Arden Key corrected himself.
In describing linebacker Kendell Beckwith’s importance to the LSU defense following Saturday's 16-10 loss to No. 21 Florida, the Tigers outside linebacker misspoke.
“A physical linebacker,” Key said of Beckwith. “He’s like the brains almost … Nah, nah. Not the brains. That’s Duke (Riley. Beckwith is) the physicality of the defense — the run stopper.”
Beckwith and Riley, a pair of seniors playing for the final time in Tiger Stadium on Saturday, have formed a formidable tandem at linebacker for a top-20 rushing defense. The duo entered senior day with a combined 163 tackles on the season. Beckwith ranks second in the conference in that category.
“He’s so versatile,” safety John Battle said. “It’s really like a D-tackle at linebacker.”
But the tenacity the 6-foot-3, 247-pound linebacker plays with was noticeably missing from a defense that still held its opponent to a touchdown or less for the eighth time this season.
Beckwith nursed a left knee injury he suffered at the end of the first quarter. Donnie Alexander replaced him, but the thunderous collisions Beckwith normally generates couldn’t be replicated, Key said.
“We didn’t have the big hits like (Beckwith) normally has,” he said. “Just the big hits and the energy he brings from not talking, just playing football.”
Missed tackles were rampant in the second half against Gators running back Jordan Scarlett, who gained 80 of his 108 rushing yards after halftime. Key called Scarlett one of the “top five best backs in the country.”
“We knew Scarlett was a strong runner, but we didn’t know he was that strong of a runner,” Key said. “He kept moving his feet, and we couldn’t wrap up. I don’t know what it was this game, but we just couldn’t wrap him up.”
Beckwith’s absence was most noticeable on the Gators' first of two field goal drives in the fourth quarter. Florida covered 70 yards on 15 plays, chewing 7 minutes, 45 seconds off the clock. Scarlett and backup tailback Lamical Perine combined for 64 yards on 11 carries.
“Going into the game, we knew Florida’s backs were as good as we face,” LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said. “We emphasized tackling all week. I think missing Kendell in there hurts us a little bit but uncharacteristic.”
Perine dragged LSU defenders on a 22-yard rumble to bring the Gators to the Tigers' 11-yard line. Still, LSU kept Florida out of the end zone, as the Gators recovered their own fumble on third-and-goal from the LSU 1-yard line.
“We’re like firefighters,” Battle said. “If there’s a fire, we got to go put it out. It kind of hurt us, but we buckled down and didn’t allow that touchdown to happen. I think that was a good job by us.”
Though it could only muster field goals in the red zone, Florida struck gold when backed up in its own end zone. With the Gators sitting at their 2-yard line, Florida receiver Tyrie Cleveland beat Donte Jackson in man-to-man coverage and then slipped Jackson’s tackle attempt for a 98-yard receiving touchdown. It was the second-longest passing play in Gators history.
Battle didn’t want to point fingers on the play.
“We just got to make that tackle,” he said. “The safety, that was me. I got to be more deep in the middle of the field. We just got to make that tackle, man.”