You win big games with game-breaking plays, and after a week of speculation and anticipation, Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen came up with the kinds of play calls that scored touchdowns on a day when they were at a premium. Florida’s coaches were the difference on a day when both sets of players made enough mistakes to last a whole season.
Florida fans–in the aftermath of this sweet and very vital victory–would do well to remember the last time LSU came to Gainesville.
In 2004, the Gators lost to the Tigers for one overarching reason: an inability on the part of the offense to do anything in the final third of the field. On that night, Florida did a great job of getting the ball to LSU’s 35, but did a horrible job of doing anything thereafter, and that was the reason the Gators lost a very winnable game. This brings us to the present moment, and this program-propelling win over the ninth-ranked team in the country.
In today’s SEC, the quality of defenses–particularly against the run–is so elevated that offenses must find ways to hit long-range plays to render red zone offense irrelevant. It might be too much to expect a bunch of 50-yard plays in a game, but it’s absolutely necessary to hit 30-35 yard plays, especially when one enters that final third of the field. When space gets limited, brains have to be more creative, and the Meyer-Mullen multi-mind was flawless in this respect against a tough LSU defense.
Tim Tebow’s jump pass will be talked about forever in Gainesville, especially by old timers who–unlike this writer–actually remember seeing jump passes in olden days. But the real play of the game–the play that broke the Tigers’ back while recalling the genius of the Spurrier days, when Gator fans would laugh with delight at the brilliance that (thank God!) stood on their own sideline, and not the other one–was a play that originated from the LSU 35-yard line. Coincidence? No way, baby. Urban Meyer was going to make sure that the 2006 LSU game at the Swamp was different from the 2004 edition.
This was talked about last Saturday in the wake of the Alabama game: one could see that Meyer and Mullen were wanting to bring the Florida offense to a point where it could mix and match plays with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. Giving Leak more runs and Tebow more passes was part of a likely progression that, if developed enough, could spring huge plays at timely moments. This never really happened against the Crimson Tide, but oh, did it ever happen against the Bayou Bengals.
You saw the play: Tebow faked a run, assumed a Boomer Esiason-style fetal position to hide the ball, and then straightened up to hit a receiver–Louis Murphy–who was all alone for six of the easiest points an offense could ever hope to tally against a defense as good as LSU’s. That was a cash-money call at just the right time, and at the exact place on a football field where such a call should be sprung upon an unsuspecting opponent. That level of wisdom–in Florida’s funkified and fun-filled football funhouse–is why Urban Meyer was brought to Gainesville. It’s the kind of play call that permanently tips the balance of a game, and sends a loud message to friend and foe alike: we’re good, but we’re also smart, and if you don’t put us away in the first half when you get the chance, LSU, you… will… pay. It’s the call that shapes a season, a call that enables a team with a great defense to sit back, rush the passer, and watch JaMarcus Russell–once again–implode. On a day when both teams had plenty of talent, Florida had the poise, the playmaking, the ability to ultimately limit mistakes, and the coaching that pulled it all together.
If this team can simply weed out mistakes and polish its rough edges, it’s in for a big, big year. This measuring stick game–in which the Gators surely measured up–finally proved as much after an uncertain September. The Gators can see their goals coming into focus and falling within their reach; it’s now up to Urban Meyer, a difference-making coach, to keep his boys focused.