive but understand they didn’t want to give up the big play. Penalties. That could have killed us. Overall solid B+. Of course just got home it’s 12 something and I’m whipped, hoarse, can’t wait for next week.

    • This was a really good game. Two good teams going at it. Yes, I can FINALLY say the Gators are a really good team this year. They stood toe to toe against a formidable opponent and came out on top. The defense was playing some prevent but I think Grantham’s modus operandi is not attack until the other team crosses the 50 yard line. Of course the great Gator fans gave them the edge as a home crowd should. I think that was the difference in this game. And you were there doing your part Gator65. Wear that hoarse voice with pride.

      • 65 and Sly….. (hey, that kinda sounds like 1st and ten)…… Mullen has done what he set out to do from jump street with a basically defeated team in attitude. He taught them CHARACTER, how to win, and most importantly, the will to win regardless. There were no lucky breaks — this team won a hard fought victory against what was (probably) a better team. They won the way they had to win; not pretty at times, but they won. Pretty will come in time. We can’t let down now and fall into traps, as they will certainly be there waiting for us.

        Now, there are probably some that will say, “Yeah, but let’s withhold optimism until we see how they play against Vandy”. You know what? They’re right, but for the wrong reasons. Every game from now on is going to be a unique test of our mettle, and the worst thing we can do is what LSU did last night: Be smug in over-confidence. Probably the same went for Kentucky and Auburn last night too. So one-game-at-a-time. Confident but smart. Go Gators!

          • They sure do Smith, even in Spurrier’s time it was the same. Wish I knew why, as I think about it every time I read the new season’s schedule. “On Paper” we should wax those guys even in down years — goes to show you how much “on paper” really means in the SEC, doesn’t it?

  3. We have ourselves a coach Gator Nation…way to ball. I told one of my boys during this game…win, lose, or draw…I really love this team. Big Reese laid the lumber per usual. Vosean Joseph…bro…you laid it on the line time and time again. CJ Henderson….steady as usual and a 1st rounder for sure. Polite…you are an absolute stud. CeCe.. you are making yourself some $$. B Stewart.. salute. You and Stiner make plays. Chauncey G…you are back to the guy who had a promising freshman year. No one should hold Shannon’s scheme against you.. you obviously are a playmaker. Scarlett and Perine…both of you cats delivered! Felipe…way to rebound and not sulk after the int. The team rides with you and some fans just don’t get that…but keep getting Ws. Man it feels food to see the team battle.. LSU is a good, physical team…great win!

    • Good analysis Smithy… this team has lots of guys who are learning how to be gamers and are playing with so much more heart and character than we’ve seen around these parts in a long time. I’d add Tommie Townsend to your list….that kid is a weapon at punter.

      • Rog…how could I forget that?! He is a major difference maker and key to flipping field position. Man…I am so excited and like I said…the effort alone make me love this team. Just think…even Kirby said it wasn’t until the 2nd year where the strength and conditioning REALLY kicked in…but you can see the dividends already. A MUCH tougher team…reminds me of when Urbs took over from Zook. Zook has talent but his teams withered late due to conditioning…the first year you saw a much more physical team, and year 2 we win the title. Not saying that this will be the reality, but it reminds me of that level of coaching that brought out the best of guys who re talented.

        Yes, we can improve and get out of the gate better offensively, but we are a work in progress…and the key word is progress…and we continue to get better. The Ws are intoxicating to a locker room…and the buys in is in full gear. I know them Ga boys are looking this way saying…SHYT those boys are waking up again.

        GO GATORS!

  4. “Now, our challenge as a team is to fix what we didn’t do well and get better.” Every coach says that each week and it applies to every team. we hear it from saban weekly. Being a championship team doesnt mean you dont make mistakes in the game. Our 06 & 08 teams made mistakes while they won championships! being elite means you play good enough to beat your opponent week in and week out! You play with a drive that just wont quit, you play great defense and special teams and do enough on offense to have a winning score. On championship teams the offense is always the weakest link cause the team your playing has a great defense too, most often. Thus the saying ‘defense wins championships’! If this team plays like this every game here on out and keeps improving, they are ‘good enough’ to be in any game and better than most. We have a championship defense, this one ranks right up there with any Ive ever seen. The last 3 halves of football defense have been at an elite level! The hard thing and the key for Mullen is to make sure there isnt a let down or we will have another MSU mistake like in 08. I believe he is the coach to make it happen. He knows how to motivate his players, many were amazed how he was pumping up the crowd, you just dont see HC’s doing that. Great coaches are motivators.

  5. When we win I’m walking on air Sunday and I like it. GATORS What a fun game to watch, really excited about this team. I think the sky is the limit. I don’t know what else to say, Daz said it all so well and William; good point about the recruits even if they didn’t visit, how could you not want to be a Gator these days.

  6. It’s great to see the Gators on the rise, as demonstrated in an SEC win at home against a top 5 team.

    The improvement in play each week is very encouraging. To improve and win is not easy to do. Kudos to this veteran coaching staff for getting our boys ready to play top competition in such a short amount of time.

  7. Everyone has given their opinion’s and analysis about last night’s game and for the most part, quite eloquently. So, I just want to add this. When Strickland was searching for a new head coach, I wanted Scott Frost desperately and I made that wish well known to all who would listen, both on these posts and in person. Well, he, reasonably, went to his alma mater and I was bummed. Also, the Gators job wasn’t good enough for Kelly…thank God. So, those two are a combined 0-10 and we ended up with the best head coach the Gators could ever have asked for! Not only that, Dan Mullen wanted this job, he loves being the head coach of the Florida Gators. Look at the job he has done with the same group that played under the previous regime, plus the new ones and after last night, I fully expect a top five recruiting class. Dan Mullen, serendipity exemplified. GO GATORS!!

    • Billy — no harm done, everyone had different opinions at the time, thank God we didn’t get into the same mess Tennessee went thru! But at least they landed on their feet, so I put their build about two years behind us.

      I can’t help but think, however, that if we had hired Mullen in the first place — after Myer left — we sure might have avoided a lot of heartache for about 7 years or so. But, the timing was all wrong anyway, and who knows what would have happened regardless. But we’ve got him now, and like you said, serendipity exemplified!

      • Gator, I think it worked out perfectly. I believe if coach Mullen had immediately followed Meyer, he in all probability tried to be his clone. Instead, he distanced himself and had nine years in Starkville to become the leader he is today. That is the point, we already knew he was an exceptional play caller but, now he knows the ins and outs of being the boss.

        • Yeah, I see your point there, Billy. I keep forgetting that Dan Mullen is only 46…so who knows what would have happened had he gotten the Gators perhaps before he was ready. You’re right — he obviously was a great play caller when here before, but now is that plus being a great leader.

  8. Don’t worry about the polls. The Gators still have a chance to win the SEC and go to the playoffs. If they win out, they will win the SEC East and go to Atlanta. They then get a shot at Alabama most likely. Alabama is not invincible. Arkansas put up 30+ points on them Saturday and the Gators have a much better defense than Arkansas. All the goals are still there for the taking. If the Gators play up to their ability they can do it. I think Franks has improved a lot. He really showed some guts and character Saturday when he took that big hit and got bent three different ways. A lot of guys would have quit but he just winced got up and ran to the sideline and came back on the next series. I got faith in the kid. He has the tools he just needs to continue to learn how to use them. Mullen is the coach who can lead him there.

  9. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if the Gators and KY win out, they would be tied and KY would win the head to head tiebreaker. If GA takes care of business this weekend, then we can win out and win the East. It will make for the biggest FLA – GA game in years.

    • If we go into Jax with just one loss, Scott, it ought to be a barn burner whether we walk in, limp in, or run in. But first one game at a time. Having said that, I went on record before the season even started and called it 23-20 Florida. It must have been something I ate, or else there was something else in that last cigar I smoked — but as foolish as that may have sounded at the time, I haven’t seen anything yet besides the Kentucky game to make me want to change it.

  10. I want to temper my expectations. If this season so far has taught us anything, every game is a war. MSU and LSU was a war. It was like watching Gladiator and watching guys get the arms cut off and stuff. The point is we have to learn to continue to grind it out and play at a high level physically and mentally. Any little let down could cost us . that’s tough for young guys. ask Oklahoma, Kentucky and Auburn. I wish we were playing Vandy at home this weekend. We can’t take anyone for granted, which is the mentality of a champion anyway. If being “back” means NC expectations, hold your horses. If it means getting to a point where we should never believe we can’t win any game, we’re about there. We need to keep playing hard, getting stronger in the off season and kick ass on the recruiting trail.