By GLENN GUILBEAU | Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It was the perfect setting for a Florida rally at The Swamp.
The Gators had just cut LSU’s 17-3 lead to 17-16 late in the third quarter, though, Eddy Peneiro missed the extra point wide left. Nevertheless, Florida had just resembled Troy on its last two possessions, shredding the Tigers’ defense in a 76-yard drive in nine plays and in a 75-yard drive in seven plays for touchdowns in its last two possessions. In between, Florida had forced a three-and-out from LSU.
The Tigers were “Free Falling” as the late Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” blared from the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium speaker system during the break before the fourth quarter. Petty, a Gainesville native who used to work in the stadium crew at Ben Hill Griffin for Gator games before becoming a rock star, had just died at age 66 on the previous Monday.
When Petty’s song got to the refrain of, “HEY, BA-BY!!! There ain’t no easy out,” Florida fans sang it in unison. It was quite a stadium moment, and it seemed like they were singing about LSU, which surely could not get out of “The Swamp” with this flimsy, one-point lead. And they could have cued up Petty’s “You Got Lucky, Baby,” to LSU after the missed conversion.
RIP Tom Petty. pic.twitter.com/8akHgv3hKd
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) October 7, 2017
Yet, somehow, it was LSU – particularly LSU’s defense – that didn’t “Back Down,” and luck had little to do with it. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s unit, which had been struggling for weeks, thwarted three Florida drives in the fourth quarter around three LSU punts in the period as LSU’s “Jet Sweep” grounded itself, gaining just 26 yards on 13 plays in the fourth quarter before its final drive to run out the clock.
LSU (4-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) took a 17-3 lead with 10:56 to play in the third quarter. Then its offense basically took the rest of the day off.
“The defense was resilient,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “Came up with plays to win.”
Florida’s offense suffered a “Breakdown” as LSU limited it to this on its three final possessions – nine yards in four plays and a punt, negative six yards in three plays and a punt and 21 yards in six plays and a failed fourth down.
“My hats off to them,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said of LSU’s defense, which limited true freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks – a former LSU commitment – to 108 yards passing and sacked him five times. The fifth sack was by a pair of seniors – defensive end Christian LaCouture and nose tackle Greg Gilmore – and happened on third and nine from the Florida 39 midway in the fourth quarter on the Gators’ second drive of the period. It was also their best field position of the quarter.
“They took some stuff away,” McElwain said. “Their players took it to us pretty good. We knew they were going to come in with everything, and they did. That’s what good teams do when their backs are against the wall, especially with good players.”
Sophomore inside linebacker Devin White ended Florida’s last drive of the game on a fourth-and-three play from the Florida 25 with less than two minutes to go. Franks telegraphed his pass to well covered wide receiver Brandon Powell, and White broke it up.
“Coach told us to go out there and play with a lot of grit,” White said. “For me, that’s the kind of situation I want to be in. As the game gets tougher, I make bigger plays. I had just missed a tackle on a screen. Coach (Aranda) called a zone defense, and we dropped eight back and rushed three. I saw Franks’ eyes. He tried to throw the ball behind me, and I jumped up and got it.”
Franks’ delivery to Powell on the last play was slow, and Florida’s offense seemed to lack a sense of urgency on the final drive.
“I don’t think I can sit up here and be critical on, we could’ve done this, could’ve done that,” Franks said. “Could have, would have. It’s obviously not what you want to do. You don’t want to lose a game period, but definitely not at home, especially with the great crowd we had tonight.”
And the spirit of Tom Petty.
McElwain, who had replaced Franks as the starter with veteran Luke Del Rio two weeks ago only to see Del Rio lost for the season at Vanderbilt with a shoulder injury, saw what Franks did not.
“The sense of urgency, it was pretty obvious we didn’t have it there,” he said. “That’s life in the SEC.”
LSU had the urgency, and now it has life.
GUILBEAU POLL: 1. Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC). Won 27-19 at Texas A&M. 2. Georgia (6-0, 3-0). Won 45-14 at Vanderbilt. 3. Auburn (5-1, 3-0). Beat Ole Miss, 44-23. 4. LSU (4-2, 1-1). Won 17-16 at No. 20 Florida. 5. Florida (3-2, 3-1). Lost to LSU, 17-16. 6. Kentucky (5-1, 2-1). Beat Missouri, 40-34. 7. Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1). Lost to No. 1 Alabama, 27-19. 8. Mississippi State (3-2, 1-2). Open. 9. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3). Lost 45-14 to No. 6 Georgia. 10. Tennessee (3-2, 0-2). Open. 11. South Carolina (4-2, 2-2). Beat Arkansas, 48-22. 12. Ole Miss (2-3, 0-2). Lost to No. 13 Auburn, 44-23. 13. Arkansas (2-3, 0-2). Lost at South Carolina, 48-22. 14. Missouri (1-4, 0-3). Lost at Kentucky, 40-34.
STATS OF THE WEEK: The Tigers’ win at No. 20 Florida marked the first time that an unranked LSU team beat a ranked foe on the road since Nov. 6, 1993, when LSU defeated No. 5 Alabama, 17-13, in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Crimson Tide was the defending national champions at the time and had the nation’s longest undefeated streak at 30-0-1, dating back to Sept. 21, 1991. Alabama’s previous loss was 35-0 to Florida on Sept. 14, 1991 … No. 11 Auburn will be in Tiger Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. CBS kickoff on Saturday at Tiger Stadium and in search of its first win in Baton Rouge since a 41-7 walloping of LSU on Sept. 18, 1999, that was the beginning of the end for Coach Gerry DiNardo and the first of eight straight losses. LSU has defeated Auburn in Tiger Stadium eight straight times since, and only two of those games were decided by less than a touchdown.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It was a rough week.”
—LSU coach Ed Orgeron after beating Florida, 17-16, following a week that featured a players-only meeting, a team leaders meeting, multiple team meetings, an athletic director-head coach-coordinators powwow, a volatile radio show, talk of his buyout, his firing and how his team is soft.