GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Danny Etling rolled to his right, looking for a receiver, looking for the first-down marker.
He ducked his head, lowered a shoulder into a Florida defender and lunged for it. His helmet popped off and made the first down, but after further review, his body was ruled a half-yard short.
LSU had to punt. Etling failed, yes. But he and his team, imperfect, banged up, green as grass on the offensive line, came here and put the “Fighting” back in Fighting Tigers.
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They went home dodging Hurricane Nate, an unwelcome visitor that was likely to send them on a roundabout route back to Baton Rouge. But after this particular 17-16 victory, the Tigers probably could have flown home without need of jet propulsion.
After so much second-guessing and doubt, a season in which the Tigers have looked like more like a collection of individual talents than a cohesive unit, they were a team at last.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — All of those meetings last week did get LSU on the same page after all.
“Don’t blink,” LSU guard Garrett Brumfield said. “That was our motto this week. Next man up. Do your job.
“We fought through a lot of adversity.”
Adversity? This week was the poster child for adversity.
The days between Troy and Florida were perhaps the most tumultuous for LSU football since Les Miles was fired last September. There were players being called out, players calling players-only meetings, meetings between Ed Orgeron and his coordinators and athletic director Joe Alleva.
After the week they had, somehow, somewhere, on some ledger, this one should count for more than a mere one-point Southeastern Conference road victory.
“I felt everyone was on the same page,” said linebacker Devin White, who tipped away Feleipe Franks’ fourth-down pass to effectively end the game with 1:39 remaining. “Everyone knew what was at stake.”
Speaking of stakes, despite all evidence to the contrary, a load of “smart money” piled up on LSU in the hours before kickoff. That sent the Tigers out of their locker room a surprising three-point favorite, according to the Las Vegas lines. Those guys in the desert know what they’re talking about, but still it seemed a fantasy to believe LSU would shove all of its self-inflicted problems aside AND go on the road to beat a quality — though also flawed — team in Florida. A Florida team still eager to punish LSU for the whole Hurricane Matthew controversy from last year.
In Louisiana, that issue was reduced to a footnote by Hurricane Nate and the firestorm of doubt surrounding Orgeron, his staff and team.
The shoe is on the other foot, and the Tigers haven't forgotten the sound bite.
As big as anything, Orgeron delivered on his promise that he was taking his hands off the helm and handing control back to offensive coordinator Matt Canada, this after the Tigers ran a very un-Canada-like offense the first half against Troy. But how could it function behind an offensive line that during the first half quickly was reduced to trying to function behind three true freshmen? Some of these lads needed permission slips from their moms to go on an out-of-state field trip.
Somehow, it worked.
Cue Gainesville native Tom Petty:
“Baby, even the losers get lucky sometimes.”
No, not losers. Losers quit. The Tigers may have lost some games this year. They might lose some more. But they gave it ye olde college try here at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Steve Spurrier-Florida Field and were rewarded.
Even the Old Ball Coach, who loved to beat LSU more than any team not named Tennessee, probably had to smirk and cock his head to one side and say, “Yeah, the Tigers played hard. They played hard.”
They also played the Canada offense. You know, the one he was paid $1.5 million to run? Through its first five games, LSU had unveiled only glimpses and shades of it, with, as Coach O admitted, a serious Daytona 500-like restrictor plate clamped on it last week.
This week, Orgeron relented. The result was a successful mixture of jet sweeps, intricate dance moves that we’ll call motions and shifts and the odd shovel pass. Even if some of LSU’s “Let me see some ID, kid” offensive linemen weren’t entirely sure what was going on the whole time, the Tigers built a 17-3 lead early in the third quarter on a 2-yard Danny Etling touchdown pass to Tory “Who’s that?” Carter.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — LSU’s thin offensive line became even thinner during Saturday’s key Sout…
“It’s been a week of soul-searching,” Orgeron said at halftime on LSU radio, “but the guys have done the job.”
Did they ever. It’s hard to remember a time LSU has come through with a victory it needed so desperately. That its coach needed so desperately.
On a rainy, windy night back in Louisiana, it was a win that pierced the gloom.
Even if the Tigers didn’t cover the spread.