And Florida — yes Florida — was the team putting on a show.
Mike Gillislee ran for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns, bringing the 10th-ranked Gators to life in the second half as they upended No. 4 LSU 14-6 Saturday.
Led by Gillislee and a dominant defense, Florida’s grind-it-out victory avenged a 41-11 loss in Baton Rouge last season, handed the Tigers their first regular-season loss in 19 games and gave coach Will Muschamp, a Darlington graduate and former UGA standout, a signature win in his second season.
Muschamp’s transformation of the Gators from spread-offense speed-merchants to hard-running street fighters seems to be complete.
It was the program’s first victory against a ranked team since beating rival Georgia in 2010.
“We wanted to hurt them,” Florida defensive end Dominique Easley said. “We wanted them to feel the pain that we felt last year. We had hurt in our heart, so we wanted them to feel that same thing.”
Linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Matt Elam provided big plays on defense. Gillislee once again carried the load on offense, carrying 34 times.
Together, they wore down the Tigers (5-1, 1-1 SEC) in the second half — no surprise since the Gators (5-0, 4-0) have been doing that all season.
Florida, which trailed 6-0 at halftime, also came from behind to beat Texas A&M and Tennessee on the road last month.
This one was even more impressive.
“They beat us down last year,” Elam said. “We had to come back. We had something to prove. We had a plan to hit them in their mouth, and we executed.”
The Gators harassed quarterback Zach Mettenberger, pretty much shut down running backs Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard and Michael Ford, and completely wore down LSU’s vaunted defense.
Mettenberger completed 11 of 25 passes for 161 yards, with an interception. LSU finished with 42 yards rushing, three more than what Alabama held the Tigers to in last season’s Bowl Championship Series title game. The Tigers were 1 of 13 on third down and finished with just eight first downs — three on penalties.
“I think our football team is sick, sick with knowledge that they could have played better,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
Florida credited new strength coach Jeff Dillman and the team’s continually improving offensive line — the same one Muschamp called soft late last season — for the victory. Gillislee got props, too.
“I’ll take Gilly over anybody,” Muschamp said. “I tell him that all the time and I mean that. I felt that way in spring and going into fall camp. ... He’s a Will Muschamp guy. He don’t ever say anything, he just does his job, lines up, runs the ball. If you ask him to block, he’s going to block. If you ask him to catch the ball, he’s going to catch the ball. He just is a really, really, really good football player.”
It was Gillislee’s third 100-yard game of the season, and it came against one of the league’s most feared fronts.
Highly touted defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery were neutralized much of the day.
Linebacker Kevin Minter had a career day, finishing with 20 tackles despite missing a few plays while dealing with leg cramps.
Minter had two of LSU’s five sacks in the first half, helping the Tigers hold Florida to 47 yards at the break.
But the Gators looked completely different after intermission. They went to a heavy package featuring two extra offensive linemen to run the ball — they call it “God’s play” — and it worked to perfection.
Florida scored on consecutive drives by running on 17 of 18 plays. Gillislee ended both of them with 12-yard touchdown runs, one in the third quarter and another early in the fourth.
“They were definitely more physical than last year,” Mingo said.
The Gators ran the ball on their final 25 snaps, gashing the Tigers between the tackles.
“Them boys was huffing and puffing,” Easley said. “I was looking in people’s eyes and they were scared. That’s what we wanted. We wanted to take somebody’s will. We like to take people’s will, not just win the game. Make them remember this night.”
Maybe the play of the game came between those game-changing, run-oriented drives. Elam stripped Odell Beckham Jr. following a 56-yard reception on third down.
Initially, the officials ruled Beckham was down when the ball came out. Replays, though, clearly showed the ball coming out before his knee hit the ground. The play was reversed, and Florida seized the momentum.
“It was a hustle play,” Elam said. “It was all instinct. It was great effort that paid off.”
Florida was so dominant that it could have posted a second consecutive shutout at home. But two seemingly silly plays helped LSU get points.
Bostic, who was a key cog in stuffing LSU’s run, was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the game’s opening drive. Instead of facing third-and-17, LSU got 15 yards and an automatic first down. It set up Drew Alleman’s 31-yard field goal.
Alleman added a 21-yarder just before halftime as LSU capitalized on Jeff Driskel’s fumble. Driskel, who completed 8 of 12 passes for 61 yards, held the ball too long and then fumbled while trying to scramble away from Bennie Logan. Guard James Wilson had a shot at the loose ball but whiffed.
Mingo eventually came up with it, setting LSU’s offense up at the 7-yard line.
Florida’s defense made a stand, though, and forced the chip shot.
“That was typical 1980 SEC right there today,” Muschamp said. “It was a physical, physical match. ... That’s the difference between playing in this league and these other leagues you watch on TV. I know you guys like all these points being scored, but the quarterback won’t make it through the season in our league.”
VANDERBILT 19, MISSOURI 15
COLUMBIA, Mo. — A botched Missouri extra-point snap and a bobbled punt attempt that led to a safety helped Vanderbilt beat Missouri 19-15 Saturday night, depriving the former Big 12 school of its first SEC win.
Zac Stacy rushed for 72 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries for Vanderbilt (2-3, 1-2), which earned its first conference win.
Missouri (3-3, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) took an early 6-0 lead and kept Vanderbilt from gaining a first down until nearly nine minutes into the second quarter. But Missouri couldn’t muster much offense after an early injury to starting quarterback James Franklin, who sprained his left knee on a first-quarter run and didn’t return.
Backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser was just 9 of 30 for 189 yards, including an 85-yard scoring pass to Bud Sasser that cut a Commodores’ fourth-quarter lead to 16-15. Missouri missed the extra point and a chance to tie on a bad snap.
Texas A&M 30, Mississippi 27
OXFORD, Miss. — Johnny Manziel threw for 191 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 129 yards and another score and Texas A&M rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Mississippi 30-27 Saturday night.
Manziel suffered through a tough night until late in the fourth quarter, when he led two touchdown drives. He rushed for a 29-yard touchdown on the first and then found Ryan Swope for a 20-yard TD pass with 1:46 remaining for the go-ahead score.
Texas A&M (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) won despite a season-high six turnovers, including four fumbles and two interceptions.
Ole Miss made a final drive but Texas A&M’s Toney Hurd, Jr., intercepted a Bo Wallace pass and the Aggies were able to run out the clock.
Ole Miss (3-3, 0-2) lost its 16th straight conference game dating back to 2010. Jeff Scott rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Arkansas 24, Auburn 7
AUBURN, Ala. — Dennis Johnson rushed for two touchdowns and the Arkansas defense had eight sacks to help the Razorbacks snap a four-game skid with a 24-7 victory over Auburn on Saturday.
Arkansas (2-4, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) had been blasted by a combined score of 110-10 in its first two league games.
The Tigers (1-4, 0-3) were left at the bottom of the SEC West after a second-half quarterback change failed to provide much of a spark to an offense that committed five turnovers.
Tyler Wilson completed 20 of 27 passes for 216 yards.
The Razorbacks scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away before Auburn scored again in the final minutes
Auburn coach Gene Chizik replaced struggling starter Kiehl Frazier with Clint Moseley in the second half, seeking a spark for a sputtering offense. Moseley threw a pair of interceptions in the end zone during the fourth.
Mississippi St. 27, Kentucky 14
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Tyler Russell passed for two touchdowns and Mississippi State held Kentucky to just 228 yards on offense, leading the No. 20 Bulldogs to a victory.
LaDarius Perkins carried 25 times for 110 yards, including a 31-yard score, and Devon Bell kicked field goals of 20 and 37 yards as Mississippi State moved to 5-0 for the first time since 1999. The Bulldogs are 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play.
Russell was 23 of 39 for 269 yards, hitting Adrian Marcus and Chad Bumphis for touchdowns of 10 and 27 yards, respectively.
Freshmen quarterbacks Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow both led scoring drives for Kentucky (1-5, 0-3), which lost its fourth straight. Whitlow played the second half after Towles sprained his ankle just before halftime.