October 09, 2011
LSU 41, Florida 11.
You could hear the collective groan around college football when Florida confirmed it would be sending a freshman quarterback into his first career start in Baton Rouge, and the actual result might have been uglier than we imagined. Facing a dominant, A-plus defense for the second week in a row, the Gators once again managed one field goal, one long, abrupt touchdown strike — this time on a 65-yard bomb from freshman Jacoby Brissett to Andre Debose at the end of the third quarter, with LSU already up 27-3 — and literally nothing else: Their other eight offensive possessions resulted in five three-and-outs, two interceptions and a turnover on downs. The only good news for Florida, after watching its top two quarterbacks go down last week at the hands of Alabama, is that no one was seriously hurt.
Again, though, that much we could have guessed. It wasn't a day for further confirmation of LSU's ongoing dominance on defense. It was for contemplating a terrifying new possibility: What if LSU actually has an offense?
The Tigers' 453-yard outburst wasn't only their best of the season; with the exception of a 470-yard effort against Ole Miss last November, it was their best against an SEC defense since their last BCS bowl team in 2007. Ditto 41 points on the scoreboard, none of them coming via defense or special teams or even a particularly short field. Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson combined for a pass efficiency rating of 247.6, the best number in Les Miles' tenure as head coach and the best number by any offense against an SEC defense — any SEC defense, even Ole Miss' — since early 2009.
They were explosive in the passing game, connecting on a 46-yard touchdown from Lee to Rueben Randle on their first attempt of the game, followed by four other passes covering at least 20 yards. They were physical and consistent in the running game, sending 220-pound thumpers Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue into the line 38 times for a combined 179 yards and three touchdowns. They put together sustained scoring drives. They dominated time of possession by more than 11 minutes. They extended their turnover-free streak to twelve consecutive quarters. In one of the biggest games of the year, against a supremely talented opponent ranked among the best defenses in the nation by every relevant measure, the offense looked exactly like what its coming-out party in the Cotton Bowl suggested it could be: A confident, balanced bunch of blue-chips coming together as upperclassmen to fulfill the hype.
We knew that was true on defense and special teams almost immediately. If it's going to be the case on offense, too, the Tigers are going to be even more of a nightmare than we thought.