LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham runs past Florida defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy and linebacker Darrin Kitchens, No. 49, in the first half Saturday. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, October 12, 2013 8:18 PM
BATON ROUGE — Hard to tell if LSU’s defense is back or if Florida’s offense is just bad.
Either way the Tigers will take the results of Saturday’s match and run with them.
LSU was able to plug the holes that had leaked yards and points all season to keep its national championship hopes above water.
The 10th-ranked Tigers’ 17-6 win over Florida keeps them in line for a shot at the Southeastern Conference title and the big dream of the Bowl Championship Series crown. But at 6-1, 3-1 in the SEC, there is still more bailing to do.
As for the 17th-ranked Gators (4-2, 3-1), their second loss in league play leaves them on the outside looking in for the East title.
“If we continue to play like this, I don’t see anybody else beating us the rest of the year,” said LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson.
Top-ranked Alabama might have something to say about, that but that is for a later story.
Saturday wasn’t about the future, it was about the past.
The game had an old-school look to it, that is, after Florida rolled 60 yards on its opening drive to take a 3-0 lead on a 44-yard field goal by Francisco Velez.
After that, the LSU defense took over, bending a few times but never breaking. And just when the Gators tried to make things interesting in the fourth quarter, the Tigers defense took a page out of its past.
Down 14-3, Florida moved to first-and-goal at the LSU 7 early in the fourth. Three plays lost 3 yards and Velez was forced to boot a 27-yard field goal.
Then, after Chris Delahoussaye hit on a 31-yard field goal to put LSU up two scores again, the Gators moved into scoring position. But back-to-back sacks ended Florida’s drive with 3:51 left and all of its hope of a comeback.
“We are still LSU,” Johnson said. “LSU hasn’t gone anywhere. We are still a tough team that plays tough defense. That is our history. That is us.”
It hasn’t been for much of the season, but over the last six quarters the Tigers have allowed nine points. This after getting torched for most of the early campaign.
“This was kind of how it is supposed to be,” said LSU head coach Les Miles. “If this holds up we are going to be awfully good.”
That’s a big if to those who have watched the season unfold. But Saturday, in front of 92,980 inside Tiger Stadium, LSU found its power game.
Sophomore Jeremy Hill rushed for 121 yards on 19 carries, doing the tough work in the fourth quarter when the Tigers wanted to run the ball and clock.
“That’s the way we like to play,” Hill said. “We want to play hard-nosed. We want to play tough. That is the way we practice.
“Every back wants the ball in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line. We want to have the team count on us. We want to pound it.”
A pair of long drives in the second quarter were capped by 1-yard touchdown runs as LSU dominated the line of scrimmage. J.C. Copeland took the first one in and true freshman backup quarterback Anthony Jennings carried over the second.
“They kind of beat us at our own game,” said Florida defensive lineman Damien Jacobs.
LSU finished with 175 yards on the ground.
“When the offense is playing physical like that, we want to get back out there and do the same,” Johnson said.
As for starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, it was not his best night. While he made a few big plays (9 of 17, 152 and a fumble), this was no Heisman showcase game. This was down and dirty, the way the Tigers used to love it.
“I missed some throws out there,” Mettenberger said. “It is great that our defense was able to step up the way it did. We needed them today.”
This was not a day when Mettenberger was needed. Florida’s offense wasn’t going to win any shootout, so the Tigers played their old game.
“Controlling the game was the key,” Miles said. “Defense did its job, we were able to run the ball, Zach controlled the game.”
But it was the defense that won the game.
“They are maturing,” Miles said. “They understand what they are supposed to do.”
After the opening drive, LSU allowed 180 of total offense, collecting four sacks from four players.
“We wanted to get after them,” Johnson said. “It starts with us big boys up front. We knew we could go out there and stop them.”
Now the big question is, Can the Tigers run the table?
“I don’t see why not, if we play like this,” Johnson said.