Florida defeated LSU 16-10 today. Florida notched a victory over LSU for the first time since 2012. Florida won in Baton Rouge for the first time since 2009. Florida did this while missing several starters on both sides of the ball.
Florida clinched the SEC East and will go to Atlanta for the first time in consecutive seasons since 2008 and 2009. Jim McElwain will be the first head coach to go to the SEC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons.
Hell of a day, huh?
The game started inauspiciously for Florida’s defense, as the Gators allowed the Tigers to embark on a 12-play, 80-yard drive that was capped with a Derrius Guice touchdown. Eddy Piñeiro made a 36-yard field goal to get the Gators on the board. LSU tore off on another drive, and just when it looked like the Tigers would go up by two scores, Caleb Brantley forced a Derrius Guice fumble, which was recovered by Kylan Johnson, allowing the score to remain 7-3.
The Gators would go into the half only trailing by four on the road, with only 60 yards of offense, wondering what could have been had a few plays gone differently - an overthrow on a deep ball to Tyrie Cleveland, a would-be interception off of David Reese’s hands.
Florida’s defense had their hands full in this match-up. But the Gators came to play, especially in the red zone, limiting the Tigers to one touchdown on five trips inside today, including a goal line stand for the ages. After half-time, LSU drove the field but was held to a field goal, which was bobbled, desperately thrown, and knocked incomplete.
Florida took over, backed all the way up at their own two, and what did the Gators do? Well, Austin Appleby connected with Tyrie Cleveland for a 98-yard record breaking touchdown pass. That 98-yard touchdown was the longest in Florida history in an SEC game, the second longest in Florida history period, and the longest pass by an opponent in the history of Tiger Stadium. Oh, and those 98 yards were also more than the Gators already had gained at that point in the game.
Two LSU fumbles - the aforementioned cough-up by Derrius Guice, an LSU kick return fumble recovered by Florida’s Vosean Joseph - and a big sack by CeCe Jefferson helped keep the Gators in this one. The Tigers had some success moving the ball, as did the Gators, but miscues from LSU and defensive stands from Florida allowed this game to come down to the very last seconds of play. And the Gators fought. Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine’s hard running in second half helped set the Gators up for two Eddy Piñeiro field goals, which put the Gators up 16-10. Scarlett rushed for 108 yards and Perine rushed for 38. In contrast, Derrius Guice rushed for 83 yards and Leonard Fournette finished with 40.
But the Tigers weren’t finished, and a busted fourth down play led to new opportunities for LSU. All the Tigers needed was a touchdown to tie, and an extra point to win. But the Tigers would have to tussle with Florida’s fine red zone defense again.
And it came down to fourth down. The Gators needed just one more stop. One fourth down stop to end the game. One fourth down stop to win the East. One fourth down stop to go back to Atlanta. One fourth down stop for their season.
And these Gators? They made that stop. The back-to-back SEC East Champion Gators battled for this one. The Gators came out on top despite all the injuries and storylines leading up to this game.
They sure didn’t look scared to me.