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LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton (1) and linebacker Jacob Phillips (6) celebrate with cornerback Derek Stingley (24), who just intercepted a pass in the end zone during the second half of a game against Florida at Tiger Stadium Saturday Oct. 12, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won 42-28.

Paratroopers dropping out of the cool October sky. A full moon rising silently over a sold-out Tiger Stadium.

John Goodman in an LSU letterman’s jacket. Lee Corso in Mike the Tiger headgear. Offense, defense, drama, tension, guts, guile, determination, execution and, ultimately, one unforgettable gotta-have-it defensive play that produced the game’s lone turnover. And, quite possibly, salvaged LSU’s dreams of championship glory.

The night that would produce a 42-28 Tigers’ victory started with memories of championships past. LSU’s three national championship quarterbacks — Warren Rabb (1958), Matt Mauck (2003) and Matt Flynn (2007) — served as honorary guest captains.

Before current LSU quarterback Joe Burrow went out for the coin toss, Rabb patted him on the back, maybe to infuse the Heisman Trophy-contending signal-caller with some winning karma.

Even in the best of times, Florida has been a thorn in the Tigers’ paw. It took a late Tommy Davis field goal in 1958 to beat the Gators here 10-7. A scuffling Florida team handed the 2003 Tigers their only loss here, 19-7. And it took a mess of fourth-down conversions for LSU to beat Florida 28-24 in 2007 in Tiger Stadium.

For most of this game, it was a lot like those games.

“We always believed we would win,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said.

On a Louisiana election night, that opinion would not have captured enough votes to avoid a runoff.

The game’s first 34 minutes could hardly have played better into Florida’s favor. After an opening three-and-out, the Gators mounted four 75-yard touchdown drives to take a 28-21 lead with 10:54 left in the third quarter.


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Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, with metal bracing up his MCL sprained knee from last week’s 24-13 win over Auburn, proved more accurate and mobile than thought possible. He actually out-passed Burrow 310-293 (Emory Jones also threw a 1-yard TD pass), though that was largely because the Gators subscribed to the theory that the best defense against LSU was to keep the ball away from the Tigers’ offense.

THE story line coming into this game was LSU’s FBS-leading scoring offense (54.6 points per game) against Florida’ Southeastern Conference-leading scoring defense (9.5 points per game). In a battle of “They haven’t seen anything like this,” LSU won, but appeared in danger of losing the war as Florida peeled minute after minute after minute off the clock.

In the end, the Tigers’ offense was not only potent but exceptionally proficient.

On Burrow’s surgical 21-of-24 passing and a running game led by Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 134 yards and two touchdowns, the Tigers scored 42 points only 48 offensive plays. And that included the couple of plays they ran after stopping the Gators in the game’s final moments.

Because of Florida’s well-crafted attack, the game was still in play in the fourth quarter with LSU up 35-28 after a 33-yard touchdown run by Tyrion Davis-Price late in the third.

In one of its few failures, the LSU offense punted, giving the Gators the ball at their 8 with 12:32 remaining. After finally bringing more pressure and forcing some stops in the second half, LSU’s defense was in retreat again as the Gators marched to the Tigers’ 16.

From there Trask floated a pass into the end zone. Freshman cornerback Derek Stingley, in coverage, somehow contorted his body back to the ball and made a diving interception in the end zone with 7:26 left. Four plays later, LSU finally put some daylight between itself and Florida as Burrow hit a streaking JaMarr Chase with a 54-yard touchdown strike for the final points.

“We didn’t score touchdowns on two possessions in the red zone in the fourth quarter,” Mullen said clinically. “If we score, maybe we’re still playing.”

The whole day looked like a cautionary tale for LSU, especially after No. 3 Georgia went tumbling with a shocking 20-17 double-overtime home loss to 2-3 South Carolina.

Regardless of that outcome, and regardless of how pliable the Tigers’ defense looked for much of this game, LSU proved it’s worthy of being considered among the top two or three teams in the country. Pair this win with the victory at then-No. 9 Texas on Sept. 7, and LSU is the only team going with two wins over top-10 opponents. Yes, that Texas win got dinged by the Longhorns’ 34-27 loss Saturday to Oklahoma, but it was still a more impressive road win than any other contender has.

Meanwhile, the ticking you hear growing louder and louder is the countdown until LSU plays at Alabama on Nov. 9. Yes, the Tigers have two tough SEC West games looming at Mississippi State and at home against Auburn, but who isn’t salivating at the prospect of Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa dueling?

That said, for LSU’s offense to have a chance to crack the Alabama victory code in that one, the defense will have to find a way to get better.

“We’re 6-0,” Orgeron said. “We’ll enjoy tonight. But on ‘Tell the Truth Monday,’ there will be things (on tape) we don’t like.”

Coach O then related a story of what Burrow said to the team in the locker room afterward.

“He said, ‘Good is not enough. We have to be great,’ ” O said.

“We want to be great.”

Great may still elude LSU. But very good and undefeated isn’t a bad place to be.