Outstanding special teams play, a big play defense, and big game players lifted fifth ranked Florida to a 23-10 victory over LSU. For the second consecutive year, the Tigers turned the ball over five times, but this time the Gators made them pay.
At times it was absolutely ugly. Fourteen penalties thwarted Florida’s ability to sustain offensive drives against an LSU zone that the Gators blew apart. A fumble here. A missed open receiver there. Inability to convert a third down play.
Quarterback Chris Leak hit 15 of 26 passes for 155 yards, but missed open receivers at times against the nation’s top ranked defense. Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen had a tremendous game plan that exploited the weaknesses in a stingy LSU defense. He spread the ball into the flats and forced LSU to stretch and cover. Sorry Tigers, but had Leak been consistent finding these open receivers and make the connection, it might have been much worse.
While Florida shot themselves in the foot early with silly penalties, it was LSU who had the most costly penalties. The Tigers first penalty occurred when they were flagged for illegal procedure after punter Chris Jackson hit a beauty that was downed at the Florida one yard line. The Bayou Bengals second mistake was a holding penalty called on Herman Johnson as wide receiver Craig Davis crossed the goal line for what would have been the Tigers second score. Johnson was in the Tigers starting lineup as the replacement for injured All-SEC lineman Will Arnold.
Quarterback Tim Tebow ended the first half with a pump fake into the line of scrimmage, left-handed jump shot pass that tight end Tate Casey pulled down just before crashing out of the back of the endzone. It was a play that seemingly was drawn up by the most popular former point guard on campus…Billy Donovan.
* The Florida punt and kickoff teams were for the most part- outstanding. They covered a Chevis Jackson muffed punt return. Later, they secured two points on a safety after Early Doucet muffed the second half kickoff. Eric Wilbur also had perhaps his finest performance as a Florida Gator. He launched three punts over fifty yards and pinned the Tigers deep when he needed to do so. A blocked punt by Reggie Nelson
* Big play players were found in abundance. Reggie Nelson, Eric Wilbur, Tim Tebow, Marcus Thomas, Ryan Smith, Brandon Siler, Louis Murphy, Tony Joiner. Granted you absolutely want these guys to be known for their play as a unit and a team. But, reputations are made with great play by big game players and opposing teams see that in film sessions.
* Steve Spurrier used to say, “God smiled on the Gators today”. I couldn’t seem to forget that saying when JaMarcus Russell lost the center/quarterback exchange with the ball on the Florida one foot line after taking possession on a Chris Leak interception.
* And how about a Florida offensive line that allowed Leak and Tebow time to throw and suffered only one sack against a defensive front that had accumulated an SEC best 19 sacks on the year. The line did a pretty good job at times coming off the ball and allowed the Gators to run for 97 yards against a defense that allowed only 69.2 yards per game. The offensive line wasn’t perfect, but you simply can’t ignore the fact that they played against a superb defensive front. Furthermore, they played through and probably dispelled the use of the term “soft” when describing the Florida offensive line. We heard it last week before the Gators played Alabama and it crept up once again before this game. When opponents know they had best pack their lunch pail when play you- that is an opportunity for them to question or even doubt themselves.
* I think the Florida receivers set the tone from the first whistle. Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius, and Louis Murphy found the holes in the LSU defense for most of the day. Leak and Tebow passed for 181 yards. The Tigers had allowed only 124.5 yards per game. The Florida receivers also accomplished two other very important goals- they ran well after the catch and blocked well for their teammates.
* Once more, Florida trailed before ripping off unanswered points to take control of the game. Today, the number was 23.
* The Florida defense held the SEC’s scoring leader (38 ppg) to just 10 points. An offense that averaged 412 yards per game was reduced to 318 yards. Marcus Thomas returned with a Phil Fulmer sized chip on his shoulder and led the Gators with eight tackles.
* Reggie Nelson, Reggie Nelson, Reggie Nelson. Is there nothing that he can’t do? He and Tony Joiner provided the Gators with a physical presence in the defensive backfield that the team has lacked. Don’t think for a moment that will be lost on Florida’s future opponents when they strike up the film.
* LSU blitzed little and tried to befuddle Leak with their zone coverage. It didn’t work and yet they stayed the course. Why? Was it confidence the original game plane would pay dividends in the fourth quarter? Respect for Florida’s receiving corps? A Little of both?
* Once again Tim Tebow played a big role in the Florida offense. Unless you are a Florida fan- you know that this team is in the capable hands of Chris Leak. But, the role that Tebow plays in this offense simply can’t be ignored. He is the fullback who gets the tough yards, the runner who seemingly always finds the seam, and after today- clearly established himself as a passing threat. Do you realize that defensive backs were weary of his running ability and played to come up and make the tackle? Now that’s confidence in your defensive front. Their play made them easy prey for Tebow to Murphy and Tebow to Casey.
# Florida fans deserve a huge assist in this one. The volume was turned up- way up. Hopefully, they’ll follow the Gators as they make their way to the plains of Auburn. Much went wrong early, yet the team played through it for a 23-10 victory over what is certainly a top ten team. Just how good will the Gators be when they play a complete game on both sides of the ball and who will be their victim?