It’s usually the job of a defense to create uncomfortable situations for the offense, and LSU is as good at that as any team in the country.
There was an added element Saturday that made the Tigers’ defensive performance against Florida even more impressive.
While LSU did its thing and made life miserable for the Gators – they finished with season-lows in total yards (213) and matched their worst output of the season with nine first downs – the defense had to overcome its own dose of discomfort in the process.
With Florida’s offense taking the field with uncertainty, that created some different challenges for LSU as well.
Would freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett take all the snaps and what exactly was this kid who hadn’t stepped on the field yet going to do well?
Or would Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis throw in every wrinkle he could come up with try and keep the Tigers off-balance and guessing?
Turns out there was a little bit of all of the above involved, and no matter what Weis and the Florida offense tried, LSU barely flinched.
“We knew they were going to come out and play a lot of wildcat and we just wanted to contain them because we know they like to bounce the ball and run it on the edges,” said safety Brandon Taylor, who led LSU with 7 tackles, intercepted a pass and broke up two others. “We wanted to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and not let him get his confidence up.”
Added Tyrann Mathieu, who had the other pick and six tackles, “We just adjusted whenever we needed to. We had game-planned for whichever guy was in there. We were in base defense most of the day with a lot of different checks whenever Burton of (Rainey) came in the game.”
Rainey entered the day with 415 rushing yards and a 5.6-yards-per-carry average and finished with a modest 52 yards on 13 carries, almost half of that on a 25-yard burst in the first quarter.
The Gators actually had their most success when bigger back Mike Gillislee was in the game. He finished with 56 rushing yards on nine totes and was the backbone of a 14-play, 59-yard field-goal march right before halftime.
Other than that drive and the Gators’ lone touchdown on a 65-yard bomb from Brissett to Andre Debose in the third quarter, there just wasn’t much meat on the bone for the Florida offense.
As anemic as the Gators’ 213 total-yard performance was, even that doesn’t tell the complete story.
They had the ball 12 times and punted six times – all after three-and-out futility. Brissett threw the two interceptions, another series ended on a curious failed fake-punt run and Florida ended the game on the field in mop-up time.
On those dozen possessions, the Gators carved out first downs on only four – three if you don’t count the Debose catch when his legs got tangled up LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne’s legs and Claiborne fell down.
Not counting that score and the game-ending possession, eight of Florida’s 12 possessions last three plays or fewer.
In other words, the Gators never had a shot at establishing momentum.
“That was a quality team with great speed and an ability to come off the football,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “As long as you turn the ball east and west and let us run it down, we have great speed in the secondary and I liked exactly what that defense did except for a couple of plays.”
Those couple of plays came after LSU had set the tone. That came on the opening series of the day.
The Gators started the day at their own 19-yard-line and it was the Tigers defensive line and linebackers who got the defense off on the right foot.
Rainey ran to the right side and was smothered after a 2-yard gain by tackles Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan. A false start pushed the ball back, and on second down Rainey tried a stretch play that middle linebackers Kevin Minter and Ryan Baker were able to string out and limited him to 2 more yards.
Facing third-and-11, Weis dialed up a screen pass to Rainey that Mathieu sniffed out and blew up for a 7-yard loss.
“The first play is always most important,” defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “You have to let them know. You have to set the tone for what it’s going to be like all day. You cannot take it easy.”
It never was Florida on Saturday.