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Gators Prove They are a Contender

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Florida responded like a championship contender would at home.

With just a little more than 11 minutes remaining, LSU was in position to earn a second road victory against a ranked SEC opponent.

The Tigers had just ran the ball 79 yards on three plays to go ahead by five. The Gators needed a touchdown, and at the time, they only had three punts and an interception on four second-half possessions.

But Florida responded like a championship contender would at home. On the ensuing possession, the Gators marched down the field, gaining 75 yards on nine plays, and reached the end zone to retake the lead.

Florida scored the final 13 points of the game, and the defense forced two interceptions on a pair of potential game-winning and game-tying drives for LSU. Behind that excellent fourth quarter, No. 22 Florida knocked off No. 5 LSU, 27-19.

While this victory further confirms Dan Mullen was the perfect coach for the rebuilding Gators, more importantly, the new coach has Florida in the SEC East division race.

Mullen is known for developing athletic quarterbacks, and on a day where Tim Tebow saw his number retired at halftime, it would have been very fitting for signal caller Feleipe Franks to lead Florida to victory. Although he was great with the Gators needed him, Florida beat LSU Saturday because of its running attack.

LSU entered Week 6 allowing only 103 rushing yards per game, which was fourth-best in the SEC and tied for 16th-best in the country.

But Florida didn’t let that deter them from sticking to the ground game, and the Gators rushed for 215 yards on 43 attempts. In the fourth quarter alone, Florida gained 64 yards on the ground.

Every one of those yards late in the game were key. An LSU punt pinned the Gators on their own 4-yard line with 6:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Florida led by only one. The Tigers were certainly hoping to force the Gators into a 3-and-out and then receive the punt at about midfield.

Florida ruined those plans when junior running back Jordan Scarlett converted a pair of third-and-shorts. With two first downs, the Gators ate up nearly four minutes on the clock and made LSU call two timeouts.

The first downs also helped flip the field. On fourth down, punter Tommy Townsend, who was an unsung hero last week against Mississippi State, booted a 61-yard punt, and even after a modest return, LSU took over at its own 12-yard line.

So much for great field position.

Requiring Joe Burrow to drive the LSU offense 60 yards into field goal range changed everything, and the first-year starting quarterback threw his first interception of the season three plays into the drive. Sophomore defensive back Brad Stewart not only picked off the pass but returned it 25 yards for a score.

Up eight, Florida needed one more defensive stand to seal it. With the help of a couple drops, LSU’s last hope ended with another pick on fourth-and-10 and 21 seconds remaining.

What a difference a month can make. In Week 2, Mullen’s first SEC game couldn’t have gone any worse after the Gators lost to the Kentucky Wildcats for the first time since 1986. But with three straight SEC wins since then, Florida is keeping pace with both Georgia and Kentucky pending both of their games Saturday night.

Florida has one more major test at the end of October against Georgia, but overall, the schedule leans in the Gators’ favor. Florida faces both South Carolina and Missouri at home, leaving them with a trip to Vanderbilt as their only other SEC contest.

Meanwhile, Georgia still must face LSU and Auburn in addition to Florida and Kentucky. As for the Wildcats, they still have trips to Missouri and Tennessee along with a home bout versus Georgia.

Things are getting very interesting in the SEC East. Don’t count out the Florida Gators.