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LSU's defense stops Florida

The SportsXchange

BATON ROUGE -- This was the football most LSU fans remember from their dusty scrapbooks. Sack-happy defense. Power running. And a timely fourth-quarter field goal.

In a season where quarterback Zach Mettenberger has propelled a surprisingly high-octane offense to an impressive 6-1 overall start and 3-1 in the SEC, the 10th-ranked Tigers went back to their football DNA Saturday in a bruising 17-6 victory over No. 17 Florida before 92,980 at Tiger Stadium.

Jeremy Hill rushed for 121 yards on 19 carries, and a mostly maligned LSU defense came up with four sacks of Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy -- including two on the Gators' final two plays -- to secure the victory.

Even though LSU allowed 111 rushing yards to Florida -- including 72 yards in a third-quarter lull -- the Tigers kept the Gators out of the end zone. Going back to the second half of last week's 59-26 victory over Mississippi State, the improving LSU defense has allowed just nine points in the last six quarters.

"This was the day of the big men," said LSU coach Les Miles, who cherishes old-school football. "The defensive line played well. The offensive line played well. This is kind of what we're supposed to do -- how it's supposed to look. The offense won. The defense won. Special teams won. If that recipe continues to hold up, we'll be awfully good."

LSU got nothing more than an average performance from Mettenberger -- he completed 9 of 17 passes for a season-low 152 yards and no TDs -- but the Tigers rushed for 175 yards and controlled the clock in the final quarter when Florida closed within 14-6 with 12:11 left on a 27-yard field goal by Francisco Velez.

During a critical nine-play, 61-yard drive that led to Colby Delahoussaye's 31-yard field goal and a 17-6 lead with 7:58 left, Hill ripped off runs of 11, 7 and 26 yards to move LSU into position to make it an 11-point game.

Then, with LSU knowing Florida (4-2, 3-1) would have to pass, the pressure on Murphy mounted.

"We've got to protect better," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "We had too many free runners at the quarterback. They did a nice job of pressuring us. They got too many guys in space. We've got to give (Murphy) more time."

Muschamp also did not like the way his heralded defense tackled.

"Our guys just didn't get off blocks," he said. "Guys fought hard, but we didn't win enough on the line of scrimmage."

After the Delahoussaye field goal, the Gators drove to the LSU 20, but Murphy was sacked on his final two plays to end the threat. The final hit by freshman linebacker Kendell Beckwith came from the blindside on fourth-and 26, and Murphy fumbled the ball away.

The Gators' defense was allowing only 217.0 yards per game, second best in the nation, but LSU rolled up 200 yards and 14 first downs in the first half en route to its 14-3 lead.

The Tigers harassed Murphy, who was making his first SEC start on the road. He completed only 4 of 9 passes for 42 yards in the first half, but it could have been worse because LSU defenders got their hands on three potential interceptions, only to drop them all.

Florida took its only lead on a 44-yard field goal by Velez on an impressive 14-play, 60-yard opening drive. But the Gators managed only 34 yards in total offense the rest of the half.

LSU took a 7-3 lead on fullback J.C. Copeland's 1-yard dive on the first play of the second quarter. The big play on the 70-yard drive was Mettenberger's 25-yard pass to Odell Beckham Jr., and LSU picked up 15 more yards when linebacker Darious Cummings was called for hitting Mettenberger after he released the pass.

Another Florida penalty -- pass interference against Marcus Roberson -- allowed LSU to convert a third-and-two, and LSU went up 14-3 on backup quarterback Anthony Jennings' 1-yard sneak 5:14 before halftime.

LSU wasted another scoring opportunity when Mettenberger allowed the ball to slip from his hands while attempting a first-down pass at the Florida 25.

"We're going to throw the ball and make a big play," Miles said. "It's just wet, and (the ball) comes right out of his hands. As ugly as it is, that just happens."

The Gators recovered the fumble, but did nothing with the only turnover of the half.

NOTES: LSU averaged 15 first-quarter points in its first six games, but was shut out in the opening quarter for the first time this season. ... J.C. Copeland broke the ice with a 1-yard, third-down dive on the first play of the second quarter. Muschamp was irate because he felt right guard Trai Turner of LSU moved early and should have been called for a false start. ... LSU honored 60 members from its 2003 BCS National Championship team at halftime.
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