Although his team seemed to listen and fans acted accordingly, gaudy pregame prognostications and overconfidence clouded the Tigers vision – much like the weather Saturday – as the Gators delivered head coach Ron Zook a much-needed victory in Tiger Stadium.
"We are obviously very disappointed in the way we played in the game," Saban said. "Obviously, I'm responsible for that. We didn't have the type of intensity that we needed, didn't have the sense of urgency about what we were doing. We didn't play very smart in the game."
A sputtering offense coupled with an uncharacteristic 13 penalties would spell certain doom on the Tigers on this day. LSU's rushing attack was limited to just 56 total yards and usually efficient quarterback Matt Mauck tossed a pair of interceptions as the Tigers (5-1, 2-1 in SEC) fell from grace in front of 92,077 fans – the third largest crowd in school history.
"We had 13 penalties and I swear we had more than that," Saban said. "It was very disappointing."
Mauck ended the day completing 19-of-33 passes for 231 yards, statistically not a bad outing except for two costly interceptions and a number of misreads and errant passes.
"We put ourselves behind the eight ball every time and it's hard to convert first and 20, second and 30 and things like that," Mauck said. "Really it was just penalties. For some reason we just could not execute at all and it's really disappointing as a team."
On the flip side, Florida (4-3, 2-2 in SEC) did nothing outstanding, but took advantage of LSU mistakes and scored when they needed points leaving the Tigers and their fans in a state of disbelief.
"It is a big win but it is not like we are shocked or that we thought we could not win," said Florida wide receiver O.J. Small. "We came into this game with the attitude that we could win. That was a good team, but I guess things just went our way tonight. This was a good, solid game."
LSU's intricate blitz packages, which worked so effectively against Georgia, were exploited by the Gator offense. Although Florida did not produce Spurrier-like numbers, true freshman quarterback Chris Leak was efficient in the pocket, completing18-of-30 passes for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"This is a great win," Leak said. "We came in here to win. LSU is a great team, an awesome team, but we just came in here and played our hearts out and had fun."
Leak must have had fun, time and again beating the Tiger defense over the middle. Three times Leak beat the LSU blitz for big gainers, twice being touchdowns. However, it was not without consequence. The freshman signal caller was sacked six times and was hit hard numerous other times, but he remained poised.
"I will be good tomorrow, I will not be to sore," Leak said. "I feel the same after every game, but being sore is just part of football."
The win was redemption for Florida after LSU trounced the Gators 36-7 a year ago in Gainesville. It also served as a cushion for Zook, whose critics were at their loudest a week ago in the wake of a 20-17 loss to Ole Miss.
"We knew we were playing a very dangerous team, like playing a caged animal in terms of what was on the line for their season so you have to give them a lot of credit for the intensity they played with and the way they played," Saban said.
A lifeless Tiger Stadium came to life early in the first quarter when sophomore wide receiver Skyler Green took Florida's first punt of the game 80 yards for a touchdown. A 7-0 lead seemed to many as if the rout was on, however it would be the only points of the afternoon.
Green's return, combined with his 62-yard punt return for a touchdown against Arizona earlier this season, made him the first Tiger to have two punt returns for scores in the same season since Todd Kinchen had two in 1991.
On Florida's next possession, Leak tossed a pass into the right flat, which LSU safety Travis Daniels broke on perfectly. The ball went in and out of Daniels' arms thwarting what could have been an easy touchdown.
"We looked ready to play early in the game," Saban said. "Some critical things, It's a funny game. Maybe if we intercept the ball that we drop and run it back it might be a different game because their confidence is a little shaken. But we didn't make the play and they went in and scored."
Leak capped an impressive 80-yard drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to tailback Ran Carthon with 6:51 to play in the quarter. The point after tied the score at 7-7. It was the first touchdown surrendered by the Tiger defense in the first half this season.
LSU blitzed on the play and a missed assignment in the secondary allowed Carthon to dance into the end zone without a Tiger within 30 yards on him.
Things could have gotten worse just minutes later.
A 44-yard interception return by Gator cornerback Keiwan Ratliffe gave Florida a first down inside the LSU 30. But the defense stiffened on three straight plays from the Tiger 10-yard line and held Florida to a 29-yard field goal with 3:17 left in the first quarter.
The Gators were sure to get into the end zone again early in the second quarter.
Leak led his team from its own 26 to the LSU 1-yard line. But Florida tailback DeShawn Wynn fumbled while trying to leap into the endzone. Linebacker Adrian Mayes recovered the ball at the five giving the Tiger offense a chance to move the ball beyond the shadow of its own goal line.
After the Tiger offense fizzled again, Gator place kicker Matt Leach drilled a career-long 50-yard field goal with 5:37 left in the half to cap a six play, 32-yard drive and give Florida a 13-7 advantage.
LSU's defense finally began affecting Leak late in the first half. However, the play of the Tigers opportunistic defense could not affect the offense positively as LSU continued to struggle.
"I think for the most part everybody's making mistakes every other play," said junior wide receiver Michael Clayton. "One play it's one guy making the mistake, the next play it's another guy. It's the team. It's hurting the team. Minimizing bad plays has to be the great thing we have to work on."
Trailing 13-7 at the break, the mood was an unsettling one in Tiger Stadium, however the feeling was LSU would eventually get in sync offensively. It never happened.
Penalties and poor passes knocked the Tigers back while starting tailback Joseph Addai sat on the sidelines with an injured knee.
Florida managed to find just enough holes in the Tiger defense adding one final score. The Gators scored first in the second half as Leak found a wide open Ciatrick Fason over the middle of the field for a 35-yard touchdown with 5:21 left in the third. The touchdown pass, his second of the game, capped a six-play, 48-yard drive. The try for two failed giving the Gators a 19-7 lead.
LSU drove the ball inside the 50-yard line early in the fourth quarter but that drive stalled at the Gators 39 as the Tigers turned the ball over on downs after Mauck was stopped a yard shy on an option run on fourth down.
The Tigers had another chance with 8:00 left in the game to move the ball into scoring range as Mauck completed consecutive passes for first downs to move the ball past midfield. But Ratliff ended that threat with his second interception of the game giving the Gators the ball at their own 37-yard line.
"We sensed it early on because we came out with a whole new game plan this week," Ratliff said about affecting Mauck. "I mean, we started from scratch in practice this week. We wanted to come out and try to confuse him and try to make him beat us with his arm instead of them running the ball. We took away the run early so we forced them to throw the ball."
LSU had one more opportunity late in the fourth to score but wideout Devery Henderson fumbled at the Florida 31-yard line after hauling in a 42-yard pass from Mauck. Leak ended the game by taking a knee inside the LSU 30-yard line.
"We've got to do a better job as coaches," Saban said. "The players will respond in the right way to this and too bad you've got to have something bad happen to get you moving in the right direction but hopefully our wiliness to learn and responsibility that everyone needs to take to become a good football team will be how we respond to this."