Taste of Defeat

With his concussion now a thing of the past, Tim Tebow was cleared in time to lead the No. 1 Gators into Death Valley and take home the 13-3 win.


The story all week was about Tim Tebow. Sure, there was the No. 1 vs. No. 4 thing. But would Tebow play, and how long would the former Heisman winner be able to go?

By night’s end, Florida’s quarterback was no longer a topic of discussion. Instead, the questions surrounded the LSU offense – a unit that managed just 162 yards through four quarters.

“You don’t have the opportunity to go three and out or take sacks,” said LSU head coach Les Miles. “In a game where you have just a few possessions, you have to move the football.”

The Gators were able to keep the crowd of 93,129, a Tiger Stadium record, quiet for most of the night, recording five sacks and holding the LSU offense to 1-of-9 on third downs.

“When you go two plays and then end up third and long, that’s not efficient football,” said LSU running back Charles Scott. “That’s always going to hold you up, and keep the defense on the field more. That’s something we need to get better at.”

After LSU was forced to punt on their opening drive, Tebow and the Gators drove the ball into the red-zone with a combination of runs from Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody.

With a first down at the LSU 13-yard line, Tebow and Rainey attempted three straight rushes for a combined two yards. Florida settled for a field goal, and the bend but don’t break mentality, a common theme for the Tiger defense through five games, became the feeling once more.

The sides traded possessions before LSU found the equalizer. After a 26-yard strike to Brandon LaFell moved the Tigers into Florida territory, the Gators were called for back-to-back personal foul penalties – one on Carlos Dunlap and the second on Joe Haden.

The miscues gave LSU first and goal from the ten-yard line. Three rushing attempts moved the ball to the two-yard line, where Miles – the constant risk taker – came to his first fork in the road. This time, the Mad Hatter settled for three.

“The point to be three-three, to put the pressure back on them at home, it seemed like the right decision,” he said.

Without hesitation, the Gators answered the score with an 8 play, 80-yard drive that ended in a touchdown pass from Tebow to a wide-open Riley Cooper. So open, Miles said, because the men in the black stripes might have missed a call.

“Someone told me there was an unusual play on Hawkins that got their man open,” he said. “It is an amazing thing, because that is seven points. The complexion of the game is changed if we go to half at 3-3, or if we had gotten the ball back.”

Instead the Gators took the 10-3 lead into the locker room, and the Tigers never recovered.

When the second half rolled around, the Gator offense let Tebow go. Held mostly to passes and handoffs in the first half, Tebow used his legs – and a pair of big pass plays to Aaron Hernandez – to move Florida into the LSU red zone.

With their backs against the wall, the bend but don’t break mentality came through once more for John Chavis’ defense, bottling up both rush attempts and forcing Tebow to hurry the third down incompletion.

Then came the Tigers first big break. After a delay of game penalty moved the Gators back to the eight-yard line, kicker Caleb Sturgis pushed the field goal attempt wide left.

The LSU offense took the field to a raucous crowd, but the roars silenced after the Tigers went three-and-out – a drive stalled by two Jordan Jefferson sacks that totaled a loss of 14 yards.

“The pass protection needs improvement, but I know a few of those plays I should have stayed and helped out,” Scott said. “If you see somebody getting beat and you don’t help out it’s just as much you fault as the guy getting beat.”

The next drive out, the Tigers brought more of the same - back-to-back false starts followed by a seven-yard sack of Jefferson.

“Those kinds of mistakes really can hinder things,” said LSU wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who finished the night with three catches for 37 yards. “That is where we have to step up.”

On a night where the defense did everything you could ask, the offense allowed mistake after mistake to keep LSU behind the eight ball for good.

“It’s tough,” said LSU linebacker Jacob Cutrera. “The penalties hurt, and we need to fix that. But basically, we got outplayed by their defense.”

On their next possession, Florida drove the ball 44 yards on 11 plays to secure the win – a 32-yard field goal by Sturgis that put Florida out front by double digits with just seven minutes to play.

The Tigers failed to convert fourth down attempts on their final two possessions of the game, which meant that for the Gator defense, the night was a mission accomplished.

“We came out and we knew we would be challenged today,” said Florida safety Will Hill. “We played with a lot of confidence. We knew what we had to do. We knew that odds were against us since they had won 32 games in a row, so we had to come out and play tough and we did.”

The 32-game winning streak in Death Valley on Saturday night dated back to Nov. 16, 2002. Another unfortunate stat for those in purple and gold was the Tigers’ point total, the lowest since the 7-3 loss to Auburn on Sept. 16, 2006.

“Our football team is sick,” Miles said. “They understand it was a great opportunity. We can do some special things, but we just have to improve. It is that simple.”

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