In ending the LSU Tigers‘ regular season winning streak at 18, the Florida Gators helped to vindicate themselves and are now a legitimate top-ten college football team. In fitting fashion, the Gators were able to pull of their upset with the two things synonymous with the SEC: great defense and a great running attack. The combination is vital for any SEC team that wants to compete for the conference title and the Gators showed off theirs in front of a national television audience.
The Gators’ defense has not been close to as effective in their first four games as they were today against the Tigers.
For one thing, the fact that this defense was able to play good and effective for the entire game without flinching, without caving for even one drive, it really does say something about its progress when you consider that their last conference game (against the Tennessee Volunteers) was a shootout for almost three quarters. Another thing that impressed me about the Gators’ defense today was how they dealt the pressure of the situation—facing a highly-ranked opponent while yourself are a highly ranked team—and the pressure in the game itself of having little offensive support for almost the entire game.
The Gators’ offense was definitely a tale of two halves, but more than that, it was an example of grind-it-out football winning a major college football game, because that is how the Gators’ offense ran today. I want to quickly reference something I wrote last night, only because it ended up described how the day went for Gators’ quarterback Jeff Driskel:
“The Gators might be served better if Driskel can run the offense to perfection, even if that means he turns in an average performance.”
Driskel’s numbers weren’t impressive in any way, but he did lead the offense very well and made a few big runs himself late in the game that helped the Gators clinch the win. So it wasn’t so much about him having a breakout performance as much as it was him doing his part to guide his team to a big win.
Gator running back Mike Gillislee was going to be vital in making this win happen for the Gators. He had to be. Everyone knew it. And so it was that Gillislee ended up being the workhorse that helped the Gators eventually overpower the Tigers. Gillislee scored both of his teams’ touchdowns in the game, one in each of the final two quarters, and ended up being the go-to guy when the Gators had the ball and were trying to run out the clock.
The Tigers’ offense barely gained 200 yards for the game as they relied heavily on their defense to keep the Gators in check. For the most part they did that. The problem was the Tiger offense didn’t put many points on the board, squandering two opportunities inside the Gators’ red-zone in the first half. The Gators’ defense stood firm with their backs against the wall and two field-goals (not touchdowns) resulted, giving the Tigers their halftime lead.
One play definitely stood out as a momentum changer in this game, and it came from the Gators’ defense.
Late in the third quarter, the Tigers were facing a 3rd & 7 from their 21 when quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed a pass to receiver Odell Beckham down field. As Beckham continued down the field, Matt Elam of the Gators caught up and was able to force a fumble. Elam was able to get behind Beckham and ended up stripping the ball as he was attempting to make the tackle, with the ball coming loose just before Beckham’s shins touched the ground. The play was initially ruled down by contact, but was reviewed and then was ruled a turnover with the Gators gaining possession.
The drive following the turnover resulted in Gillislee’s second touchdown run, and would be the final score of the Gators’ 14-6 win.