It was the competitive battle everyone had predicted.
The Gators and Tigers tussled until the end. But No. 22 Florida (5-1, 3-1 SEC) came out on top with a 27-19 upset of No. 5 LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.
The Tigers (5-1, 2-1 SEC) came out with the clear intention of quieting the crowd early. LSU’s first play from scrimmage was a 38-yard pass from quarterback Joe Burrow to Justin Jefferson, eventually leading to a 4-yard touchdown run by running back Nick Brossette.
The Swamp didn’t stay quiet for long as Florida’s defense forced an early turnover and a couple of sacks. The Gators’ defense made plays throughout the game to swing momentum with 11 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
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Defensive end Jachai Polite recorded his fourth forced fumble on the year with a first-quarter strip sack of Burrow. And Vosean Joseph recorded a sack at the end of the first quarter, which set up UF’s first score of the game in the second.
Quarterback Feleipe Franks, who finished 12 of 27 with 161 yards, found Josh Hammond for a short 8-yard pickup, and Lamical Perine did the rest.
The junior running back carried the ball four times in the drive before walking into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game 7-7.
Perine had his best game of the season with a team-high 85 yards on 17 carries and a pair of touchdowns.
Wide receiver Kadarius Toney also showed his impact on the field. He finished with 25 yards on four carries, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
His first touch came at quarterback and was a rush over the right end. That was just before a 3-yard touchdown throw by Franks to tight end Moral Stephens after he hit Hammond for a 35-yard pickup.
The Gators jogged into the locker room with a 14-10 halftime lead.
Florida’s defense sealed the game, after giving up a field goal and a touchdown in the second half.
The Gators were unable to contain Brossette on the Tigers’ final scoring drive. The 80-yard drive was highlighted by 31- and 47-yard runs by the LSU running back. It was capped off by a 1-yard rush up the middle by Brossette for the go-ahead score.
That gave the Tigers a short-lived 19-4 lead.
The next drive featured a trick play that had tight end Lucas Krull send the ball sailing in Franks’ direction for a 15-yard gain. From there, it was Perine again for a 2-yard touchdown run.
After taking a 20-19 lead, Florida was forced to punt.
LSU had a chance to retake the lead, but a couple of costly mistakes by Burrow resulted in a pick-six by Brad Stewart and a game-sealing interception by Donovan Stiner.
Florida’s defense and the Swamp’s atmosphere proved too much for the Tigers as they took their first defeat of the season.
LSU surely will drop, probably out of the top 10 considering early-season wins against Miami and Auburn don’t look nearly as good now. Florida will move into the top 20.
“That was a heavyweight fight right there,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen after the game.
Honors for Tebow
Former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, became the sixth player to be inducted into the school’s ring of honor.
Tebow thanked Jesus, his parents, his former teammates and Gator nation in his induction speech.
“I was born a Gator. I played as a Gator. I will die as a Gator,” Tebow said passionately at the end of the first quarter, drawing a rousing ovation.
Tebow was back on the field at halftime, recognized as part of the 2008 national championship team. As players gathered for a group photo, they begged Tebow to get front and center. He politely declined several times.
On the day Tebow received Florida’s highest football honor, the noted philanthropist gave back.
Tebow spent part of Saturday with former Florida student Mariel White, who has a rare blood disorder that contributed to four strokes and partial paralysis.
White was invited to meet Tebow, her sports hero, on the SEC Nation set on campus.
She was on the field before the game and in attendance when Tebow was inducted into the ring of honor.
White was a sophomore last year when she became ill and had to withdraw from school. She was diagnosed with hypereosinophilia, leading to other health issues.