In Saturday's 19-7 victory over No.6 Louisiana State, it wasn't enough for players to simply douse coach Ron Zook with the water cooler. Not on a day when the defense danced its way to a game-winning, face-saving performance. So, as seniors Darryl Dixon and Keiwan Ratliff hoisted a second jug of water in defensive coordinator Charlie Strong's direction, the Gators made their message clear. The Tigers weren't just outplayed. They were outcoached, too.
"We came out with a whole new game plan this week," Ratliff said. "We started from scratch. We just tried to confuse him and make him beat us with his arm instead of running the ball."
The plan worked as the Gators held the Tigers to just 56 yards on the ground. More importantly, they limited the offense's big-play production, which has been a primary reason for its formerly undefeated record.
This time around, it was Florida who came up with the big plays, most notably from two seniors. Ratliff and defensive end Bobby McCray, both of whom were criticized for failing to live up to preseason hype, turned in some of the best performances of their careers. Picking up three sacks, McCray took over as the Southeastern Conference's leader with eight sacks in the past four games.
"It was good coverage by the secondary," said McCray, who continues to suffer from a nagging turf toe. "They did a good job covering the wide receivers. I just happened to get a lot of pressure to get to him."
But what makes the sacks even more impressive, though, is that the Gators blitzed rarely throughout the game.
"It was just a three-man rush," Strong said. "We didn't have to blitz that much at all today. It was unusual. I only blitzed them three times."
Adding to the assault, Ratliff snagged two game-changing interceptions. The second secured a 12-point lead as LSU was driving in the fourth quarter.
Not to mention, the Gators also benefited from the speedy returns of two critical players on defense. True freshman linebacker Channing Crowder and defensive tackle Kenny Parker both played just 11 days after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
Crowder clearly played a key role in the victory, forcing LSU to steer away from the running game. He finished with four tackles.
So as two seniors stepped up - and two injured starters returned - Strong's defense pulled together for a four-quarter performance better than any other this season.
"We've got to be a complete team," Strong said. "Defensively we're playing well, but you have to have all three phases of the game playing well. Before the game, we said, 'If we're going to win, we have to play well on defense.'"