The Florida defenders believed their 2011 performance at LSU was an aberration.
On Saturday, they were finally able to prove it.
A year after allowing LSU to run for 238 yards on 49 carries in a 41-11 loss, the Gators held the Tigers to just 42 yards on 25 rushes in Saturday’s 14-6 win in the Swamp.
“We had a chip on our shoulder from last year,” safety Josh Evans said. “We knew that wasn’t our ball last year. We’re a better team this year, more improved.”
A game after forcing more than two turnovers for the first time since Will Muschamp took over as head coach; the Gators forced three more against LSU.
The most important one came in the third quarter after Florida had taken a 7-6 lead. Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger connected with receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on a deep ball down the right sideline for 56 yards to the Florida 23-yard line. The play was whistled down as Florida safety Matt Elam ripped the ball from Beckham as the two fell to the ground.
Muschamp challenge the challenged the call, and it was overturned and ruled a fumble with possession going to the Gators. On the ensuing possession, Florida got a 12-yard touchdown run from Mike Gillislee to put them up by the final score of 14-6.
“It was all instincts,” Elam said of the forced fumble. “It was all playmaking. It was just great effort, that’s all it was, that’s all I could call it.”
The Tigers’ most successful drive was the opening one. They went 64 yards on 10 plays and got a field goal from Drew Alleman. Gators linebacker Jon Bostic helped the Tigers by committing a personal foul following a 1-yard one from Spencer Ware that would have put the Tigers at 3rd and 17 on their own 38.
The Gators’ defense clamped down following the first drive and forced five consecutive three-and-outs in which the Tigers only accumulated nine yards.
“Dan Quinn and the defensive staff did a fabulous job,” Muschamp said. “We played well at the point of attack up front. We’re able to play more guys because we have more trust in some guys and we have more quality depth that we are able to play in the game.”
The Gators followed the string of three-and-outs with an equally impressive defensive stand. After a Jeff Driskel fumble gave the Tigers the ball on the UF 7, Florida held LSU to a field goal following a three-yard rush, an incomplete pass and a run for no gain.
“Huge,” Muschamp said of the stop. “A lot of that goes to confidence and knowing you’re going to go one the field and make some stops…They ended up trying to attempt two passes down there, said a lot about how we were playing up front. That’s a great compliment to our kids.”
For the game, eight of LSU’s 12 drives were three or four plays. That resulted in a third-down conversion rate of just 7.7 percent. Prior to Saturday, Florida was allowing opponents to convert on 29 percent of third downs.
The fact that the Gators didn’t just outplay the Tigers defensively, but thoroughly dominated them in the second half, provided defensive end Dominique Easley with a satisfying experience.
“Honestly we wanted to come in this game and win,” Easley said. “But more, we wanted to come and hurt them. We wanted them to feel the pain that we felt last year because we had hurt in our heart, so we wanted them to feel the pain that we had.”
Contact Josh Jurnovoy at [email protected].