Florida football vs. LSU score, takeaways: No. 22 Gators beat back No. 5 Tigers in epic win

By Adam Silverstein
October 6, 2018
Florida football vs. LSU score, takeaways: No. 22 Gators beat back No. 5 Tigers in epic win

Image Credit: @GatorsFB on Twitter

For the first time in years, it felt like a Saturday in The Swamp again. No. 22 Florida Gators football put together another complete performance while honoring one of the greatest teams to ever play on Florida Field as it ran the No. 5 LSU Tigers off that very surface with a 27-19 victory. Despite going down seven points early, it never felt as if the game was out of control for a Florida team that has renewed confidence, intensity and poise under head coach Dan Mullen.

The victory sent the Gators to 2-1 in their three games against the Tigers since Hurricane Matthew and LSU athletic administration forced Florida to play a home game on the road in 2016. It was also UF’s second win over a ranked opponent this season. Let’s take a look at what we learned from Florida-LSU on Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

1. Gainesville’s got that lovin’ feeling: The Gators did not set a new attendance record on Saturday, but they came damn close. With more than 90,200 fans packed in The Swamp, Florida came just over 700 patrons away from the most ever to watch a game at Florida Field. It was obvious from kickoff that Gator Nation has been energized. The combination of how the Gators are playing on the field, plus the fans’ opportunity to honor Tim Tebow — becoming the sixth Florida player inducted into the Ring of Honor — and the 2008 national title team created an atmosphere that was last felt in The Swamp three years ago during UF’s upset win over Ole Miss, the last time it beat a top-five opponent (Oct. 3, 2015). The sellout was the first for Florida since the Florida State game in 2015, and while the Gators are bound to have some ups and downs this season, for at least one Saturday, Florida did indeed feel like it was “back.”

2. Defense dominates differently: Yes, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham still dialed up his fair share of blitzes … just not on the final series of the game. In an epic stroke of genius, Grantham played against type as the Tigers played into the Gators’ tendencies. Only rushing three and four late in the fourth quarter, Grantham and Florida’s secondary forced LSU quarterback Joe Burrow into two interceptions, a pick six that appeared to seal the game and a fourth-down pick that officially caged the Tigers with less than 30 seconds remaining.

But as mentioned, that’s not to say the Gators sat on their hands all day. Junior linebacker Vosean Joseph was an absolute beast with two early sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss among his game-high 14 takedowns. Joseph even got injured twice during the game yet somehow kept brushing himself off to return to the field. Junior defensive end Jachai Polite abused LSU’s tackles and tight ends, delivering two monstrous sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup while flashing first-round NFL Draft potential. Senior DE Cece Jefferson was only credited with a tackle and quarterback hurry, but he impacted the Tigers’ protections all night. Redshirt junior DE Jabari Zuniga had a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss, complimenting both his teammates nicely.

“You know, we just felt comfortable. We just went out there and played our game. Every game somebody is going to have more than one person, but at the end of the day, someone is always going to have a game. Today was probably my game,” Joseph said. “… [My defense] helped me out with that by opening up some of the pass rush, so I could get in there and get a couple of sacks.”

There were some lapses in Florida’s secondary over the course of the evening, but for a young unit missing multiple starters and still growing into its own, that is to be expected. Junior Chauncey Gardner had six solo tackles and 1.5 for loss among his 11 takedowns, and sophomore Donovan Stiner — he of the game-sealing sack one week ago — caught the game-ending interception. Of course, it was sophomore Brad Stewart Jr. — who chose UF over LSU during recruiting — with the clutch pick six late in the fourth quarter.

3. All in the family: It will somehow get lost in the telling of this game how clutch redshirt junior punter Tommy Townsend was for Florida. Townsend did boot a mysteriously poor 39-yard effort during the game and saw another sail into the end zone, but aside from those miscues, he absolutely dominated in flipping the field for the Gators. Townsend averaged 48.0 yards per punt with boots of 70 (!) and 61 yards and three balls downed inside the 20-yard line. Florida was actually not so fantastic behind him, giving up 41 punt return yards to Jonathan Giles, but Townsend’s ability to flip the field and let the defense do its job was of utmost importance to the Gators’ winning effort. It would not be a stretch to call him the team’s overall MVP of the game considering he was the end-all, be-all on special teams Saturday.

4. He got knocked down, and he got up again: Plenty has been written about redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks in this space over the last couple weeks, and you can bet that more will be right now. For all of his faults — and a red zone interception thrown to a ghost of a receiver was as inexcusable a play as a signal caller can make — there is no doubt that Franks has improved this season under Mullen’s watchful eye. Franks is no world beater behind center, but he rebounded from a 1-for-6 passing start to complete 11 of his final 21 passes for 161 yards with a touchdown and the aforementioned pick. He also expertly ran the speed option with sophomore running back Lamical Perine all day as Perine compiled 85 yards and two touchdowns on 17 touches. Franks rushed for 42 yards himself, converting a third-and-7 on a called QB draw late in the game and making something out of a couple busted played. He even caught a 15-yard give-and-go pass from redshirt sophomore walk-on tight end Lucas Krull that would have been a touchdown had Franks just followed his blocker a bit better.

Franks targeted seven different pass catchers on the afternoon and threw a number of beautiful balls down the field, including a back-shoulder throw above two future first-round picks to redshirt junior wide receiver Van Jefferson that took the Gators away from their end zone. A well-placed deep throw to junior WR Tyrie Cleveland resulted in a key pass interference call, and Franks also put one in sophomore WR Trevon Grimes‘ hands that could have been a big play if he held onto the ball. While Franks still has a ways to go to being a great quarterback, he has turned the dial to good under Mullen, and the arrow is most definitely pointing up. Let’s put it like this: Franks now has 13 touchdown passes on the year, the most since Tim Tebow threw 21 in 2009 … and he has six games left to play.

“We were able to execute that at a high level,” Mullen said of the go-ahead touchdown drive. “We made some explosive plays on that drive, made some great catches. You get to the one-on-one opportunities. We made some. If we don’t make some of those one-on-one opportunities taking shots down the field, different outcome to the game. They hit some, too. In the fourth quarter, I think that’s when we started hitting some shots down the field. We defended them, and they didn’t.”

In addition to opening up holes for Perine and Scarlett, Florida’s offensive line kept Franks relatively clean on the afternoon. Though Franks did suffer a hit in which he got sandwiched between three players and had to take a breather, LSU did not register a single sack on the day and only picked up two tackles for loss.

Odds and ends: The Gators are now 29-51-1 all-time against top-five opponents … Florida improved to 33-29-3 all-time against LSU, 16-13-3 inside The Swamp and 2-1 in the teams’ last three meetings … it was the first time since 2013 that the game was not decided by seven points or less … it was the first time in serious history that consecutive games were scheduled to be played in one location … the Gators remain No. 1 nationally in forced turnovers with 16, just one fewer than the team acquired during the entire 2017 season … UF has a 118-29 scoring margin in the first half this season … Florida is now 2-0 against ranked opponents this season and won consecutive games against ranked teams for the first time since 2012 … the Gators are 5-0 when entering the fourth quarter with a lead and 4-0 when outrushing opponents (215-180) … senior RB Jordan Scarlett was handed the ball late and asked to close out the game for Florida; he ran the ball six straight times on UF’s final sustained drive of the game, picking up 21 tough yards as LSU stacked the box … Florida had 11 penalties for 116 yards in the game, an astounding number that pushed UF back on multiple occasions on both sides of the ball


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