The Florida Gators have meant a lot of things to college football over a glittering past three decades.
Rarely has Florida been reduced to a measuring stick between two of its betters.
But that was the case on a sun-drenched Saturday in Tiger Stadium, when the No. 17-ranked Gators paid a call on No. 1 LSU on its way out of the top 25.
There wasn’t much question whether Florida could win. The Gators were starting a true freshman at quarterback in Jacoby Brissett, their third- or fourth-stringer depending how you judge UF’s desperate situation at signal caller.
The real question was how well LSU stacked up against the top two other national championship contenders, Alabama and Oklahoma.
This game was a referendum on LSU’s worthiness as the nation’s No. 1 team. Oklahoma (5-0) was the preseason No. 1, and Alabama (6-0) has been touted by many as America’s best team this side of the Green Bay Packers.
A week after Alabama blasted Florida 38-10 in Gainesville, Fla., and on a day when No. 3 and previous No. 1 Oklahoma stampeded No. 11 Texas 55-17 in Dallas, the nation was watching to see how the Tigers stacked up as a national championship contender.
The answer: To quote Les Miles, “LSU is a damn good football team.”
To be fair, the Tigers owed a helmet sticker to Alabama for tenderizing the Gators. Bama knocked Florida’s top two quarterbacks out of this game: senior John Brantley and his replacement, freshman Jeff Driskel, both with ankle injuries.
That left the Gators with Brissett, though they amply sprinkled in running backs Trey Burton and Jeff Demps in Wildcat formations. Except for one field goal drive in the second quarter and a 65-yard bomb from Brissett to Andre Debose in third when the Tigers led 27-3, the Gators could do little to threaten the Tigers.
It’s a far cry from three years ago, when Florida started quickly and overwhelmed LSU 51-21 in The Swamp, one in a string of uber-dominant wins the Gators shoved down the Tigers’ throats the past 20 years. The programs have done a role reversal, leaving one to wonder when new UF coach Will Muschamp can make the Gators a national power again.
On this day, it was Muschamp’s team that was overwhelmed and outcoached.
Take the fake punt by LSU’s Brad Wing for a touchdown in the second quarter. The Gators were caught completely flat-footed, the only thing saving them was a flag on Wing for taunting at the 8-yard line.
The officials made the right call by the letter of the rule, but it is a bad rule. The 15-yard penalty for what Wing did shouldn’t cost any team a touchdown. Tack on 15 yards to the extra point or the ensuing kickoff, but not that. On another day, it could have cost LSU a game.
But not today. On this day, LSU came across a wounded Gator and put it out of its misery, another victim on the way to that showdown at Alabama on Nov. 5.