GAINESVILLE -- In a complete 180-degree turn from last year’s blowout loss in Baton Rouge, No. 10 Florida’s defense was suffocating in a win against No. 4 LSU on Saturday.
The Gators allowed the Tigers to rush for just 42 yards and held them to six points a year after allowing more than 230 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Florida’s defense sacked LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger four times — the unit had just five total sacks entering Saturday — and forced three turnovers for the second consecutive game.
“We have more trust in some guys and more quality depth that we are able to play in the game, so hats off to our defensive staff for understanding what we have to do to be successful,” coach Will Muschamp said.
Florida dominated time of possession (37:24 to 22:36) thanks to a punishing ground game and an impressive performance from the defense, which held LSU to 1 of 13 on third-down opportunities. The Tigers did not convert a third down until late in the third quarter when Odell Beckham caught a 56-yard pass down the right sideline on third-and-7 from the LSU 20, but UF safety Matt Elam chased Beckham down and stripped the ball from him before his knee hit the turf, giving the ball back to the Gators.
UF’s defense likely would have pitched a shutout had the team not made crucial mistakes. Linebacker Jon Bostic was flagged for taunting after Elam made a stop behind the line of scrimmage on second-and-18, giving LSU a first down and extending the Tigers’ first drive, which they converted into a field goal. LSU’s only other points came near the end of the half when UF quarterback Jeff Driskel fumbled and the Tigers’ recovered inside the Gators’ 10-yard line.
After the opening 10-play drive, UF’s defense held to LSU to three-and-out on five consecutive series and did not allow a drive longer than seven plays the rest of the game.
O-line steps up
Although the unit had issues with pass protection early, the Gators’ offensive line stepped up on Saturday, especially in short yardage.
Florida had struggled in short-yardage opportunities all season, especially against better defenses. The Gators were 4 of 17 on third-down conversions of 4 yards or fewer before the team’s last game against Kentucky. They went 8 of 8 against the Wildcats and continued that trend today, albeit against a much better defense, by going a perfect 7 of 7.
Florida rushed on all seven short-yardage opportunities on third down.
The line did struggle with pass protection at times, with Driskel taking five sacks in the first half. But later, as the Gators were able to close the game with 25 consecutive runs.
With the offense stagnant early, Florida punter Kyle Christy played a pivotal role in flipping the field and helping the Gators’ defense lock down the Tigers.
Christy’s first four punts went for an average of 49.1 yards and three buried LSU inside its own 10-yard line. The Tigers went three-and-out on all four of those series. His long went for 61 yards, a season high, and he finished with seven punts for a 49.1 average.
• Weakside linebacker Jelani Jenkins (thumb) started the game and played with a cast on his hand, but he left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. Muschamp said he does not think the injury is serious and said Jenkins should be back within two to three days.
… Cornerback Marcus Roberson, a Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas alum who started 10 games last season and the first three games this year, did not start for the second consecutive game. He entered the game on the second series but played sparingly for the rest of the game and was beaten badly on a double-move on Beckham’s 56-yard catch. … Safety De’Ante Saunders left the game because of dehydration but returned later. … Florida is outscoring opponents 41-0 in the fourth quarter this season. Matt Watts