Jerome Miron / USA TODAY Sports

Gators with the unbelievable win in the bayou

Water didn’t change into wine and the Red Sea has not parted. What happened in Baton Rouge Saturday was not a miracle but it’s whatever is next.

Brace yourself.

LSU had the ball a foot away from the Florida goal line, trailing the Gators, 16-10, with 3 seconds to go in the game but instead of the game-winning touchdown, Marcel Harris and Jordan Sherit grabbed Derius Guice by the legs as he left his feet to go over the top and Taven Bryan came in from the left side to clean things up.

There was no time on the clock, the ball was still a foot away from the goal line and 18th-ranked Florida (8-2, 6-2 SEC East) had a win and their second straight SEC East championship. Florida will face SEC West champ Alabama in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on December 3. 

“I just can’t tell you how proud I am of this team,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said after becoming the first coach in SEC history to win his division in each of his first two years on the job. “They just kept hanging in there and swinging.” 

To simply call Florida’s win gutsy would be both an understatement and a disservice to the undermanned Gators, who went toe-to-toe with the Tigers, who were favored by 2 touchdowns. The Gators allowed only one touchdown and that was on LSU’s first possession in the first quarter. Three other times LSU had the Gators backed up to the shadows of their own goal posts, but UF allowed only one field goal.

On LSU’s second possession, the Tigers drove to the UF 6 where they had first and goal, but Caleb Brantley and a handoff arrived at the same time, resulting in a Derius Guice fumble that UF freshman Kylan Johnson dived on to stop the threat.

The Tigers drove the ball to the Florida 2 on their first possession of the third quarter but on consecutive plays Vosean Joseph and Brantley came up with big hits to force a field goal attempt. When Josh Growden fumbled the snap, he tried a desperation heave into the end zone that was knocked down easily to leave the Tigers empty-handed again.

LSU drove to the Florida 3 later in the third quarter, but on third and goal, CeCe Jefferson came off the edge to sack Danny Etling for a 9-yard loss. LSU had to settle for a field goal that tied the game at 10-10.  

It wasn’t only about the defense, however. Special teams came up with three Pineiro field goals (36, 26 and 34 yards). Punter Johnny Townsend averaged 52.2 yards on 5 punts that were returned for 0 yards. On the one Pineiro kickoff that was returned, Vosean Joseph pounced on a Donte Jackson fumble at the UF 21 that set up Pineiro’s third field goal of the game.

As for the offense, the Gators got their only touchdown on the gutsiest play call of the Jim McElwain era. Following the botched LSU field goal attempt in the third quarter, McElwain and coordinator Doug Nussmeier dialed up a deep pass on first down that caught the Tigers by complete surprise. Tyrie Cleveland had 1-on-1 coverage and there was no safety help. Austin Appleby had a perfect pocket from where he delivered a pass that Cleveland caught at the 35. Donte Jackson climbed onto Cleveland’s back but the UF freshman shucked him at the 45 and then outsprinted the rest of the LSU secondary for only Florida TD and a 10-7 lead with 8:57 left in the third quarter.

“We knew Tyrie could run by that guy,” McElwain explained. It was the perfect play call and it was executed perfectly.

The Gators got a bit too cute at the goal line in the fourth quarter when they had a chance to take a 17-10 lead. After driving from their own 22 to the LSU 1, the Gators had a third and goal from the LSU 1 but instead of powering the ball between the tackles where they had been so successful, an Appleby quick pitch to Lamical Perine was fumbled back to the 9. Pineiro had to salvage the drive with a 26-yard field goal with 4:37 to go.

The Gators got the ball back immediately when Jackson fumbled the kickoff, but UF played it safe and ran the ball three times up the gut for four yards, then settled for another Pineiro field goal with 3:24 to go in the game.

LSU almost made the Gators pay for failure to score touchdowns on those two opportunities, driving to the UF 6 in 9 plays where it was first and goal with less than a minute. But, the Gators stuffed Guice for a yard on first down then stopped Guice again at the 1 on the next play. On third down LSU tried fullback J.D. Moore over the left side but he was stopped in his tracks.

That set up the fourth down play. Three seconds were left on the clock and the majority of the 102,331 souls in the stands figured LSU would score the tying TD and then kick the game-winning extra point.

Instead of a celebration that would have lasted long into the Baton Rouge night, Harris beat his block to grab Guice by the left leg as he launched and Sherit came in from the right side to get the other one. Just for safe measure Bryan hit Guice and turned his shoulders to leave the Tigers a foot short of a storybook finish.

Florida was outgained 423-270 and LSU dominated time of possession 34:02 to 25:58 but when it counted in the second half, Florida came up with the most important drive of the game when they held the ball for 7:41 and dominated the line of scrimmage. On that 70-yard drive that ended with Pineiro hitting what turned out to be the game-winning field goal, the Gators ran the ball 12 times for 57 yards with Jordan Scarlett carrying 8 times for 39 yards and Lamical Perine adding a 22-yard run.

Scarlett finished the game with 22 carries for 108 yards, his second consecutive game with more than 100 yards. Appleby was only 7-17 throwing the ball but his completions were good for 144 yards with Cleveland catching 3 for 124 yards.

Next up for the Gators is Florida State next weekend in Tallahassee.

THE GOOD

1. On third and 18 from the UF 44, Austin Appleby connected with Antonio Callaway on a crossing pattern over the middle that was good for 16 yards. The Gators elected to go for it on fourth down and Jordan Scarlett found a crease off the hip of center T.J. McCoy and bulled his way to the LSU 37 for a first down.

2. Although the Gators didn’t score on their first offensive possession, they took 6:39 off the clock.

3. On the first play of Florida’s second possession, Appleby spun out of a sack by putting his free hand on the ground, rolled to his right and threw a 13-yard strike to Tyrie Cleveland to the LSU 45 for a first down.

4. The Gators got on the scoreboard with 13:19 remaining in the second quarter when Eddy Pineiro finished off a 10-play, 39-yard drive with a 36-yard field goal to cut the LSU lead to 7-3. The Gators took 4:19 off the clock.

5. On LSU’s first play of the second possession, Danny Etling went deep looking for Travin Dural on a post route but Jalen Tabor stripped the ball and denied the catch on the Florida side of the 50.

6. LSU had first and goal at the Florida 6 when Caleb Brantley showed up at the point of exchange between Etling and Derius Guice. The ball popped loose and Kylan Johnson dived on the ball at the UF 12 to end the LSU scoring threat.

7. LSU tried a little swing pass out of the backfield from Etling to Leonard Fournette on third and 9 from the LSU 49. Isolated on Fournette 1-on-1, David Reese went straight for the legs and wrapped up Fournette in the open field for a 2-yard gain.

8. Florida’s secondary completely shut down LSU’s dynamic wide receiver duo of Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre in the first half. The only completions to a wide receiver were a pair of dumpoffs to slot receiver Dee Anderson that were good for 14 yards.

9. On back-to-back plays from inside the Florida 5 on LSU’s first possession of the third quarter, the Gators came up big defensively. On second and goal from the 3, Jordan Sherit chased Danny Etling out of the pocket. At the 1, Vosean Joseph made the hit of the game to decleat Etling. On the next play, Caleb Brantley blew through the LSU line and nailed Leonard Fournette for a 1-yard loss that forced a field goal attempt. On the attempt, holder Josh Growden bobbled the snap and was forced to throw a desperation pass into the end zone that fell incomplete.

10. On the first play after the botched field goal attempt, the Gators caught LSU flatfooted by throwing deep out of the end zone. Appleby had all the time he needed in the pocket and launched a deep pass down the right sideline to freshman Tyrie Cleveland who made the catch over Donte Jackson at the UF 35. Cleveland kept his feet moving, shed Jackson at the 45 and then sprinted to the end zone to finish off a 98-yard touchdown pass with 8:57 left in the third quarter. Eddy Pineiro’s extra point gave the Gators a 10-7 lead.

11. Following LSU’s game-tying field goal, Florida put together its most impressive drive of the season, taking 7:41 off the clock as they moved the ball from the UF 22 to the LSU 1 before a mistake forced a field goal by Eddie Pineiro. On the 15-play drive, the Gators pounded away at the LSU D-line gaining 57 of their 70 yards on the ground against the vaunted Tiger run defense.

12.

THE BAD

1. With third and 13 from the UF 49 on the initial possession, UF was flagged for a delay of game penalty.

2. On third and 10 from the LSU 37, Appleby didn’t see the blitz coming straight up the middle. Sacked for a 10-yard loss, the Gators were taken out of field goal range and had to punt the football.

3. On LSU’s first possession, the Tigers drove 80 yards in 12 plays, taking 6:03 off the clock. On the drive, LSU QB Danny Etling completed 4-5 passes for 59 yards and Derius Guice carried 5 times for 21 yards and a TD plus caught a screen pass for 29 yards on the Tigers’ second play.

4. At the half, the Gators totaled only 60 offensive yards (27 rushing and 33 passing) on 28 offensive plays, an average of 2.14 yards per play.

5. After Pineiro’s field goal gave UF a 13-10 lead, the Gators had a golden opportunity to put the game completely out of reach with a touchdown when Donte Jackson fumbled the kickoff return and Vosean Joseph recovered on the LSU 21. Rather than go for the kill, the Gators played it safe with three straight running plays, settling for a 34-yard Pineiro field goal with 4:37 left that made the score 16-10.

6.On a fourth and 10 from the UF 48, UF corner Quincy Wilson fell down on a crossing route that allowed Etling to make an easy throw in the middle of the field to D.J. Chark, who was finally corralled at the 18 with 1:53 remaining in the game.

THE UGLY

1. Left tackle David Sharpe was completely handcuffed by Arden Key, who came off the edge to sack Appleby for a 9-yard loss back at the Florida 6 on the Gators’ third possession of the first half.  

2. On third and short on three different occasions the Tigers simply handed the ball off to fullback D.J. Moore who got the first down every single time.

3. LSU constantly took advantage of Florida’s defensive overpursuit with end arounds and reverses. D.J. Chark converted 3 for 51 yards including a 10-yarder to the UF 4 that set up the game-tying field goal by Colby Delahoussaye with 12:18 left in the game to tie the score at 10-10.

4. On third and goal from the LSU 1, the Gators got too cute and tried to pitch to Lamical Perine going around the left side, but the pitch was wide and Perine was fortunate to knock the ball down and fall on it back at the 9. That forced a field goal attempt that Eddy Pineiro drilled from 26 yards out to give the Gators a 13-10 lead with 4:37 to go in the game.


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