Denied! Florida's goal-line stance for the ages silences LSU
You could not script a more satisfying finish for the Gators.
Florida’s defense has carried the team the past two seasons, and nothing sums up just how stingy the Gators can be than back-to-back stuffs at the 1-yard line … with Atlanta on the horizon. With one play, a Florida team missing its top three tacklers pushed back against two narratives while also notching its biggest upset (13.5-point underdogs) in 40 years to beat LSU 16-10 and secure a spot opposite Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
The Gators and Tigers were scheduled to play Oct. 8. While Hurricane Matthew was moving up the eastern coast, administrators for UF, LSU and the SEC were in constant contact about if the game would be able to be played in Gainesville. On Thursday Oct. 6, the conference announced that the game was postponed.
It didn’t take long for social media, and some of the Baton Rouge print media, to spread a narrative that Florida was using the storm as an excuse to avoid playing LSU. It was a belief held by Tigers administrators, most notably athletic director Joe Alleva.
The Gators took note of all the talk, and played with purpose, extra motivated to disappoint their critics in Death Valley. They ran the ball right at LSU, moving at will on a key fourth-quarter drive that chewed up 7 minutes 45 seconds of clock. And with their backs against the wall, the Tigers clawed back, getting as far as UF’s 1-yard line.
While many Florida fans had likely conceded defeat, the Gators certainly weren’t playing scared. Instead of cracking under pressure of allowing the game-tying touchdown and potential game-winning extra point, they showed guts, grit and determination.
The Tigers first tried fullback J.D. Moore, hoping to catch the Gators looking for the ball to go elsewhere, but Cece Jefferson came up with stop for no gain.
And then it all came down to one play. With the clock showing 0:03, everything came down to one more run. Derrius Guice, who came into the game 8.7 yards per carry, and who had run for 83 yards on his previous 18 carries of the came, only needed to power his 212-pound frame 1 yard forward.
He was denied.
That final play…. WOW!
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 19, 2016
Marcell Harris, playing in place of future NFL safety Marcus Maye, shed Moore’s block and got Guice by his legs. After last week’s win over South Carolina, Harris talked about the importance of making the most of an opportunity.
“Honestly man, I’m just really blessed to be out there,” Harris said. “Every time I come out there, I try to make it the best. … It could be taken away from you in a quick second. So every time I get out there, I lock in. I execute and I go about the game plan. Play with the defense and make my plays that I need to make.”
Harris, a redshirt junior, might never top that play, especially given Guice’s trash talk.
Earlier in the week, the LSU ball-carrier told the media that “Florida can’t run any more” from the Tigers, reviving the “scared narrative.” When Guice met the Gators’ defense in the pile at the goal line, it was he who couldn’t run any more.
In stuffing Guice, Florida pushed back a second narrative: The Gators can’t stop SEC West ball-carriers. This one, however, was backed up by stats. Last season, Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry pounded the rock for 369 yards on 75 carries against the UF defense. Two weeks ago, Arkansas ball-carriers Rawleigh Williams III and Devwah Whaley combined for 215 yards on 40 carries.
On Saturday, Guice and Fournette combined were held to 123 yards on 31 carries. That’s not a shutdown, but it’s enough against an offense like LSU’s, and it bodes well against future opponents, including FSU and Alabama.
“They got some pride,” coach Jim McElwain said of his squad after the game. “They were called out. We came on the road and won a game. That’s the way it should be.”
Two weeks from now, Florida will take on Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. No team has beaten the Crimson Tide this season, and not many people think the Gators have the offensive firepower to outscore UA.
But the goal-line stance for the ages tells you that a win for Alabama won’t come easy. And you can bet that Nick Saban’s players won’t be calling the Gators scared in the weeks leading up to the showdown in Atlanta.