GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Marcus Randall may have saved LSU’s season.
Randall came off the bench and threw two touchdown passes, including a 10-yarder with 27 seconds to play, to help No. 24 LSU upset No. 12 Florida 24-21 Saturday night.
The Tigers, the defending Bowl Championship Series national champions, already have been eliminated from the national title picture. But they still could repeat as Southeastern Conference champs. They certainly showed anything is possible against the Gators.
Not only did LSU (4-2, 2-2) rebound from an embarrassing 45-16 loss at Georgia last week, it also overcame a 21-7 deficit, three turnovers and the loss of starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell against Florida.
“We had to get humiliated,” LSU coach Nick Saban said. “Sometimes, especially with young players—just like your puppy dog—you have to rub their nose in it. We got our nose rubbed in it, and we responded the right way and I’m really proud of that.”
The Gators (3-2, 2-2) led 21-17 with 2:06 left, and the Tigers needed to go 50 yards for the go-ahead score.
No problem. Not on a night when the Tigers moved the ball at will against Florida, outgaining the Gators 464-236 in total yards.
“We were in position to finish the game and we didn’t get it done,” said coach Ron Zook, who fell to 19-12 in three seasons since replacing Steve Spurrier. He now has more home losses (six) than Spurrier had in The Swamp (five) in 12 seasons.
Joseph Addai ran three times for 34 yards on the drive, but Randall made the biggest play. He avoided a heavy rush and found Addai for a 10-yard touchdown pass on third down with 27 seconds remaining.
“It’s not how you start the game, it’s how you finish,” Gators linebacker Travis Harris said. “We needed to finish it.”
The Tigers had the kind of comeback they could have used against the Bulldogs last week. They fumbled twice early, quickly trailed 24-0 and couldn’t recover.
The same nearly happened against the Gators.
Vernell Brown made a leaping grab on Russell’s pass intended for Early Doucet on first-and-10 from the LSU 18-yard line. Brown returned it 20 yards, setting up a first-and-goal from the 5. Ciatrick Fason scored from there two plays later.
Russell’s second interception came two drives later. He threw a poor pass toward the sideline, which safety Jarvis Herring caught and returned to the 3-yard line.
The Gators rushed to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball before the Tigers were set. Chris Leak faked a handoff, rolled left and found Tate Casey wide open in the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
Russell injured his ankle on the ensuing drive and was replaced by Randall, a senior who started the first five games but was benched after the loss to Georgia.
The injury may have turned out to be the play of the game, or at least second to the game-winning score. Randall’s leadership and composure were quickly evident.
“I felt really energized going in there,” Randall said. “I was trying to get the guys up. I went in there and felt that fire.”
He ran for 12 yards on his first play and was 4-for-5 passing for 44 yards during an 80-yard scoring drive—kept alive by Ray McDonald’s roughing-the-passer penalty as the Tigers came up short on third down. Alley Broussard scored from 1 yard out to make it 14-7 early in the second.
Leak extended Florida’s lead to 21-7 with an 18-yard touchdown pass to O.J. Small with 1:39 to play in the half.
But Randall drove the Tigers 80 yards in 1:27 and connected with Doucet for a 15-yard score to make it 21-14—one play after Florida defensive end Jeremy Mincey was flagged 15 yards for kicking offensive lineman Rudy Niswanger with his left cleat.
Chris Jackson’s 47-yard field goal made it 21-17 midway through the third, and LSU had plenty of other chances to move ahead.
But one drive ended with Florida’s third interception of the game—a pass underthrown by Russell, tipped by Reynaldo Hill and picked off by Cory Bailey.
Another drive came up empty when Travis Harris blocked Jackson’s 25-yard field-goal attempt with 10:26 remaining. Jackson also missed a 48-yarder wide right on the opening possession of the game.
LSU also was forced to punt with 3:59 to play after a drive stalled in Florida territory.
Still, the Gators couldn’t get first downs when they needed them most.
“I knew that we were wearing them down, and that we were going to break them,” Randall said. “I knew sooner or later we were going to get it going.”