LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has made few mistakes this season.
Through five games this season the junior kept the Tigers undefeated with his decision-making and failure to turn the ball over.
Until he met safety Brad Stewart and the Florida defense.
Stewart secured the Gators’ fourth win in a row — their second straight over a ranked opponent — with a pick-six of Burrow on Saturday. It sealed No. 22 Florida’s 27-19 upset of No. 5 LSU in front of a roaring Ben Hill Griffin Stadium crowd.
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With 1:54 left in the game, LSU (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) trailed the Gators (5-1, 4-1) by one point. Burrow was attempting to lead the Tigers down the field to score a game-winning field goal, much like they had the previous week against Auburn.
On third-and-4, the junior sent a pass in the direction of receiver Stephen Sullivan and soon wished he hadn’t.
Stewart came in from Sullivan’s right side to cut the pass off, made a beeline for the end zone and dove for the orange pylon.
The numbers 26-19 appeared on the scoreboard as the crowd and the Florida sideline erupted into celebration of what Stewart had just done.
“I seen the quarterback peek over at this receiver because he saw our linebackers blitz,” Stewart said after the game. “I just made the play off the receiver.”
It was a storybook ending to a special game for Stewart, a New Orleans native.
Just two years ago the four-star recruit had toyed with the decision of whether he should sign with his hometown school LSU or go join a program he loved since getting into football.
A thrilling 2016 Florida defeat of LSU in Tiger Stadium helped solidify that choice for Stewart.
“I remember that fourth-down stop. I remember them driving on the last drive. I remember them getting to the goal line and Gators coming out victorious,” Stewart said. “I was like ‘dang, they did that.’ That was a big part of me coming here.”
Stewart went into Saturday’s game intent on righting the wrongs of a one-point loss at home against the Tigers a year ago.
Only to get his moment and make the game-winning play against a quarterback who has been near perfect all season.
“We knew he was a smart quarterback, and he ain’t made too many mistakes,” Stewart said, “and, really, we just wanted to rattle him and get to him and get to the quarterback late in the game like we did last week and seal the deal.”
This Florida defense looked lost a few weeks ago in its 27-16 fall to Kentucky at home. But it was the shame of that performance that motivated the Gators on Saturday.
“The difference is we know we lost a tough game versus Kentucky,” Stewart said. “It was close, but we know what we can do. So, really we just come out and try to execute.”
That execution — 11 tackles for loss, five sacks and three takeaways Saturday — proved that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s group has completely bought in.
And the crowd’s energy throughout the game showed that the Florida fanbase has too.
“Shout out to Gator Nation because we couldn’t hear a thing after I caught the interception and the whole drive after that,” Stewart said. “It was crazy loud in there.”