Saturday in The Swamp was a coming out party for the No. 10/11 Florida Gators (5-0, 4-0 SEC), which earned the team’s biggest win under head coach Will Muschamp to date with a 14-6 come-from-behind victory over the No. 4/3 LSU Tigers (5-1, 1-1 SEC) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
Senior running back Mike Gillislee was nearly the entire offensive attack for the Gators as he carried the ball a career-high 34 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns, most of which occurred in the second half of the game.
Florida’s victory over LSU is the team’s first at home against a ranked opponent since 2008. The Gators are now 3-0 when trailing at the half in 2012 and have started the season 5-0 for the first time since 2009. UF is 8-0 under Muschamp when rushing for more than 150 yards and continued their dominance in the second half, holding LSU scoreless over the final 30 minutes of the game.
Despite each team being flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct personal foul on the opening drive, LSU was successful in marching down the field on Florida right out of the gate. The Tigers moved 64 yards in 10 plays but were stalled inside the red zone and settled for a 31-yard field goal just minutes into the first quarter.
A pair of big punts by Gators sophomore Kyle Christy kept the visitors at bay as Florida struggled to get anything going offensively even though the team started near midfield on consecutive possessions.
With LSU backed up once again, UF junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins intercepted quarterback Zach Mettenberger and handed his offense the ball at the 38-yard line. The Gators were unable to capitalize on the field position, however, as Florida’s offensive line was exposed and sophomore QB Jeff Driskel was sacked on consecutive snaps.
The Gators began making some progress one possession later with a seven-play, 49-yard drive, but it was halted when redshirt senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. fumbled the ball away on 2nd-and-10 at the Tigers’ 22-yard line.
After another defensive stand, Florida wasted little time turning the ball back over to LSU. Driskel was sacked for an 11-yard loss and fumbled the ball, which the Tigers recovered at the Gators’ seven-yard line. UF was able to hold strong, however, and forced LSU to kick another field goal and take a 6-0 lead into the half.
Read the rest of the Florida-LSU game story…after the break!
Offense looked to be just as scarce for both teams when the second half began, but Florida found a way to change that midway through the third quarter. Taking over at their own 15-yard line, the Gators put together an eight-play, 85-yard drive that culminated with Gillislee rumbling into the end zone from 12 yards out for the go-ahead touchdown.
Gillislee carried the ball four times for 29 yards on the drive and was helped along by a pair of big plays by redshirt senior tight end Omarius Hines, who gained 28 total yards on two plays (one rush, one reception).
Florida’s defense looked to hold LSU once again when the Tigers got the ball back, but Mettenberger threw for what would’ve been his team’s first third-down conversion of the game when he hit WR Odell Beckham down the field for a 56-yard reception. Beckham, however, was stripped by Gators junior safety Matt Elam, and Florida got the ball back after head coach Will Muschamp challenged the ruling on the field of down-by-contact.
The Gators chose to make the most of the fortunate situation, immediately compiling an 11-play, 77-yard scoring drive once again on the back of Gillislee, who carried the ball six times for 43 yards on the possession and capped it off with a 12-yard scamper into the end zone. Florida ran the ball on all 11 plays of the drive, eating up a total of 5:55 off the clock while jumping ahead 14-6.
UF’s defense remained stout over the final few minutes of the game and the offense picked up some important first downs late in the contest to clinch the potentially season-changing victory for the Orange and Blue.
Aggressive on both sides, the Gators were extremely efficient on third down, converting 7-of-14 attempts. On the other side of the ball, Florida held LSU to just 1-of-13 on third-down conversions. UF also won the time of possession battle by 14:48 throughout the game and outgained their opponent by 79 yards (190-119) in the second half.
The Gators will celebrate the victory Saturday evening before regrouping Sunday as Florida prepares to head to Nashville, TN to take on Vanderbilt next Saturday at 6 p.m. The game will air live on ESPNU as UF looks to improve to 6-0.
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press