Saturday, October 11, 2008

Florida 51,LSU 21

I went through a cynic phase in high school. It was nothing flashy or ostentatious. I didn't do the Goth thing, didn't write (much) angsty poetry about the futility of existence. I just made it a point to tell everyone who asked (or, really, didn't ask) that I was, at heart, a cynic, a pessimist. I said cynical things, smirked knowingly when others expressed optimism and generally looked down my nose at my less enlightened classmates.

It was a front, of course, the somewhat pathetic manner in which my teenage rebellion manifested. Some booze, some smoke, some have unprotected sex with multiple partners. I quoted Nietzsche. Safer for me, but probably more annoying to my teachers.

The reality is, I'm an idealist at heart. Not a foolish idealist, but still, I'm someone who generally expects good things to happen. So while there's a fair amount to nitpick about Florida's evisceration of the third-ranked LSU Tigers (no quarterback pressure, issues in the secondary, a somewhat schizophrenic passing game), I'm going to ignore them. And shout very, very loudly.

Because this was an extraordinary performance, a game that featured top-notch performances from multiple players and just about every unit. Maligned offensive coordinator Dan Mullen called the game flawlessly. The doubtful defensive line didn't get much pressure on QB Jarrett Lee but dominated LSU's massive offensive line on just about every running play. Florida's patchwork, struggling 0-line repeatedly pancaked a vaunted defense.

And most importantly, the Gators continually gashed LSU in the running game, and they did it with Percy Harvin running the ball just twice. The hero was diminutive speed demon Jeff Demps, who put up 129 yards on 10 carries, scored a touchdown and broke a long run of 42 yards. Demps is listed at 5-8, 176 pounds, and he's probably an inch or two shorter. And yet Mullen and Urban Meyer were able to repeatedly run him between the tackles for great yardage. His long run came on an option play, but Demps was no perimeter gimmick. If he's still not an every down, 20+ carry back, he's shown he can be used as a normal part of a normal offense.

Demps was joined by fellow diminutive speed demon Chris Rainey (listed at 5-9, 185), who gained 66 yards on 11 carries and also spent most of the night running between the tackles. Rarely seen senior Kestahn Moore added 23 yards on four late game carries, Harvin and Brandon James contributed solid yardage on two carries apiece and Tim Tebow, while gaining only 22 yards, consistently made the right decision on Meyer's beloved zone read plays. All of it was made possible by the aforementioned offensive line.

Tebow wasn't flawless, but he was energized and generally on his game. There are still some kinks to work out in Florida's passing attack; Tebow completed 6 of his 14 passes to Harvin, and misfired on a couple throws despite having superior protection all night long. Even his 70-yard TD pass to Harvin on the game's opening drive was a product of a stable pocket and a misplay by the LSU defender who tipped the ball right to Harvin. But that's nitpicking. He completed two passes apiece to Riley Cooper and Deonte Thompson and delivered an absolute strike to Louis Murphy on a deep ball in the fourth quarter.

The big accomplishment defensively was bottling up the heretofore unstoppable Charles Scott, who gained just 35 yards on 12 carries. Scott had no holes through which to run, no daylight toward which he could scamper. The Florida defensive line, buoyed by the addition of prodigal lineman Torrey Davis and Medical Miracle Brandon Antwine, pushed around LSU's offense all night long. As I mentioned, they didn't have much of a pass rush; the Gators picked up two sacks, but both game in the fourth quarter with the game decided and one of those came from a blitzing Janoris Jenkins. But Meyer will take that performance every Saturday if he can get it. He must be feeling a lot better about the chances of containing Knowshon Moreno on November 1.

The secondary's performance was iffy. Joe Haden, who has done yeoman's work all season and who can be forgiven a transgression or two, was consistently beaten by Brandon LaFell. Safeties Ahmad Black and Major Wright played no role, with the exception of one Reggie Nelson-esque hit from Wright in the third quarter. The Tigers racked up 241 yards of passing, and while a bunch of those yards came with the game out of reach, it's not a good statistic. Linebacker Brandon Spikes was Florida's best pass defender. He intercepted Lee twice and returned the second pick for a touchdown. (After which he punted the ball into the stands and drew a 15-yard penalty. On the plus side he got impressive hang time)

Florida still has issues on kickoffs. Considering Meyer's obsessive emphasis on special teams, it's unfathomable that the Gators consistently find themselves tackling opposing returners on the 35 or 40-yard line. UF tried three different kickoff men (Caleb Sturgis, Greg Taussig and Jonathan Phillips, though the latter has earned a safe conduct pass with his flawless place kicking), and none of them could do the job effectively.

The Gators jumped out to a 20-0 lead, but saw their advantage cut to 20-14 after LSU scored on the last drive of the first half and the first drive of the second half. It looked for all the world like a replay of last year's Baton Rouge Nightmare, where UF blew a 17-7 fourth quarter lead against the then-undefeated Tigers.

Tebow wasn't having it. He led the Gators down the field on the ensuing drive and ended it with just his third rushing touchdown of the season. He didn't put up the kind of numbers that would have rocketed him back into Heisman contention, but Chase Daniel and Sam Bradford both lost today, so the situation isn't completely hopeless.

No comments: