Rueben Randle's opening TD
Today, LSU saw its first true home test as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation was set to meet one of its longest rivals in No. 17 Florida.
If only the Gators showed up.
The Tigers dominated Florida from the beginning, never looking back as they embarrassed the Gators 41-11 while improving to a 6-0 record. Easily the safest LSU victory over the Gators in years, the Tigers saw every facet of their offense, defense and special teams working in harmony over an outmatched and short-handed Florida squad.
From the get-go, the Gators were stopped on two consecutive three-and-outs, followed by two consecutive Tiger touchdowns, the first on senior QB Jarrett Lee's very first pass in this game.
Led by first-time head coach and former LSU defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, Florida was forced to start third-string QB Jacoby Brissett, who had never previously played in a college game. They sent a rookie QB into Death Valley for his very first taste of SEC football against the top-ranked team in the country.
For the purposes of this report card, as they say, the rest was academic.
LSU head coach Les Miles loves his north-south running scheme. As a former Michigan lineman, he sees college football as a gradual strength test, with a running game front and center relentlessly pounding through the opposing defense.
For sophomore RB Spencer Ware, that's just fine.
LSU ran the football 49 times Saturday, compared to 14 pass attempts. The lion's share of those carries went to Ware, bullying and twisting his way 24 times for 110 yards and two TDs. Against Florida's weaker, slower defense, Ware led an attack responsible for three Tiger TDs and 232 total yards on the ground.
Ware and fellow sophomore RB Alfred Blue pushed and dashed through Florida's once-vaunted defense like it was too easy. Because it was.
On the second offensive play of the game for LSU, senior QB Jarrett Lee looked for his favorite target so far this year, looking to make a statement on his first throw.
Forty-six yards later, Rueben "The Deuce" Randle obliged with a touchdown on a picture-perfect pass from "General Lee."
That's how the day went for LSU in the passing game, as Lee and senior QB Jordan Jefferson (in his second game) combined for 10-of-14 passing for 215 yards and two TDs, fittingly with one TD each.
Jefferson's TD came on a jump pass, cracking up Tiger fans who remember former Florida QB and current NFL backup Tim Tebow's continued penchant for the play. Working against Florida, however, Jefferson and Les Miles gave Florida a dose of their own medicine.
Meanwhile Jarrett Lee (who started the game) showed much more poise in the pocket, delivering beautiful throws with flawless timing. This is unquestionably his team if he continues his efficient game management, but Jefferson will continue to get playing time. After today's performance against Florida, however, Lee looked like the QB LSU needs to complete the title game run.
Florida had few answers to LSU's running attack, getting outrushed 232 to 112 overall. The Gators were missing big-play running backs Josh Demps, who was hurt early and did not return, and Trey Burton, who managed just seven yards on five carries.
Instead, Mike Gillislee and Chris Rainey shared the load but ran into a stout LSU defensive front led by senior LE Kendrick Adams. The Gators could not get a successful running game going and was only hurt by injuries to QB John Brantley and Jeff Driskel. The front seven of LSU should be proud of their performance.
The Gators were forced to start third-string QB Jacoby Brissett for his first taste of life in the SEC.
Sixty of the longest minutes of his life later, Brissett walked off a sore and bruised guy, but at least now he has experience, right?
The freshman QB threw 14 passes, completing eight of them for 94 yards and a long score to sophomore WR Andre Debose. He also threw two interceptions, one each to safety Brandon Taylor and cornerback Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu, who had previously pushed Debose out of bounds and thought him ineligible for the long scoring play.
On the next long pass from Brissett looking end zone, Mathieu stepped up and came down with the ball, his second of the season to go with four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns.
LSU's secondary clamped down on Brissett, proving its worth as one of the top defenses in the country.
Singlehandedly the most electric moment by an LSU punter in recent memory, punter Brad Wing kept his head in the game and noticed that, on a repeat punt attempt late in the first quarter, Florida's special teams began retreating back, not keeping their eye on the punter.
Instead of continuing his motion and punting the ball—which he had been doing to shocking success, routinely pinning opponents inside the five—Wing decided to take off. With a blocker out front, Wing stunned the Florida return unit for what seemed like a huge fake punt touchdown.
At the very end, however, the referees called unsportsmanlike conduct (which you can judge for yourself, personally I don't buy it) and, because of a rule change in the offseason, negated the score and brought the Tigers back out.
Either way, Brad Wing outrushed Florida's passing attack in the first half (even after the penalty yards) and would have been Florida's top rusher. Keep your eyes glued every week to Brad Wing, a kid with the potential to become the Sebastian Janikowski of punters.
Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu
Sophomore CB/KR Tyrann Mathieu's secret is out when it comes to kick returns.
The Tigers managed just 42 yards on three kickoff returns. Mathieu returned two punts for 12 yards, but only because Florida punter David Lerner found himself busy and did not want to get burned by Mathieu's lightning speed. Instead, his six punts were mostly high, lofty kicks, preventing any kind of return.
On the other side, Andre Debose returned four kickoffs for 83 yards, and Chris Rainey added another for 37. The Tigers' D stuffed any Florida offensive attack, but for the most part, the special teams unit did their job.
Les Miles and Jarrett Lee
For now, Les Miles has continued to rightfully bless Jarrett Lee with the starting job.
The Mad Hatter's biggest job, however, is incorporating Jordan Jefferson into the lineup for effectiveness. Miles is no stranger to a dual-QB setup, and it can get old and tired if neither can produce. In Jefferson and Lee, Miles has two quarterbacks that can.
However, the running game is the secret to LSU's offensive success. Without flash or much pomp, Miles gets the best out of his incredible talent by pushing and clawing his way to monster victories. Whenever there's a big play, like Wing's fake punt touchdown, it's the players themselves taking advantage of the situation, when coaching stops having an influence and stars are born for their talent and abilities.
Miles nurtured that talent to a long, exhausting victory (at least it felt that way for the Gators), and if the Hatter can continue to inspire his players to work as a unit, there's nothing a talented group of superstars like this can't do as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Like this fan's finger says, LSU is No. 1. Being on top comes with specific obligations, like being the target. Week to week, the fight is on for the No. 1 team to not just look the part, but to be the part.
Earlier in the day, former No. 1 ranked Oklahoma obliterated No. 11 Texas 55-17, and the pressure was on LSU not just to win, but to win big. The Tigers' 30-point victory against a top 25 SEC rival should be enough to keep LSU at the No. 1 spot next week—that is, unless Alabama sets a new points record against Vanderbilt.
For this week, though, LSU is at the top of its class.