Florida's Progress Under Dan Mullen Evident as Gators Finish Off LSU

The Gators turned back the clock to the program's successful run before the Jim McElwain era in knocking off their cross-division rivals.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — On the day Florida put quarterback Tim Tebow into its ring of honor, the Gators pulled an upset that made them look like some of those teams Tebow led. Here are three thoughts from Florida’s 27–19 win against LSU.

1. The pick-six will get the most attention. Up one against favored LSU with the clock dwindling, Florida cornerback Brad Stewart Jr. intercepted LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to seal Florida’s win.

But it was the more mundane stuff in the moments before that play that showed how far Florida has come halfway through its first season under Dan Mullen. An offensive line dismissed as too soft pushed the Gators from their own four-yard line to two critical first downs—both on third-and-one conversions by running back Jordan Scarlett—that allowed Florida to bleed 4:03 off the clock. Then Gators punter Tommy Townsend boomed a 61-yarder that forced LSU to start its comeback attempt from its own 12*.

*That a Florida punter named Townsend hammered a kick isn’t so surprising. But Tommy is taking over for older brother Johnny, who now plays for the Oakland Raiders. 

This is the sort of thing the Gators couldn’t do at the tail end of the Jim McElwain era, and it certainly wasn’t perfect. “Success is probably a tricky word for me to use with our offensive line tonight. Success might not be the right word,” Mullen said. “But they battled. … When we needed it, they came out and knocked LSU off the ball.” But this is the sort of thing a team must do to gut out a win against a previously undefeated opponent that still might be one of the SEC’s best teams. Florida needed to get first downs. Florida needed to bleed clock. Florida needed a defensive stop. The Gators got all of it.

Add all that to the nine-play, 75-yard drive that allowed Florida to take the lead it was protecting. After gaining only 16 yards on his first 12 carries, LSU tailback Nick Brossette carried three times for 79 yards as LSU retook the lead early in the fourth quarter on Brossette’s one-yard touchdown run. But that lead didn’t last long. Florida used a 26-yard pass from Feleipe Franks to Van Jefferson and 15-yard gain on a trick play that had tight end Lucas Krull throwing to Franks to set up a two-yard Lamical Perine touchdown run that put Florida back on top by one.

The Gators finished with 215 rushing yards on 43 carries—a number that would have seemed astounding prior to Saturday. “Two hundred fifteen yards. That’s way too much,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “You ain’t going to win football games giving up that many.”

2. The first loss of the season for LSU takes some of the shine off next week’s visit from Georgia, which entered Saturday night’s game against Vanderbilt undefeated. But with games against two top five teams (Georgia and Alabama) still on the schedule, the Tigers’ goals still remain in front of them. 

They’ll have to block better to stand a chance against the Bulldogs. The Tigers had the misfortune of arriving in Gainesville for the best game of the season so far for Florida’s pass rushers. Jachai Polite forced a fumble on a first-quarter sack of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow that probably kept the Tigers from adding a second touchdown early. LSU had marched down the field for a touchdown on its first drive. If Polite hadn’t ended the second one early, it might have been 14–0 and the game might have been out of reach. “That was devastating,” Orgeron said. “It shouldn’t have been, but it turned out to be.”

The Gators stayed in Burrow’s face throughout the game. They sacked the Ohio State transfer five times and pressured him into his first two interceptions of the season. 

3. Now that Mullen has Florida winning, it’s time to work on the little things. Take the pick-six that shouldn’t have been a pick-six in the first place. “It’s probably the hardest thing to do,” Mullen said, smiling at a mistake he’s happy Stewart had the chance to make. “If he stops at the one and takes a knee, the game is probably over.”

Mullen also could laugh off the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that forced the Gators to kick off from their 20 with LSU only down eight and 1:45 remaining on the clock. Officials on the field identified the wrong player, but the penalty had been called on linebacker Vosean Joseph, who had taken the ball and kicked it into the stands.

Yes. On the day Florida put Tebow in its ring of honor and feted the 2008 national title team Tebow led, Joseph took it upon himself to recreate something the best linebacker on that 2008 team did after a critical pick six against LSU that season. 

“He was paying homage to the 2008 team,” Mullen said with a laugh that foretold some gassers or stair-climbing in Joseph’s future.