By Chris Macaluso
Special to LSUsports.net
BATON ROUGE -- Two simple statistics told the story of why most of the 92,077 fans in Tiger Stadium walked away frowning Saturday afternoon. LSU had 14 first downs. LSU committed 13 penalties. Those two numbers combined with a strong Florida defensive attack added up to an upsetting 19-7 loss for the sixth-ranked Tigers.
The win improved Florida's record to 4-3 overall, 2-2 in the SEC while LSU falls to 5-1 overall 2-1 in conference play.
The Tiger defensive squad put forth another fantastic effort, sacking young Florida quarterback Chris Leak six times and holding the Gators to 310 yards on offense -- including 62 yards on a rush when the game was in-hand for Florida. But Leak was able to find open receivers in long-yardage situations throughout the game while avoiding interceptions after throwing seven picks in his first six games.
Tiger starter Matt Mauck was not as fortunate, however, throwing two interceptions and no touchdown passes. Mauck finished the game with 19 completions on 33 attempts for 231 yards. Leak finished 18-of-30 for 229 yards and two touchdowns.
"We knew we were playing a very dangerous team," said Tiger head coach Nick Saban. "You have to give (Florida) a lot of credit for the intensity they played with. We are obviously very disappointed in the way we played."
The Tigers won the toss and received the opening kick but appeared rusty in their initial drive. Skyler Green shook off some of that rust, however, by taking Florida's first punt through the Gator coverage for an 80-yard score giving the Tigers a 7-0 advantage with 11:51 to play in the first quarter. Green's return, combined with his 62-yard punt return for a touchdown against Arizona earlier this season, made him the first Tiger to have two punt returns for scores in the same season since Todd Kinchen had two in 1991.
Florida wasted little time in recovering from Green's explosive run with an impressive 80-yard drive capped by a 22-yard touchdown pass from Chris Leak to tailback Ran Carthon with 6:51 to play in the quarter. The point after tied the score at 7-7. It was the first touchdown surrendered by the Tiger defense in the first half this season.
It appeared as if the Tiger defense would surrender another touchdown three minutes later with some help from a 44-yard interception return by Gator cornerback Keiwan Ratliffe from the Mauck's arm giving Florida a first down inside the LSU 30. But the defense stiffened on three straight plays from the Tiger 10-yard line and held Florida to a 29-yard field goal with 3:17 left in the first quarter.
Mauck and the rest of the Tiger offense struggled mightily in the first half against what was supposed to be a decimated Florida defense. LSU ran just 27 plays on offense before halftime, amassing a mild 103 yards and six first downs.
The Gators appeared poised to score another touchdown early in the second quarter after Leak led his team from its own 26 to the LSU 1-yard line. But Florida tailback DeShawn Wynn fumbled while trying to leap into the endzone. Linebacker Adrian Mayes recovered the ball at the five giving the Tiger offense a chance to move the ball beyond the shadow of its own goal line.
After the Tiger offense fizzled again, Gator place kicker Matt Leach drilled a career-long 50-yard field goal with 5:37 left in the half to cap a six play, 32-yard drive and give Florida a 13-7 advantage.
LSU's offensive woes continued early in the second half. Penalties and poor passes knocked the Tigers back while starting tailback Joseph Addai sat on the sidelines with an injured knee.
Meanwhile, Florida managed to find just enough holes in the Tiger defense to continue to score. The Gators scored first in the second half as Leak found a wide open Ciatrick Fason over the middle of the field for a 35-yard touchdown with 5:21 left in the third capping a six-play, 48-yard drive. The try for two failed giving the Gators a 19-7 lead.
LSU drove the ball inside the 50-yard line early in the fourth quarter but that drive stalled at the Gators 39 as the Tigers turned the ball over on downs after Mauck was stopped a yard shy on an option run on fourth down.
The Tigers had another chance with 8:00 left in the game to move the ball into scoring range as Mauck completed consecutive passes for first downs to move the ball past midfield. But Ratliff ended that threat with his second interception of the game giving the Gators the ball at their own 37-yard line.
LSU had one more opportunity late in the fourth to score but wideout Devery Henderson fumbled at the Florida 31-yard line after hauling in a 42-yard pass from Mauck. Leak ended the game by taking a knee inside the LSU 30-yard line.
"The players will respond to this in the right way," Saban said. "It's too bad you have to have something bad happen to get you moving in the right direction but hopefully our willingness to learn and responsibility that everyone needs to take to become a good football team will be how we respond to this."
LSU returns to action next week at South Carolina. Florida travels to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks.
The game time for LSU-USC will be announced on Monday.
LSU HEAD COACH NICK SABAN
"We knew we were playing a very dangerous team, like playing a caged animal in terms of what was on the line for their season so you have to give them a lot of credit for the intensity they played with and the way they played. We are obviously very disappointed in the way we played in the game. Obviously, I'm responsible for that. We didn't have the type of intensity that we needed, didn't have the sense of urgency about what we were doing. We didn't play very smart in the game. We had 13 penalties and I swear we had more than that. It was very disappointing. I was a little concerned about how we would come back after the bye week. We didn't seem to have the intensity in practice that we've always had and we kind of carried it over in the game today.
"It's too bad that something bad has to happen for people to be willing to learn and actually change of what they are thinking and how they are thinking in terms of how they need to go about things. I feel like in this league like I've said time and time again. I tried to say it on Monday, I tried to say it on Saturday, and I tried to say it every day of the week. This is a good football team we are playing. They've got a lot of good football players and if we don't bring our A game we are going to struggle in the game. That's the way this league is and when you have a team that has a lot of pride, they don't have a lot of quit in them and you'd better be ready to play. We looked ready to play early in the game. Some critical things, It's a funny game. Maybe if we intercept the ball that we drop and run it back it might be a different game because their confidence is a little shaken. But we didn't make the play and they went in and scored.
"Defensively we gave up some big plays, but we didn't play that bad. We got caught in a couple of pressures. They scored on two big plays. We didn't move the ball with any kind of consistency on offense. We didn't run it very effectively, we didn't run it with any kind of consistency. We've got a lot of improving to do. Our only score was on special teams. We've got to do a better job as coaches. The players will respond in the right way to this and too bad you've got to have something bad happen to get you moving in the right direction but hopefully our wiliness to learn and responsibility that everyone needs to take to become a good football team will be how we respond to this.
LSU OFFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
QB MATT MAUCK
"We put ourselves behind the eight ball every time and it's hard to convert first and 20, second and 30 and things like that. Really it was just penalties. For some reason we just could not execute at all and it's really disappointing as a team. Coach Fisher and Coach Saban always say we should be motivated when we win. You don't want a loss to motivate you. But, unfortunately, in that situation, that's what we had happen. Now we're going to have to go back and refocus and really concentrate on executing and getting better in practice. The littlest things make such a big difference as far as stopping drives."
CENTER BEN WILKERSON
"I think we played well as an offensive line. The blocking was there, we had some good protection and opened up some holes. Overall we I think we did well. We also made some mistakes. Like I said we just have to refocus and build off the good things and work on the bad."
WR MICHAEL CLAYTON
"I think for the most part everybody's making mistakes every other play. One play it's one guy making the mistake, the next play it's another guy. It's the team. It's hurting the team. Minimizing bad plays has to be the great thing we have to work on because obviously tonight, you know, first and 20, third and 30 or whatever it might be. That's the hardest challenge in football, to get that accomplished. We have to come out where we can get those first and 10s."
FLORIDA HEAD COACH RON ZOOK
"Well as I have been saying all along, we are a good football team. We made some mistakes, we made some mistakes today, but I think we will continue to improve and to continue to believe. We just happened to beat a good football team today."
On the play of Ciatrick Fason
"You never know when your opportunity is going to be there, when you are going to have the opportunity to be the guy. When it does happen you have to be prepared and you have to do it. I am very, very proud of Ciatrick. I'm proud of what he did. He had some big plays today. I'm just really, really happy for him."
On the play of the defense
"Our defense played extremely well. Once again they are just getting better and better. They are playing with emotion. We are fortunate we are playing with a lot of guys to keep them fresh and they believe and that is the big thing."
"We have a lot of football to play. I am not going to get caught up in all that stuff. We have an awfully tough game next week going to Arkansas, and we are going to have to be ready to play next week."
LSU DEFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
DE Marcus Spears
On the play of the defense
"We could have done a lot more to affect the game, but I think we got to him (Florida QB Chris Leak) a lot and we needed to get to him more for the outcome to be different. We'll go in and look at the mistakes that we made and try to make them better for next week."
On the defensive line getting pressure on Florida QB Chris Leak
"That was very important, you know, we try to do that every week, week in and week out. We try to affect the quarterback as much as possible. We got to him a couple of times, but it just wasn't good enough. Anytime you lose, you feel like everything you did wasn't good enough. So we'll just have to come back and refocus and try to get better."
CB Corey Webster
On Leak's ability to make big plays
"We always knew he would try to make big plays like that because he never likes to run the ball, you know, he would just scramble and throw the ball. We knew he was capable of doing things like that."
On the discipline of the defense in the game
"We gave up a couple of penalties and stuff like that. It's just not paying attention to small things. I don't know if it just comes from being off last week or anything like that. We are not tackling well, either. We didn't tackle real well on defense, and I don't know if that comes from the off week and not tackling everyday. Maybe we should do some drills or something like that. I don't know what it was."
FLORIDA PLAYER QUOTES
WR O.J. SMALL
On the success on third down
"When third down did come around everyone was like 'We have got to get this, it is a must-win situation'. Whoever could make a big play just had to step up their game a notch and that is what we did."
On beating the No. 6 team on the road
"It is a big win but it is not like we are shocked or that we thought we could not win. We came into this game with the attitude that we could win. That was a good team, but I guess things just went our way tonight. This was a good, solid game."
QB CHRIS LEAK
"This is a great win. We came in here to win. LSU is a great team, an awesome team but we just came in here and played our hearts out and had fun. I will be good tomorrow, I will not be to sore. I feel the same after every game, but being sore is just part of football. I just kept playing because that is what Coach Zook tells us to do. LSU's defense did a great job but we just kept playing."
"That defense was tough but I just had to keep playing and keep my composure and keep going. You just have to keep trying to make positive plays."
Daryl Dixon FS
On the Florida's secondary coverage of LSU's receivers
"That's contributed to the practice field. The scout team gave us great looks and Coach Strong had some great calls. We kept them in front of us and that's what we came out to do--to limit the big play. Fortunately, they had a big play and it got called back. It was all short stuff and we kept them in front of us and that was one of our main goals."
On playing the best defense Florida has all year
"I think we brought it together today, especially against a good offensive team ranked sixth in the country and coming into their place. Like Coach Strong says all the time, 'You've got to pack your defense when you're on the road.' And we came big."
Keiwan Ratliff CB
On frustrating Matt Mauck
"We sensed it early on because we came out with a whole new game plan this week. I mean, we started from scratch in practice this week. We wanted to come out and try to confuse him and try to make him beat us with his arm instead of them running the ball. We took away the run early so we forced them to throw the ball."
On the first half of Florida's season
"We knew that a few plays here and there throughout the season and we'd be sitting right here undefeated right now talking about bigger and better things. But we didn't come to play in some first halves and some second halves and we just didn't put the complete game together."
On the defensive coverage used in the game
"Sometimes when the corners would jump off, we would stay deep. Sometimes we would stay deep and jump off. We just switched it up a little bit with the corners and safety's assignments."