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Florida got its biggest victory in years against LSU. How they did it foretells more wins like that.
Florida defeated LSU, 14-6, on Saturday, earning the best win of the Will Muschamp Era. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, our first look before a second viewing, comes first.
Florida started slow against Bowling Green. It started slow against Texas A&M. The Gators then started slow against Tennessee, and Kentucky, and yesterday against LSU.
They're 5-0. Starting slow isn't a problem when Florida can finish as strongly as it has against teams with very good talent.
How Florida Won
The first of Mike Gillislee's first two 12-yard touchdown runs was the game-winner; the second was the game-sealer. But that drive that generated Gilly's first score, an eight-play, 85-yard punch to the mouth in the third quarter, was the sign that Florida was not going to let LSU come into its house on its big day and leave the Gators waiting for a trip back to the mountaintop; the fumble that Matt Elam forced to sabotage an LSU drive that could have gotten the lead back was the machete to the hamstring.
Gillislee is going to have the best season by a Florida running back since Ciatrick Fason, at least, and possibly the best one since Fred Taylor, and maybe the best one since Errict Rhett, maybe, just maybe, the best one since Emmitt Smith. The sky is his limit right now: That's the sort of thing one writes about a guy who rushes for 146 yards against LSU, a team that hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher since 2010. It doesn't matter that Gillislee didn't run for more than 12 yards on any carry on Saturday; it matters that Gilly never lost yardage on any of his carries. It doesn't matter that Gilly isn't the home run threat that Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey were; it matters that the 5.0 yards-per-carry mark that Gillislee was above for his career heading into the 2012 season is one he's still well above both in 2012 and for his time with the Gators. Gillislee was an excellent back in bursts for three years, and now he's an excellent back when he's getting carries in bulk. It's nice to have one of those.
Florida's offensive line gave up five sacks in the first half (though at least two were on Jeff Driskel) ... and then it road-graded an LSU defensive line that will essentially all be in the NFL at some point, allowing Gillislee holes to wriggle through and making up for a near-total lack of a passing game by getting push up front even when LSU had no reason to believe the Gators were passing. This is a line that is coming of age, finally, and one that has been superb in second halves, and it's likely to only get better as this year goes on. And when the talented band of recruits behind the current line matures and fills out? Hoo boy.
Florida gave up three big pass plays on the day: Zach Mettenberger made one of the best throws I've ever seen in person, uncorking a shot to Odell Beckham that he couldn't step into with Gators around his feet, and that went for 56 yards; Jeremy Hill caught a pass over the middle on the first drive of the game and took it 20 yards; Spencer Ware caught a screen pass and ran it 20 yards for LSU's first and only third down conversion of the day late in the fourth quarter. That's it, and Elam forcing Beckham to fumble wiped out all of the yardage and momentum from that. Florida also got a beautiful pick from Jaylen Watkins, who could have had another one, and probably should have had three interceptions total given that Jon Bostic went to ground with a ball in his paws. This is a stingy secondary.
Florida gave up 42 rushing yards on 25 carries, its best performance against the run since Florida State managed less than a yard per carry in 2011. It did that against an LSU team that came in having topped 150 yards in each of five games this year. This is a stingy front seven.
I guess a stingy front seven plus a stingy secondary equals an elite defense? Or maybe the qualification for that is being yet to give up more than 20 points in 2012? Or is it giving up no points in the fourth quarter and one touchdown in the second half? Can someone tell me what, exactly, makes an elite defense, or do I just get to tell you that Florida's is that and have you believe me?
Kyle Christy punted seven times for 344 yards, for a 49.1 yards-per-punt average. Brad Wing, celebrated as one of the greatest collegiate punters of the modern era, punted seven times for 319 yards, for a 45.6 yards-per-punt average. So that's neat.
Elam's dumbass penalty on the first drive for excessive celebration was for posing, and it wiped out what looked like a chance to force a punt and led to a field goal. (This was actually Jon Bostic's flag, which was never really explained at the game.) Elam got flagged for unnecessary roughness for throwing a runner out of bounds. But that error, which might have been fatal in prior years for defenses Elam has been on, were nowhere near it today, thanks in part to his incredible recovery on the Beckham bomb (which, frankly, should have been a touchdown, given how open he was) and thanks mostly to the unfathomable strip he made on that same play. I've never seen such a dedicated attempt to knock the ball out of a player's grip on one play, and Elam was doing it while basically being dragged. He's a sure tackler, and has been, but if Elam's adding the doggedness necessary to force turnovers to his toolbox, he's going to be a good NFL player by 2013.
Florida didn't throw much, with Driskel getting just 12 passes off on the night, and just 17 passes being called. But Brent Pease has figured out how to get things done underneath with a team that is devoid of deep threats (I maintain that Andre Debose could be that guy, but no one's inclined to use him as such), and did just enough with the passing game early on to make the switch to the running game as the only means of moving the ball gradual enough for LSU to not be able to just stack the box and shut things down. Pease is working with a few very good players and a lot of above-average ones, not exactly chicken shit, and the end product isn't exactly the finest chicken salad in the world. It's getting Florida wins, though.
Caleb Sturgis was not deployed. This is a sign that Florida is finishing drives.
All of the component parts of this win were sustainable, and part of the Muschamp blueprint: Running to win, taking away big plays, not losing the turnover battle, not losing the field position battle, and winning third down. The Gators have now executed Muschamp's master plan to near-perfection against an extremely talented team, and came back in the second half to do it. That plan isn't written on paper, so the ink doesn't smear when things get sweaty and it doesn't catch fire when things get hot; it's etched in stone about as tough as these Gators are, and it's the new Florida Way that we're coming to love because of the results. There was a time, maybe even last year, when a 14-6 win offered to a Florida fan would probably have been scoffed at as a boring result: Muschamp's weaning us all off offense and replacing it with winning.
Both Good and Bad
Driskel still needs to work on consistently making good, fast decisions in the passing game (one of the sacks that was on him was because he tried to set his feet to throw a ball about six yards), and his fumble that led to a field goal late in the first half was terrible, an example of trying to do altogether too much. But I don't worry about him throwing interceptions unless he launches deep balls, and I don't worry about him fumbling on his many runs, and I generally don't worry about the starting quarterback killing the Gators all that much. Charitably, that was not exactly my relationship with John Brantley, and so I can't be mad at Driskel at all.
Jordan Reed led Florida with three catches for 30 yards, but he picked up another false start penalty on the day, and I think he's at four of those this season. Related: HE'S A TIGHT END. C'mon.
Florida's wide receivers are what they are at this point: They can make plays if the other team misses tackles, but aren't going to make many of them on their own, and whenever one steps up, another steps back. LSU wasn't going to give them many opportunities, but Quinton Dunbar had a first down bounce off his hands and Frankie Hammond fumbled away a great chance to get on the board. If they're going to not do much, these wideouts should at least be sure to do something.
Those sacks? Yeah, maybe we should get that thing cleared up before South Carolina and Florida State bring their defensive lines to bear. It'd be nice, anyway.
That starting slow hasn't been a major issue so far doesn't mean it isn't an issue. It's much easier to play with the lead than without it, and easier to win games when the other team is scoring fewer points. I'd love to see Florida build a lead on the road against Vanderbilt this weekend and hold on to it.
As a Braves fan and a Packers fan, last night's infield fly debacle both miffed me and made me eerily certain that the Gators were going to lose on bad calls today. When the refs called the really subjective celebration foul on Elam and then missed two facemask penalties on LSU, I was sure I would be proven right. I'm happy to have been proven wrong, especially because the refs made the right call twice on the game's two biggest plays on review (and nailed the harder of the two calls, on the incomplete pass in the fourth quarter, on the court), but I want every call to be right. It's hard, but it's the most important thing refs can do.
Fans should never, ever boo when players are down on the field. I realize that there's some skepticism when as many players go down as they did on Saturday for LSU, as there was certainly skepticism in College Station when a bunch of Gators went down against Texas A&M, but respecting injuries is respecting the work that football players do to entertain all of us, and it's not a steep price to pay at all. Keep cheering to a minimum, never boo, and clap when the player gets up to get off the field, and I promise you you won't feel bad about not being too cool for injuries.
That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments.