War Stories is a feature devoted to discussing the most memorable games in the history of Florida's rivalries. Previously in War Stories: The most memorable Florida-Tennessee games, Nos. 10-6 and Nos. 5-1.
Today, we begin our three-part look at the Florida-LSU rivalry.
15) No. 1 Florida 13, No. 4 LSU 3: Tebow's Return (October 10, 2009)
Honestly, I was flirting with not putting this game on the list at all, because it was such an ugly game. Both offenses were stuck in reverse for about 90 percent of the game. But the Gators, led by senior QB Tim Tebow, did just enough to keep the game out of reach for LSU with essentially one good drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Riley Cooper. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, thanks to a combination of horrible offensive execution and one of the greatest defenses in Gator history, the Tigers were held to a mere three points, their fewest in the series since 1993.
But the game meant far more than the score, and even the fact that the teams were both ranked in the top five paled in comparison to the story surrounding Tebow. Two weeks earlier, he had been knocked unconscious by Kentucky lineman Taylor Wyndham — and I digress, but it was 31-7 late in the game, and that's what John Brantley was for, so why was he still in to begin with? — and from that moment on, questions swirled about whether or not he would play. He did, and while perhaps not quite as emotional and physical as he normally was, he got the job done. (Editor's note: Also, he hid post-concussion symptoms prior to the game, so he was probably, y'know, still suffering from the effects of the concussion.)
In terms of the 2009 season as a whole, the game essentially meant nothing. Florida would have made it to the SEC Championship Game even with a loss, and LSU would not have made it with a win, due to a later loss to Alabama. But as a chapter of this rivalry, it was a big win for Florida.
LSU's Death Valley is generally regarded as one of the toughest places to play in all of college football. The best and worst teams in the nation struggle mightily on LSU's home turf. Yet there is one school that has made a habit of walking into Tiger Stadium and coming out with a win: Florida. The Gators are the only annual opponent of LSU's to have a winning record in Death Valley since 1999; even Alabama has a losing record in Death Valley since then.
This is going to become a theme as we get deeper and deeper down the list. But if this is just one of many examples of Florida winning on the hallowed turf of Death Valley, why mention it? The answer is because the Gators did something in Baton Rouge on that night four years ago that has only been done once since: Win at night. Ask any LSU fan; that's a whole different animal. They take night games very seriously, and for good reason: Night games at LSU are one of the best experiences in all of sports. LSU has also racked up an incredible record in home night games, including a ridiculous number of wins over ranked opponents.
Yet Florida, with a reduced version of Tim Tebow and a defense loaded with NFL talent, walked in there and silenced the record crowd of 93,129, giving Urban Meyer his first (and only) win in Baton Rouge and Les Miles his first home night loss as LSU's coach.
14) Florida 13, LSU 10: The Wristband Robbery (October 22, 1960)
Oh, come on, it happened in 1960.
For all of you who have been following either Florida or LSU football for this long, this one's for you. The stats from this long ago game are a bit conflicting, and thus, confusing.
But these are the facts that everybody agrees on: This game in Baton Rouge didn't start out particularly well for Florida. LSU QB Jimmy Field was picking the Gators' defense apart, and the Tigers had a 10-7 lead halfway through the second quarter. However, at some point during the second quarter, Florida players noticed that Field was calling plays written on his wristband. On the next play, the Gators ambushed Field with a massive blitz and buried him under the pile, and while they laid on top of him, preventing him from getting up and screening everybody else's view, one of the Gator defenders lying on top of Field tore the wristband off of Field's arm.
Remember, this was 53 years ago, before all the technology used in football today was developed. The wristband was pretty much all Field had to call plays with. At halftime, the Florida defenders huddled around and quickly studied the information on the wristband, which contained the four or five plays LSU would run out of each formation. For example, out of the power I, LSU's possible plays were dive left, dive right, QB sneak and fullback dive. When the Gators would see LSU line up in the power I, they knew it had to be one of those four plays. Ask anybody who's ever played defense: It's an enormous advantage to be ready to defend four plays rather than more than 30.
Predictably, the results were horrendous for LSU's offense. Here is where the stats are confusing: Different accounts of the game credit LSU's second half offense with anywhere from 12 yards to about 100. The bottom line is this: LSU did not score at all.
Meanwhile, Florida's offense rallied, taking the lead, and the defense would hold on for a 13-10 victory. Only after the game was over did the Gators return the stolen wristband, claiming they "found it" on the field.
Not much really came out of this game in terms of the standings. A crippling loss to Auburn the week after — a recurring theme in this rivalry — kept the Gators from winning their first SEC Championship, while LSU had to really struggle to finish .500.
But this game was certainly noteworthy because it was the first instance of sheer naughtiness displayed in the series, though it would certainly not be the last. Let's be honest: The Gators cheated, since the Tigers' only other play calling option was to simply yell it from the sideline or have Field try to remember on his own what plays he was supposed to run in different situations, something he was not prepared to do.
Don't worry, though: LSU has done much worse things in this rivalry than steal a copy of the Gators' plays. Just hang on, we'll get there.
13) No. 10 LSU 21, No. 11 Florida 17: LSU Survives Five (October 15, 2005)
Here's a perfect instance of my fairness in this piece. I have no reason to include this game aside from keeping the LSU readers happy, because this was a game in which everything that could have possibly gone wrong for LSU went wrong, yet the Tigers still won. LSU did grab an early 14-0 lead on two first-quarter touchdown passes from JaMarcus Russell, one to Dwayne Bowe and the other to Bennie Brazell. But then the pendulum began to sway the Gators' way.
First, future NFL star Joseph Addai fumbled right near midfield, and the Gators' Jarvis Herring picked it up and rumbled to the LSU 32. Kestahn Moore made LSU pay with a touchdown two plays later. Later, LSU mounted a drive as the first half was running out, but JaMarcus Russell was strip sacked and Jarvis Moss fell on it to essentially end the half and prevent the Tigers from expanding the lead.
In the second half, Russell picked up right where he left off: On the second play of the second half, he was picked off by Herring. The Gators cashed that mistake in for a field goal. Incredibly, Russell still wasn't done giving out goodies. He decided to test how far he could bounce a ball off a Gator's face mask, but the experiment failed, because Joe Cohen was right there to snatch the deflected ball out of the air and take it back to the LSU 32. The Gators capitalized once again, this time on a one-yard plunge by DeShawn Wynn (who got all 32 yards on that drive). To sum it all up: Three drives, three turnovers, and 17 unanswered Florida points.
Yet, despite two more turnovers from LSU in the game, its ending was absolutely agonizing for the Gators. LSU responded to the Gators' barrage with a touchdown drive, and their defense clamped down on the Gators' offense, which had looked absolutely anemic all season to that point. Even by Steve Addazio standards, the fourth quarter was just embarrassing. Without even counting the penalty yards, Florida totaled 27 fourth quarter yards. The Gators' final drive never had a prayer, and LSU won, 21-17.
With a half decent offense, the Gators blow the Tigers out of the water in 2005. Think about it: LSU turns it over five times, Florida turns it over zero times. How many times out of 100 do you think the team with five turnovers should win a game over a team that doesn't turn it over at all?
But in this case, it didn't happen, and Florida paid for it. The Gators finished 5-3 in the SEC, right behind the 6-2 Georgia team the Gators beat two weeks later. Had Florida fought off LSU, they would have been tied with Georgia atop the SEC East, and would have owned the tiebreaker. Meanwhile, had LSU lost, they would have been dropped out of the SEC Championship Game in favor of Auburn. With just one more touchdown in Baton Rouge, Florida would have faced Auburn for the SEC title.
Instead, LSU got crushed by Georgia, 34-14. Thanks a lot, Tigers.
12) No. 12 Florida 41, LSU 9: The Rex Grossman Play (October 7, 2000)
Don't let the final score fool you: This was a really good game for a half, and might have been for even longer than that had Rex Grossman not made one of the greatest plays in Florida history with time running out in the second quarter.
The Gators were up 10-3 and driving, when a snap went way over Grossman's head, forcing him to run backwards, pick up the bouncing ball, and, with a couple of LSU defenders right in his face, fire a laser to Jabar Gaffney for the touchdown that essentially put the game out of reach. There was such a tiny window to put that ball in, and Grossman did it anyway with two Tigers defenders bearing down on him.
I watched this play as a six-year-old, and it remains one of the top five greatest individual plays by a Gator I have ever seen (in case you're curious, Tebow's jump passes against LSU and Oklahoma, Jeff Demps' 84-yard touchdown against Kentucky in 2011 and Lito Sheppard's insane interception return against Georgia in 2000 are my other four.)
After that, the game wasn't even close. The Gators' offense woke up and put up three more touchdowns, including another beautiful deep ball from Grossman to Gaffney, and Florida cruised to a 41-9 victory over first year head coach Nick Saban's Tigers.
Never let it be said that Nick Saban, generally acknowledged as one of the greatest coaches in college football history, owns Florida. The Gators have dealt him two of his worst three defeats in his college coaching career, this 41-9 pasting and a 44-15 bludgeoning the following year in Baton Rouge. Florida also handed him one of the most demoralizing losses in his career, but since we all know that's a special game, I'll save the recap of that one for later.
But this game also serves as an example of the domination Steve Spurrier enjoyed over LSU. It wasn't that long ago that Florida pounded LSU with the type of frightening regularity that you'd expect over a team like, say, The Citadel. What has turned into one of the greatest rivalries in college football (listen up, Les) was once a one-sided, annual bloodbath in favor of the guys dressed in orange and blue. It wasn't even considered a rivalry by most, because the Gators won 13 out of 14 from 1988 to 2001.
And, of course, it included a truly remarkable play that I just couldn't leave out of a piece detailing memorable moments in the rivalry's history.
11) No. 11 Florida 14, No. 3 LSU 6: The Wear-Down Win (October 6, 2012)
The Full Game
This was old-fashioned, smash-mouth football at its best, a game of trench warfare between the defending SEC champions and the "new" kid on the block. And it was Florida, the same program just a few months removed from being called out as "soft" by its own coach following a 7-6 season, that won it.
The Gators self-destructed early on, with a costly fumble by Jeff Driskel near the end of the first half helping give LSU a 6-0 halftime lead. However, the second half played out quite differently. The offensive line consistently opened up holes for Mike Gillislee to run through, and late in the third quarter, LSU started to tire. The Gators put together back-to-back touchdown drives, each capped by a Gillislee touchdown run, to take a 14-6 lead. It was more than enough for the Gator defense to hold onto.
You can watch the highlights to see for yourself just how dominant this defense was all day, because words don't do it justice: Pictures and video say it better than anybody ever could. Even on the rare instance when this defense was beat, it turned out for the best. Odell Beckham took advantage of a busted coverage and got free for a huge gain ... only to be stripped by Matt Elam. And the Gators recovered. That pretty much epitomized the day for Florida, which got the biggest win yet for Will Muschamp.
To understand this as the biggest win of Muschamp's career, one has to understand just how dominant the Tigers were in previous seasons. LSU had lost just three games since 2009, and one of them was a national championship game. The other two came to eventual national champion Auburn and Sugar Bowl-bound Arkansas. LSU was 29-3 since 2009 at the time of this Florida game, and the Gators flipped the script on them, delivering a loss in the same manner that LSU had delivered most of those 29 defeats, by beating the Tigers up with defense and diligence.
Also, this was the game that brought Florida back to prominence. In the previous two years, Florida had started 4-0, only to be humiliated by good teams and drop from the rankings. This time, however, the Gators proved their legitimacy by upending one of the teams that beat them in each of the two previous years, which also happened to be ranked No. 3 in the country at the time.
In addition to the Gators being back as a team, this was the first time I could be really confident about the defensive unit. After showing some signs of weakness in 2011 in Muschamp's first year, his defense played great against an LSU offense that made a living of wearing teams down. In fact, Florida's defense was so successful at this, that one LSU player actually had the audacity to complain that Florida beat them because of the heat.