BATON ROUGE, La. - Coming into Saturday’s game against LSU, it was the Florida defense that everyone wanted to talk about, since it was leading the SEC in every major category.
Guess which team the league will be talking about now?
The last time Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy recalled playing in a game where his team didn’t score a touchdown was in high school.
Murphy, who has taken a lot on his shoulders since taking over three games ago as the Florida quarterback, ran out of magic in Saturday’s 17-6 loss to LSU, which had four sacks and eight tackles for loss.
The Gators lost starting running back Matt Jones early in the game to a knee injury. It was the first time UF didn’t score a TD against the Tigers since 1979 and the first time the Gators didn’t score at least one touchdown in a game overall since a 17-9 loss to Georgia last fall — 10 games ago.
Florida opened the game moving the ball well and had receivers open virtually all day. But the problem was keeping the quarterback off his back to throw it.
“It’s definitely frustrating when you have a guy downfield and you can’t get it to him,’’ said Murphy, who finished 15 of 27 for 115 yards. “I’ve got to work on getting rid of the ball quicker.’’
Murphy spent the afternoon running for his life. LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC) became the first team all season to score a touchdown on the Gators (4-2, 3-1) in the second quarter — taking a 14-3 halftime lead — then relied on its defense to shut down Florida.
Tigers coach Les Miles called it a game won by the “big men.’’
Unlike other games where the LSU offense piled up points, it was the defense that just shut the opponent down.
“When you look at how we played today, everybody truly bought into each other,’’ LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. “Coach (John) Chavis put us in great position. Everyone played so selflessly. We were out on the field playing as one unit. That is when we reached our potential.’’
Jeremy Hill rushed for 121 yards on 19 carries, making him the first Florida opponent to rush for 100 yards since Todd Gurley in last season’s Georgia loss. Linebacker Lamin Barrow finished with a career-best 13 tackles to lead the Tigers’ defense.
“At the end of the game,’’ Miles said, “if that recipe continues to hold up, we’ll be awfully good.’’
The Gators still held their 13th straight opponent under 20 points and forced at least one turnover in the 17th game in a row. But the Tigers were even better, holding Florida to 180 total yards offense after the first drive of the game.
The Gators’ hopes of a huge season are pretty much over, but Will Muschamp told his team that there’s still a lot to play for.
“We still have everything sitting on the table as far as Atlanta is concerned,’’ Muschamp said, referring to the site of the SEC Championship Game. “We need to take care of the SEC East. It is wide open, and it is all in our hands. We just need to watch tape and improve on this Saturday.’’
Those hopes of getting to Atlanta could suffer another major blow Saturday, when the Gators travel to face undefeated Missouri, which sits alone atop the SEC East after beating Georgia on Saturday.
LSU spent the entire game in Murphy’s face, knocking down passes and chasing him from sideline to sideline when he did break free (10 rushes for minus-13 yards).
“I think we have to protect better,’’ Muschamp said. “I think we had too many free runners at the quarterback. (LSU) did a nice job of pressuring us. (Murphy) just had too many guys in his face. We have to give him more time. We will watch film, but my initial thought is there was too much pressure.’’
The Tigers, ranked No. 7 in the SEC in total defense entering the game, held the Gators to 34 yards the rest of the first half after UF took a 3-0 lead on a 60-yard drive on its first possession.
In the second half, LSU had a tougher time slowing Florida’s ball-control offense early but still held the Gators without a touchdown.
Florida couldn’t get any offensive rhythm going until third-string tailback Kelvin Taylor, the son of former Gators star Fred Taylor, was inserted into the game early in the third quarter.
Taylor gained 46 yards in the quarter, and the Gators got within 14-6. But LSU responded with Colby Delahoussaye hitting a 31-yard field goal to regain the two-touchdown lead with 7:58 left in the game. The Tigers rushed for 175 yards — by far the biggest game a team has had against UF’s defense this season. Zach Mettenberger passed for another 152.