A bright future, with a nod to the past
Florida's resurgence continues as Gators go old-school to beat LSU
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- West Virginia and Baylor score 19 touchdowns in one 60-minute game and the nation goes weak at the knees. Arizona and Stanford go to overtime Saturday after combining for 14 touchdowns.
It's exciting. It's breathtaking. And it ain't happening anywhere near the Southeastern Conference.
The Big 12 and the Pac-12 may be playing the football of the future, but the SEC remains warm and snuggly in the past. No. 10 Florida's 14-6 defeat of No. 4 LSU, the Tigers' first regular-season loss in two years, was so old-school that I think Keith Jackson did the play-by-play.
"That was typical 1980 SEC right there today," Gators coach Will Muschamp said.
Typical 1980 SEC meant Herschel Walker pounding into the line of scrimmage for Georgia, Muschamp's alma mater. Walker, a freshman, led the Dawgs to the national championship. Florida fans may forgive their coach for the reference ("Run, Lindsay, Run!"). On Saturday night, they would forgive him for pretty much anything.
In less than two seasons, Muschamp has gone a long way toward remaking the Gators from the spread of Urban Meyer to the smashmouth of Vince Dooley. Florida (5-0, 4-0) ran the ball 58 times against LSU (5-1, 1-1) and threw it just 12 times. The Gators gained only 237 yards, but 190 of them came after halftime.
Old typical 1980: "There you go again," belonged to Ronald Reagan.
New typical 1980: "There you go again," belonged to Mike Gillislee. The Florida senior rushed 34 times for 146 yards and a pair of 12-yard touchdowns. If that doesn't turn your head, try this: Gillislee rushed 34 times and never lost yardage.
"Everybody was finishing blocks," said right guard Jon Halapio, who threw a big block on Gillislee's second touchdown. "Pancakes here, pancakes there. There was one point in the game, I don't even know his name, No. 77 [DT Josh Downs]. I was looking dead in his eyes, and he was dead tired. You want to look for those things in a football game."
The LSU defensive line couldn't get out of the way. In the second half, it couldn't get off the field. That it held Florida to 14 points and 237 yards is a tribute, given that the Gators held the ball for 20:19 in the second half. In five games this season, Florida's average second-half possession time is 19:17.
Muschamp listed several reasons for the Gators' dominance -- the halftime adjustments made by offensive coordinator Brent Pease, the improved physicality of his players and, after second-half comebacks at Texas A&M and Tennessee, the simple belief in themselves.
"It's not like we're waiting for the second half to turn it on. We believe it's going to happen in the first half as well," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "But we know it's going to happen in the second half. In that locker room at the half, you would have never known we were down."
The Gators trailed 6-0 at the half. Florida gained 47 yards in the first half on 32 snaps. On four straight first-half possessions, the Gators faced third-and-18, third-and-25, third-and-15 and third-and-12.
At Stanford in the first half, Arizona quarterback Matt Scott threw 41 passes.
"It was a physical, physical match, because both lines of scrimmages are going to put pressure on the quarterback," Muschamp said. "That's the difference in playing in this league and these other leagues you watch on TV. I know y'all like all these points being scored, but the quarterback won't make it through the game or the season in our league."
The Tigers' defense asks so little of the Tigers' offense, which is about what the defense gets. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger may be on a short leash because of his inexperience. Against the Gators, it looked more like a choke chain. In his defense, the one long pass he hit, a 56-yarder to Odell Beckham Jr., ended in a turnover when junior defensive back Matt Elam stripped Beckham at the Florida 23.
"My plan was to keep him out of the end zone," Elam said. "The ball came out at the end. Thank God for that."
Elam wore pink socks and a pink towel tucked in his uniform pants in honor of his sister, Britnee Walker, who he said has recovered from breast cancer. Other Gators wore pink too, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It takes a special kind of man to accessorize blue and orange with pink.
Florida looks comfortable in its own skin. The Gators appear a lot more comfortable playing Muschamp's brand of football than they did last year. At times during that 7-6 season, Muschamp said, his coaches wanted to make second-half adjustments and he said no. His team wasn't strong enough and wasn't schooled enough.
Fast-forward to 2012, when the Gators are rewinding back to 1980. Florida is physical. It is tough. It gets stronger as the game continues. Muschamp cautioned that Saturday represented only one game. Florida still has No. 6 South Carolina, No. 5 Georgia and No. 3 Florida State on its regular-season schedule.
But on one special day in the Swamp, Florida went back to the future.