Ga­tors’ de­fense de­liv­ers in up­set

Franks cat­e­go­rizes show­ing against No. 5 LSU as ‘big-time win’

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - By Edgar Thomp­son Or­lando Sen­tinel

GAINESVILLE — A pre-game, locker-room pep talk from Florida leg­ends Tim Te­bow and Danny Wuerf­fel of­fered the Ga­tors in­spi­ra­tion.

Mo­ments later, coach Dan Mullen pro­vided the en­ergy to a sell­out crowd, whip­ping it into a frenzy while he hopped up and down in the south end-zone tun­nel and waved his arms like a man pos­sessed.

The stage was a set for an emo­tional and mem­o­rable day in the Swamp.

Mullen and the No. 22 Ga­tors did not dis­ap­point dur­ing Satur­day’s 27-19 win over the No. 5 LSU Tigers.

“We keep find­ing dif­fer­ent ways to win foot­ball games,” Mullen said. “We get punched right in the face and we don't flinch. That's some­thing that's huge for this team.

“Huge win for us. Huge win for us go­ing for­ward.”

With Te­bow and the 2008 na­tional-ti­tle team among the an­nounced crowd of 90,283, the Ga­tors (5-1, 2-1 SEC) and Tigers treated on­look­ers to an old-fash­ioned SEC slugfest fol­lowed by a fourth-quar­ter track meet.

Sopho­more safety Brad Ste­wart, a New Or­leans na­tive, sealed the win on an in­ter­cep­tion re­turned for a

25-yard touch­down with

1:45 re­main­ing in the game, send­ing the Swamp into pan­de­mo­nium.

“Shoutout to Ga­tor Na­tion be­cause we couldn’t hear a thing af­ter that in­ter­cep­tion or the drive af­ter that,” Ste­wart said.

Mullen, the team’s of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in

2005-08, re­mem­bers those days well.

“There's a Florida I know, there's a Florida that I love,” the 46-year-old said. “It was that way tonight. The Swamp was an in­tim­i­dat­ing place to come play.”

Ste­wart’s pick was LSU quar­ter­back Joe Bur­row’s first in­ter­cep­tion of the sea­son. The Ohio State trans­fer suf­fered an­other pick to end the next drive along with an un­beaten start for the Tigers (5-1, 2-1).

Ste­wart’s play high­lighted a wild fourth quar­ter that fea­tured the Ga­tors’ most im­pres­sive drive of the sea­son and ended with UF's fourth straight win and its first against a top-10 op­po­nent since 2015.

“Just a big-time win,” quar­ter­back Feleipe Franks said. “It feels so good.”

With Te­bow in town to be in­ducted into the UF Ring of Honor and the Ga­tors’ trail­ing 19-14, Franks show­cased the kind of ver­sa­til­ity Te­bow dis­played dur­ing his dec­o­rated ca­reer. On the game-win­ning drive, Franks com­pleted a 26-yard pass, had a 12-yard run and caught a 15-yard pass on a throw­back from tight end Lu­cas Krull to set up Lam­i­cal Per­ine’s 2-yard touch­down run.

The touch­down put UF ahead 20-19 and was the game’s fourth lead change, the kind of back and forth that has come to be ex­pected in this long­stand­ing cross­over ri­valry.

“That was a heavy­weight fight out there,” Mullen Florida de­fen­sive line­man Jabari Zu­niga (92) tack­les LSU run­ning back Clyde Ed­wards-He­laire (22) in the sec­ond quar­ter Satur­day in Gainesville.

said.

The last four meet­ings were de­cided by a touch­down or fewer. A goal-line stand earned the Ga­tors a win in 2016 and a missed ex­tra point handed the Tigers’ a 17-16 de­ci­sion last sea­son in the Swamp.

Along with Te­bow’s in­duc­tion, his 2008 na­tion­alti­tle team was hon­ored at

half­time.

UF’s play­ers wanted to make those Ga­tors proud and show the progress the pro­gram has made un­der Mullen.

“I talk about the Ga­tor stan­dard. These are the guys that set that stan­dard,” Mullen said of Te­bow and the 2008 team.

But on the game’s open­ing drive, LSU quickly sucked the life out of the Swamp.

LSU at­tacked UF’s de­fense by go­ing up-tempo and iden­ti­fy­ing a weak­ness, backup cor­ner­back C.J. McWil­liams. McWil­liams al­lowed three com­plete passes, be­gin­ning with a

38-yard catch by Justin Jef­fer­son. The fast-paced,

10-play drive cov­ered 75 yards in just 3:17, cul­mi­nat­ing in 4-yard touch­down run by tail­back Nick Bros­sette.

The Ga­tors failed to an­swer on of­fense. Things soon looked bleak as the Tigers drove the field again. But on first-and-10 from the UF 28, Ga­tor pass rusher Jachai Po­lite turned the cor­ner and strip-sacked Bur­row to force the Tigers’ fourth turnover of the sea­son.

The play would change the game’s com­plex­ion. The Tigers stalled and the Ga­tors came to life.

Spe­cial teams would be key.

Twice, punter Tommy Townsend pinned the Tigers deep in their ter­ri­tory. The sec­ond time, Townsend’s punt left LSU start­ing from its 5.

A third-down sack by line­backer Vosean Joseph and poor punt by LSU gave the Ga­tors the ball on the Tigers’ 43. From there, UF rode tail­back Per­ine, who grinded out 26 tough yards on seven car­ries. Per­ine ended the nine-play drive with a 1-yard touch­down run with 12:30 to go in the first half.

LSU con­tin­ued to move the ball, twice reach­ing into UF ter­ri­tory. But the Tigers only man­aged three points, which came on a 33-yard field goal by Cole Tracy for a 10-7 lead.

De­spite the sat­is­fy­ing vic­tory, the Ga­tors also are not get­ting ahead of them­selves.

“It's an­other step for us,” de­fen­sive back Chauncey Gard­ner-John­son said. “We don't dwell on one game.”

BRONTE WITTPENN/TAMPA BAY TIMES

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