GAINESVILLE, FLA. – LSU’s No. 3-ranked Tigers battled their way back from an early 20-0 deficit against 11th-ranked Florida only to see the host Gators quickly regain control and pull away to a 51-21 Southeastern Conference interdivision victory in the “Swamp” of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday night.
The Tigers (4-1, 2-1) fought their way back to close within 20-7 at halftime and 20-14 at the 8:41 mark of the third quarter. But, once again, Florida (5-1, 3-1) regrouped to retain control the rest of the way.
The Gators outscored LSU 31-7 the remainder of the contest to hand LSU its worst loss under coach Less Miles. It was also the most points scored by a Florida team against the Tigers since a 56-13 loss in 1996.
Florida stepped out to a 7-0 lead when quarterback Tim Tebow fired a 70-yard touchdown pass to Percy Harvin with 13:32 remaining in the first quarter. Danny McCray was in position to make the play but he tipped the ball up and it went straight into Harvin’s hands then he did the rest.
The Gators increased their lead to 10-0 when Jonathan Phillips kicked a 20-yard field goal with 7:00 left in the first period. His field goal capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive.
Florida later pulled out to a 17-0 advantage when Tebow delivered a 6-yard scoring pass to Harvin and Phillips kicked the PAT with 1:09 left in the first quarter.
“We played a very talented team today at Florida,” said Les Miles. “They executed extremely well. We spotted them 20 points in the first half. We never got out of that hole.”
Undaunted, the Tigers battled back to cut the deficit to 20-7 when quarterback Jarrett Lee completed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Chris Mitchell with five seconds left in the first half. The scoring toss capped a 60-yard, 6-play drive that was sparked by a 25-yard pass from Lee to Terrance Tolliver and a 16-yard sprint by Trindon Holliday.
The Tigers played with great resurgence to open the second half to drive 80 yards in 14 plays and cut the deficit to 20-14.
Quarterback Andrew Hatch crashed over from three yards out and Colt David added the PAT for the LSU score with 6:19 left to play in the third quarter. The drive was sparked by pass completions of 17 and 18 yards from Lee to Brandon LaFell and Holliday.
But that was as close as the Tigers would get as the Gators unleashed a 31-point scoring blitz to run away with the victory.
Tebow responded to LSU’s score to start the first half by marching the Gators on an 8-play, 67-yard drive, that was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Tebow, with the big play being a 37-yard pass to Louis Murphy down to the LSU 2.
“That was a classic Tim Tebow performance on that drive,” said Urban Mayer. “We had a lot of discussions in the headsets about which way we wanted to go. We usually pass on third down and it kind of gets predictable. That was a great call by Dan Mullen. That was one of the biggest drives of the game.”
From that point on it was all Florida as the Gators added four more touchdowns to hand the Tigers the disappointing loss.
“Any time you lose a game like this, it’s everybody,” Miles said. “It’s me, it’s our coaching staff, it’s certainly our offense, defense and special teams. It’s the call and it’s the player. But we’re all in it together. We’re a team and we understand the regroup and fight.”
Tebow, the ’08 Heisman Trophy winner connected 14 of 21 passes for 210 yards and two scores. Harvin had six catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns while Damps rushed 10 times for 129 yards.
The Gators outgained LSU 476 to 304 in total offense.
Lee completed 23 of 38 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns while suffering two interceptions. Demetrius Byrd had six catches for 73 yards for LSU while LeFell had seven for 59 and Dixon six for 36.
Charles Scott gained 35 yards to lead LSU’s running game but it was well below his average, and the 80 yards was the lowest team total for the Tigers this season.
Florida will be idle next week before hosting Vanderbilt in an SEC Eastern Division game the following Saturday.
LSU will visit South Carolina next Saturday before returning home to host Georgia at Tiger Stadium in a game that will also be televised the following Saturday.