GAINESVILLE — Knocked down, pushed around and beaten up for 30 minutes, the Florida Gators offense had been at the mercy of LSU's physical defense all day long.
But as this marquee matchup of top 10 teams looked increasingly one sided early in the second half, the punchless Gators began to fight back.
No. 4 LSU did not know what hit it — and would never recover — as the No. 10 Gators stood up to one of the bullies of the SEC and walked away with the program's biggest win in a few years, a 14-6 decision on Saturday before an announced crowd of 90,824 in the Swamp.
Behind the indefatigable running of senior Mike Gillislee, a goal line stand by a defense that grew stronger as the game wore on and the unwavering coaching philosophy of Will Muschamp, Florida defeated a top 10 foe in the regular season for the first time since a 13-3 win against LSU in 2009 and snapped the Tigers streak of 18 regular-season wins.
"It was awesome," fifth-year senior offensive lineman James Wilson said. "That's why we play four quarters. That's been our motto.
"That's what we said at halftime. That's what we said at every halftime, actually."
The Gator' third second-half comeback in four SEC victories kept Florida (5-0, 4-0 SEC) in first place atop the SEC East.
The win also continued to validate the direction of the Gators under Muschamp, their second-year coach.
Muschamp, a longtime defensive coordinator, wants to instill a hard-nosed style on both sides of the ball at a school long known for speed and finesse on offense.
But at halftime, the Gators had gained just 47 yards, including 16 on the ground. LSU's five sacks of sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel for a loss of 43 yards cut heavily into Florida's running numbers, but the Tigers' defensive front also had had its way in the trenches more often than not.
Still, Muschamp felt if Florida stuck with the game plan, some creases and soft spots would begin to open up.
"We just had to be patient," he said.
When the run game finally began to gain traction, few outside the Florida sideline were expecting it.
At the time Florida inherited the ball with 9:03 remaining in the third quarter and trailing 6-0, the Gators had managed just 64 yards on eight possessions. But on the next two series, the Florida put together touchdown drives of 85 and 77 yards to turn the game on its head.
Gillislee led the way.
The senior from DeLand had just 34 yards on 12 carries by halftime, but would finish career highs in yards (146) and carries (34).
"That's what Gilly does, he just moves the chains," Muschamp said. "Over and over again, you get tired of tackling him.
"I kept telling [offensive coordinator] Brent [Pease], just stick with the run, we're going to be fine."
Coaches continued to send Gillislee into the teeth of the Tigers defense on the game-turning touchdown drive. Gillislee ripped off back-to-back seven-yard runs to set the tone as openings suddenly began to appear in LSU's defense.
"I just kept pounding the ball and doing what I was told to do," Gillislee said.
To complement Gillislee, Driskel worked the flanks with bubble screens to tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Omarius Hines, each for 14 yards. Hines picked up another 14-yard gain on an end-around, setting up a 12-yard touchdown run by Gillislee. He hit a seam in the LSU defense that had not been there earlier in the game.
Gillislee would cap the Gators' next drive with another 12-yard touchdown run. At this point, the Tigers' tongues were hanging from their mouths and the momentum had shifted for good.
"I saw it in some guys' eyes," Gillisee. "I was kind of tired myself, but I knew I wasn't going to give up."
A season ago, Florida wilted during a 41-11 loss at LSU, which held the ball for more than 24 minutes of the second half.
This time, the Gators, who held the ball more than 20 minutes of the second half, got some sweet revenge, closing the game with 22 straight running plays.
"They couldn't stop us," junior guard Jon Halapio said. "We wanted to come in and run the ball down their throats."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun