It was said to come down to the trenches, this top-10 showdown between undefeated teams chasing a championship.
And that’s where it was won.
No. 5 LSU (6-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) broke through both lines of No. 7 Florida (6-1, 3-1 SEC) in a 42-28 victory in front of a sellout crowd at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night.
The Tigers won their second top-10 game of the season, and with No. 3 Georgia losing in double overtime to South Carolina, the Tigers will surely ride the October breeze closer to the top of the polls.
LSU neutralized Florida’s dominant defensive front by elevating the pace with its up-tempo spread offense, going “fastball” as it had in its most recent home victory over a top 10 opponent — then-No. 2 Georgia last season.
Paratroopers dropping out of the cool October sky. A full moon rising silently over a sold-out Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers scored quickly Saturday, but not by the arm of Heisman candidate Joe Burrow, who finished the game 21 of 24 passing for 293 yards and three touchdowns — his first game of the season below 300 yards.
No, LSU delivered its most impressive rushing performance yet.
It was the LSU run game. Remember the run game?
LSU outgained Florida 511-457, with 218 of the Tigers’ total on the ground.
The offensive line opened up a massive hole to start the second drive, and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire dashed through, juked a safety, then raced for a 57-yard run to the Florida 9 — the longest rush of his career.
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Burrow hit Chase for a 9-yard touchdown pass on the following play, giving LSU a 7-0 lead.
Florida hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Edwards-Helaire became the first by the second quarter on just five carries for 121 yards.
Midway through the second quarter, the LSU line opened another gargantuan hole on the left side, and Edwards-Helaire burst down the sideline, untouched for a 39-yard touchdown that gave LSU a 21-14 lead.
The 5-foot-8, 209-pound Catholic High graduate finished the game with 11 carries, 132 yards and two touchdowns, and true freshman Ty Davis-Price added his own long score with a 33-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“We knew they were going to test us, make us run the ball,” starting center Lloyd Cushenberry said. “We knew that we could do it.”
And in a week where both head coaches praised the gurus at defensive coordinator for either team — LSU’s Dave Aranda and Florida’s Todd Grantham — who would have thought that neither team would have a sack by halftime?
But that’s exactly what happened.
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On the first drive of the game, Edwards-Helaire hung back in protection to pick up a blitzing Florida defender. Normally in LSU’s new spread offense, he’d be running a route. But he picked up the block, allowing Burrow to complete a 23-yard pass to Justin Jefferson to the Florida 32.
Burrow continually evaded the Gators pass rush. On that first drive, he flushed out of the pocket but couldn’t pick up a first down, which led to a 44-yard missed field goal by true freshman Cade York.
In the second quarter, Burrow ducked out of the pocket again for a 13-yard run to the LSU 33. Burrow had a clean pocket on the next three passes, all targeted for Jefferson. The junior receiver caught a 35-yard pass, drew a pass-interference penalty and caught a 7-yard touchdown while falling out of bounds at the pylon, which set LSU up 14-7 with 12:44 left in the first half.
LSU didn’t allow a sack all game, which LSU coach Ed Orgeron called “the biggest stat of the night” — something the program hadn’t done since its upset loss to Troy in 2017.
“That’s about as flawless as an offensive line has ever played that I’ve ever seen,” Burrow said.
For the majority of the game, the LSU defense couldn’t produce a pass rush itself — not even with the return of defensive ends Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan, usual starters who have been out since suffering injuries against Texas.
If the Tigers produced stops early, it was usually because their talented secondary came up with the deciding play.
In Florida’s first drive, on third-and-11 at the Florida 25, the Tigers used six defensive backs, one linebacker (Patrick Queen), and true freshman safety Marcel Brooks off the edge in a four-man rush.
Trask’s third-down pass was contested tightly by LSU safety JaCoby Stevens, and it fell incomplete.
But tackling continued to be an issue for the Tigers.
On second-and-6 at the Florida 41 later in the first quarter, Patrick Queen blitzed through the line and aimed high. Gators running back Lamical Perine ducked beneath, then ran for 17 yards to the LSU 42. So began a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, ending when Florida quarterback Kyle Trask tied the game 7-7 with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Trevon Grimes on third-and-goal.
LSU was being less aggressive on defense on the drive. On a third-and-6 at the 15, LSU sent just three rushers. Trask had time and delivered the first-down strike to the LSU 9.
Then the sack came.
It was Brooks in the third quarter — a third-and-19 where he and pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson both twisted from the outside in, confusing the offensive line and producing a Brooks sack at the Florida 8.
Brooks’ first sack of his college career forced a punt, which led to Davis-Price’s 33-yard touchdown that set LSU ahead for good.
“It was a matter of time before it was going to come,” said pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, who recorded LSU’s second sack on Florida’s final drive. “It came at a critical time and boosted the morale of the team.”
But the game clock seemed to be the only thing that could put Florida away.
The Gators continued to drive on the Tigers defense behind Florida coach Dan Mullen, a respected offensive mind known for chess-master play calls at the most opportune times.
LSU led 35-28 with 12:32 left in the game, when Florida was backed up at its own 8 facing a third-and-10. The Gators ran a screen, an inside pass to Freddie Swain that went 21 yards. The drive continued to the LSU 16, and it seemed the game was destined to be tied.
Trask threw to the end zone. The ball loomed low. True freshman Derek Stingley, already on the ground, rolled over, reacted in a split-second and caught the interception to end the Gator threat.
The ball delivered to LSU’s historic offense, Burrow delivered the dagger, a 54-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Ja’Marr Chase to set the final score.