LSU completed the first half of its schedule with a perfect 6-0 record having hardly broken a sweat after a 41-11 thumping of No. 17 Florida on Saturday afternoon in breezy Tiger Stadium.
The No. 1-ranked Tigers (3-0 in the Southeastern Conference going into next week’s game at Tennessee) have won each of their first six games by double digits for the first time in school history. They’ve outscored opponents by an average score of 39-13.
Their most competitive scores came in a 40-27 victory over Oregon in the season opener and a 19-6 triumph at Mississippi State two weeks later, though neither game was much in doubt by the fourth quarter.
It was LSU’s fourth victory against a team ranked in the Top 25 at the time of the game.
“I like the idea that we’ve played quality opponents,” Tigers coach Les Miles said, “and had the killer instinct to really gain the advantage and then withhold the opportunity of victory from them. That’s finishing the game, and we did that.”
LSU raced to a 24-0 lead in the second quarter, but saw Florida get within 27-11 when freshman Jacoby Brissett threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Andre Debose, who had been bumped out of bounds by cornerback Morris Claiborne before returning to the field of play to give the Gators a glimmer of hope with 40 seconds left in the third quarter.
But the Tigers came right back. Jarrett Lee threw a 17-yard completion to Rueben Randle, a 4-yarder to Russell Shepard and a 57-yarder to Randle. That set up Jordan Jefferson’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Joseph. LSU added a 2-yard touchdown run by Alfred Blue for an exclamation point with 1:27 left in the game.
Florida beat LSU by the same margin in a 51-21 rout in 2008 in Gainesville, Fla. But that was a Gators team on its way to a BCS championship, which is much different than this team, which is 4-2 and 2-2 in the SEC after losing to the No. 1 team a week after losing to then-No. 3 Alabama, 38-10.
“Any time you beat Florida, you’re going to be happy,” senior guard Will Blackwell said. “We felt like we owed them something. Back in 2008, they beat us by 30 at their place, and we talked about that all week long. We wanted to repay that, and fortunately we got them by 30, so call it even, I guess.”
The Tigers followed a familiar formula by running the ball effectively to set up play-action passes, stopping the run and pressuring the opposing quarterback, winning the turnover battle and getting help from the special teams.
LSU rushed for a season-high 238 yards (on 49 carries). Spencer Ware, who was held out of much of the previous week’s 35-3 victory against Kentucky and was limited in practice early in the week because of a minor hamstring strain, appeared fully healed as he had 109 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
Lee completed 7 of 10 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown, and Jefferson completed 3 of 4 for 61 yards and a touchdown. Randle caught four passes for 127 yards.
“We wore out as the game wore on,” said Gators first-year coach Will Muschamp, who was an LSU assistant from 2001-04. “We didn’t force any turnovers, and we committed two. We’ve got to play better on the line of scrimmage. We gave up some big plays. We were trying to load the blocks in the run game, and we gave up some big plays.
Brissett started in his college debut because of ankle injuries to starter John Brantely and top reserve Jeff Driskel. Running backs Trey Burton and Chris Rainey also took snaps out of the Wildcat formation. The piecemeal attack had little effectiveness against the Tigers defense, totaling just 213 yards. Brissett completed 8 of 14 for 94 yards and touchdown with two interceptions.
The Gators got the ball first and Rainey ran for 2 yards, they committed a false start, Rainey rushed for 2 more and cornerback Tyrann Mathieu stopped Rainey for a 7-yard loss on a swing pass.
Two plays later, Lee threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Randle.
Then came more of the same. Three rushes netted 4 yards before Florida punted and LSU drove to Ware’s 2-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 lead less than nine minutes into the game.
“They came out and tried to set the run up, and I think that had a lot to do with their quarterback being down,” safety Brandon Taylor said. “I think, if they had had their quarterback, they would have aired it out a little more.
“Our D-line was getting in the backfield and pursuing very well. We feed off the D-line. We took that as a challenge that they were going to try and run the ball on us.”
The Tigers appeared headed to a 21-0 lead when Brad Wing ran 52 yards out of punt formation to the end zone, but he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct because he gestured briefly toward a Florida player at the 8-yard line. The penalty put the ball at the Gators’ 23, and LSU wound up with a 35-yard field goal by Drew Alleman and a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The crowd booed loudly, but Miles and Wing said the penalty was justified.
Jefferson made his first appearance of the game and completed his first pass of the season, a 37-yarder to Shepard. That set up Ware’s 8-yard touchdown run and a 24-0 lead. Jefferson was suspended for the first four games of the season after being arrested in relation to a bar fight near campus in August. He played for the first time after being reinstated the previous week and got in on seven snaps, but didn’t throw a pass.
The Gators got on the scoreboard when Caleb Sturgis kicked a 34-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the first half.
LSU increased the margin to 27-3 on Alleman’s 23-yard field goal with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter.
The Gators finally showed signs of life on offense as Brissett hooked up with Debose and Rainey ran for a two-point conversion to get within two scores, but LSU pulled away as it has been doing weekly.
About the only drama left after Joseph’s touchdown was whether Mathieu would find a way to add to his Heisman Trophy résumé. He did on the next possession, making an acrobatic interception of Brissett in the LSU end zone after Debose seemed to have a step on him.
“Debose only runs one route, and that’s the fly route,” Mathieu said. “I tried to bait the quarterback a little bit and make it seem like the receiver was open. The receiver had great speed, so I could not do too much. It was really about me getting my eyes on the ball and coming down with it.”
He made the play just as he has with two fumble returns, four forced fumbles and another interception this season. His ability to make big plays has been nearly as reliable as his team’s ability to rout its opponents during the first half of the season.
“I don’t think there’s any chance that the first half is any mark of where we’re at and where we want to be, because constant improvement needs to take place,” Miles said. “I think (the players) are looking forward. I think they’re ambitious about it. I think we’ve got to get some health back, but I like the position we’re in.”