LSU-Florida: The party is going on in Baton Rouge
BATON ROUGE, La. - That big, giant tremor you just felt was another jolt to the national championship picture.
The LSU Tigers fought, scratched, huffed, grunted, stuffed and converted their way to an exhausting 28-24 win over No. 9 Florida tonight in Tiger Stadium setting off a celebration that could be felt from La. to L.A.
(LSU players celebrate the win over Florida in front of the student section)
Coupled with USC's absolutely inexcusable loss to a weakened Stanford team, the Tigers will most assuredly gobble up the remaining first place votes in all of the polls this week.
This was a game of attrition. Florida's second half collapse and LSU's dogged determination.
But if you ask Les Miles, it was more like the game ended with LSU winning 36-to-24. Because that was the comparison in time of possession in tonight's game - well, 35:52 to 24:08 to be exact. And Les Miles was quick to point out that LSU "out-possessed" Florida enough for it to translate to the scoreboard in a victory.
"You have to understand this," Miles talked with his jaw nearly clenched in the post-game press conference, "we knew that it was a possession game. The opportunity to keep the ball was something you had to do. We knew that the opportunity to go on fourth down would be there for us."
And keep it the Tigers did. The biggest unsung stat of the night was LSU's 5-for-5 conversions on fourth down in the game. Each one clutch, each one converted. And because of those conversions, Florida and their lethal QB Tim Tebow, ended up possessing the ball a mere 8:04 of the second half. I guess LSU just figured out at halftime that the best way to stop Florida is to keep their offense on the bench.
In the end, Miles took on the demeanor of a boxing trainer and corner man who never thought twice about tossing the white towel out on the mat.
"I enjoy the character of this football team." Miles went on. "Down the road, that's what will sustain this team. Playing from behind. Missed field goals. Opportunities to NOT come back. But our guys kept finding a way. We took some heavy hits out there and played well. I'm proud of this team."
There were a lot of players to be proud of.
One of the biggest myths of this LSU team this year has been the belief they didn't have the offense to make a big comeback. What people forget is that they have the DEFENSE to make a comeback like this possible. The Tigers entered the fourth quarter down 24-14. They drove the ball down to the Florida 19 yard line. But Colt David would miss his second field goal of the night, this one a chippy from 36 yards out.
But from that point on, LSU'd rock-ribbed D would allow Florida only 10 yards on five plays in its next two drives. The first of which ended when LSU's Kirston Pittman caught a rocket shot rebound off the helmet of Percy Harvin. Twenty-four yards later, LSU would cut that Florida lead to 24-21 on another key fourth down pass from Matt Flynn to Demetrius Byrd.
And it wasn't just Les Myles that was wanting more of those all-too-familiar fourth down plays. "All of the guys were hoping Coach Miles would go for them. Even the defensive coaches were trying to get him to go for it."
Go they did. Because of the conversions, the defensive stuffs and the key turnovers, LSU now sits pretty in the national championship race.
Although, I've gotta admit, I'm not buying the fact that the LSU players didn't hear the final score of the USC-Stanford game announced over the P.A.
Tyson Jackson claimed in the post-game, "I just heard about that score about five minutes ago."
Matt Flynn joined in, "I didn't know anything about it to be honest."
Hmmmm. Doesn't a team usually "feed" off of a crowd? If that's the case, there's not a snowball's chance in Hades that these guys didn't hear the crowd burst into cheers when the SC score was announced midway through the third quarter.
Then again, maybe they were just that locked in tonight. Especially in the second half. Now, LSU has a big time win AND a No. 1 ranking that they can really possess for a while.
Player of the Game:
Jacob Hester, RB, LSU.
"When we needed the tough yards, we went to Jacob." Miles said with a gritty pride. "In fact, that one fourth down run he had, I don't think he would've made it if not for that great second effort."
Hester finished the night with 106 yards on 23 carries and knuckles full of dried blood. "We knew the whole time that we could win this game if we just stepped up." Tonight, Hester did, scoring the game-winning touchdown with 1:09 left.
Play of the Game:
The laser-fast pass that Tebow threw and fired off Percy Harvin's helmet, leading to Kirston Pittman's interception.
That pick-off gave LSU new life. With a 10-point lead and another snuffed-out drive by the Gator defense, it could've turned ugly from that point on if Tebow had led Florida on another scoring drive at that time. Could you imagine Florida with a 31-14 or 27-14 lead with eight or nine minutes left in the game? Instead, seven plays later Matt Flynn hit Demetrius Boyd for a touchdown to put LSU back into the game at 24-21
That record crowd.
Okay, beside the 4th-down conversions, that crowd was the biggest stat. A record 92, 910 kept their vocal chords in ribbons by keeping the energy in the stadium at a high level. QB Flynn would say, "They were unbelievable tonight. The atmosphere was electric. My hat is off to them." And as I mentioned in earlier posts, this might be the loudest LSU crowd I'd heard in my 25 years of following Tiger football.
What this means:
LSU is certain to be No. 1 in all the polls and will glow in the confidence of a come-from-behind win like this. But now they must come back down to Earth because as we've seen in all corners of the country this season, anything can happen. And facing Kentucky flinger Andre Woodson on the road next week will be a huge challenge.
Florida is still a great team. Only question is... will they be there for a re-match in Atlanta? My guess is they will. This doesn't seem like the kind of team with a mentality that will crumble. Can't wait to see what Game No. 2 in this series has to offer.