GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s him again.
Florida speedster Andre Debose returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown about six minutes into the game Saturday to give the Gators an early 7-0 lead over LSU.
The Tigers know Debose all too well.
The fifth-year senior receiver returned a kickoff 88 yards for a score against LSU in 2010 as a true freshman. The Tigers won that game in Gainesville 33-29.
Debose made some nifty moves this time, and Florida’s punt team created a wall to give him a massive lane down the sideline. He took it and made one last move, side-stepping linebacker Kendell Beckwith near the 10-yard line to get into the end zone.
That was his fifth kick or punt return for a touchdown, moving him into third place all-time in the Southeastern Conference history.
Debose tore an ACL and redshirted last season.
LSU’s offense created the hole early that led to the big play: Tight end Dillon Gordon was flagged for a personal foul after hitting an opponent late. Without the penalty, LSU would have had second-and-5. It turned into second-and-20.
The Tigers lost yards on back-to-back plays before Jamie Keehn boomed a 52-yard punt from his own end zone that Debose returned all the way to ignite the crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Brand new backfield
LSU opened Saturday night’s game with an entirely new backfield from the one that started a week earlier at Auburn.
Anthony Jennings was at quarterback instead of Brandon Harris; Melvin Jones replaced an injured Connor Neighbors at fullback; and Leonard Fournette was the tailback. It was the first start of Fournette’s college career.
The Advocate reported Friday that Neighbors remained in Baton Rouge while recovering from a sprained ankle. The team confirmed the news just before kickoff.
A source said Neighbors is expected to return for next week’s game against Kentucky.
Fournette scored on a 12-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and on a 2-yard leap in the third. He has six touchdowns this season.
Overall, freshmen have scored 16 of LSU’s 31 offensive touchdowns.
Representatives from the TaxSlayer (formerly Gator) and Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus (formerly Capital One) bowls made the short drives over from Jacksonville and Orlando to watch the game.
Ten NFL teams — including the New Orleans Saints — had scouts in the press box. Representing the Saints was director of college scouting Rick Reiprish.
Beckwith got the start at middle linebacker for D.J. Welter, his first career start.
Beckwith had been playing more than Welter over the last two games, and coach Les Miles said Beckwith would play more snaps than Welter from this point forward.
Welter, a senior who started every game last season and the first six this year, has struggled at times this year.
Running back Terrence Magee gave Miles the game ball in the locker room to commemorate his 100th LSU win. ... LSU, which lost 41-7 last week to Auburn, is 25-1 under Miles after a loss. ... LSU converted its first third down of the game Saturday, ending a horrid stretch. The Tigers failed to convert their previous 17 third-down attempts against SEC teams dating back to the fourth quarter against Mississippi State. … LSU is now 27-31-3 all-time against Florida, having won four of the last five against the Gators. Florida is LSU’s permanent SEC East opponent. ... LSU won the toss for the first time this season. The Tigers deferred. … Freshman defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao did not make the trip despite being cleared to play. Lealaimatafao punched through a window over the summer, severely cutting his left arm. … Freshman Jamal Adams, for the second straight game, replaced Dwayne Thomas as LSU’s nickelback. Thomas is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL. … Kenny Hilliard recorded his 27th career touchdown in the second quarter, tying him for 10th place in LSU history with LaBrandon Toefield.