BATON ROUGE, La. -- For the second time in as many visits, the Gators limped home from the Bayou brawl battered and beaten.
What was billed as a prime showdown between No. 17 Florida’s suffocating defense and No. 10 LSU’s prolific offense was instead headlined by the Tigers’ suddenly ferocious defense Saturday night in Death Valley.
LSU dominated the line of scrimmage, manhandling UF’s punchless offensive line in its 17-6 victory.
“It was all on the offensive and defensive line,” right guard Jon Halapio said. “We got outworked and outplayed.”
“They beat us at our own game,” defensive tackle Damien Jacobs said.
The Gators again controlled the time of possession, but it proved fruitless against a relentless front that Florida harassed quarterback Tyler Murphy all afternoon.
Spearheaded by NFL-talent Anthony Johnson —LSU’s junior defensive tackle — the Tigers racked up four sacks, six quarterback hurries and eight tackles for loss.
Murphy, who had been sacked three times in the previous three games, finished 15 of 27 for 116 yards and only 4.3 yards per completion. The offensive line struggled with communication issues.
“We gave up more negative plays today than we probably have all season, combined,” coach Will Muschamp said.
“If we get behind [the sticks], we have a hard time converting [first downs].”
Meanwhile, UF’s defensive line didn’t fair much better, allowing a season-high 188 yards on the ground. Sophomore tailback Jeremy Hill, the SEC’s second-leading rusher, gashed UF’s front for 121 yards on 19 carries.
“Guys couldn’t get off blocks,” Muschamp said. Are guys knew that coming in and we didn’t do that enough tonight.”
Taylor fills in
Florida force-fed starting tailback Matt Jones on its opening drive, but the sophomore left the game midway through the first quarter with an undisclosed injury.
Jones’ left knee was heavily wrapped on the sideline and the tailback was in street clothes in the second half. Muschamp did not believe the injury was serious.
In Jones’ absence, freshman running back Kelvin Taylor saw his first action in nearly a month, splitting the duties with junior Mack Brown.
Taylor was impressive in the first significant action of his career. After tallying zero yards on his first two carries, Taylor piloted UF’s second field goal drive with 36 yards on the ground.
He finished the afternoon with 51 yards on 10 carries.
This and that
Francisco Valdez, a redshirt junior walk-on from Ocala Trinity Catholic who travelled for the first time in his career, drilled a 44-yard field goal — his first collegiate attempt and UF’s longest converted field goal this season — on Florida’s opening drive for an early 3-0 lead.
A week after redshirt freshman placekicker Austin Hardin was benched, Muschamp reopened UF’s kicking competition between Hardin and senior walk-on Brad Phillips, yet it was a different unknown walk-on who emerged as the team’s potential solution.
Valdez also successfully connected on a 27-yard kick.
“I’ve been waiting four years for this,” Valdez said. “I was more nervous on the second [kick], but the first one felt so good.”
• Phillips, who replaced Hardin last week, wasn’t on Florida’s travel roster, and Hardin continued to serve as UF’s kickoff specialist.
• Kyle Christy was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter just one year ago, but the junior looks nothing like a preseason All-American halfway though the 2013 season.
Christy failed to pin LSU inside the 20-yard line on two separate occasions, booming a pair of kicks deep into the end zone.
A seething Muschamp and furious special teams coach Jeff Choate met Christy on the sidelines and gave the junior an earful following the second poor punt.
“I’m going to open it up,” Muschamp said of the punting competition. “I was seriously considering during the game taking the redshirt off Johnny Townsend.”
Last season, Christy averaged nearly 46 yards per kick as the nation’s No. 5 punter with 27 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line.
The junior did successfully complete a 13-yard fake-punt pass to linebacker Neiron Ball late in the fourth quarter, but Florida failed to score a touchdown on the drive.
• The announced attendance was 92,980.
• Gators have forced a turnover in 17 straight games, but ended their eight-game streak with at least one interception.
• Late in the first half, Murphy booted a perfect 36-yard pooch punt on 4th-and-5 at LSU’s 37-yard line. The play caught the Tigers by surprise, as Florida downed the punt inside the one-yard line.
• The Gators totaled 72 yards on 8 penalties.