Dan Mullen was soaked, but this time it wasn’t from a celebratory Gatorade bath like he received in Starkville. Instead, this was sweat soaking through his untucked shirt and turning his regular slick coif into a wet mess.
It was also emblematic of a coach who had just worked his tail off for the biggest win of his short UF career.
It started with jumping jack cheers before Florida entered the field and extended to a big third-down play when he was trying to get the fans fired up.
“You don’t see that from a lot of coaches,” said linebacker Vosean Joseph.
No, but Mullen knew that Florida needed every tonsil, every ounce of perspiration you could muster and he could muster and certainly his suddenly-gutsy team could muster to win this game.
If you were there, you probably don’t have anything left.
Because while Florida still isn’t all the way back, even with a huge win over the fifth-ranked team in America, The Swamp was back on a sultry Saturday.
This is the place we remember. This is the place you don’t want to play if you are a visiting team.
“The Swamp,” Mullen said, “was an intimidating place to play tonight.”
He remembers that place. And on a day when Florida tried to wake up the echoes, you could still hear the roars bouncing off the walls long after the game was over.
“It was kind of surprising to some of the younger guys who had never heard it like that,” said receiver Josh Hammond. “But I’ve seen it like this when my brother (Frankie) was playing.”
It was so loud that Feleipe Franks said he had a difficult time hearing quarterback coach Brian Johnson in his headset, which was a first.
Give the presence of Tim Tebow some credit. And the other guys from the 2008 national championship team. It was as if Gator fans wanted it to be like those days so badly, they were going to make sure they did their part.
And their team followed suit.
When adversity hit, they didn’t back away.
“We got punched right in the face and we didn’t flinch,” Mullen said.
The punches kept coming. From the opening LSU drive to the gut-wrenching Franks pick early in the second half to the two out-of-nowhere runs by LSU’s Nick Brossette on the drive that gave the Tigers the lead. (Those two carries went for 78 yards; the other 13 went for 17 total yards).
With every punch came a counter punch. So even when Joseph decided to go all Brandon Spikes and kick Brad Stewart’s touchdown into the stands (he saw the Spikes video clip on Twitter) and Florida got a penalty, Evan McPherson boomed it deep and the Gators covered.
And even when they got a facemask penalty, they covered eight passing attempts from Joe Burrow, picking off the last one so they could celebrate.
When Donovan Stiner got that last interception, Cece Jefferson knelt in the middle of the field with his head down. It was that kind of energy sapping, leave-it-all-on-the-line game.
Mullen thought back to the rope drills these guys went through in the summer.
“You get to the end of the rope and it kind of burns,” he said. “We didn’t let go of the rope.”
No matter how many times the defense was asked to run out there and hold on again, they kept responding.
“We’re built different,” Joseph said. “We just felt comfortable. We weren’t really tired.”
I don’t know about you, but I got tired just watching them.
“If they want us to keep going out there,” said tackle Kyree Campbell, “we’re just going to keep going to go out there and make plays.”
And when it was to the point where the offense had to do something after an LSU score, it came alive.
A Mullen special, taking a former baseball pitcher and running a throwback pass to set up the game-winning touchdown, was one key. So was some tough running by Lamical Perine.
“It’s been really tough mentally the last three weeks,” Perine said. “The thing I saw was a team coming together.”
The team that walked out of The Swamp after the loss to Kentucky and the team you saw last night are not the same team. This one used that loss as high octane fuel when a messy locker room situation could have been gas on a fire.
“You win by sticking together,” Mullen said. “You win by being a team. I think what they’re really doing is they’re coming together as a team. ”
That team just won another game.
One more than it won all of last year.
And it got The Swamp back, all in one day.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.