GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After the clock struck zero, LSU players sprinted toward an end zone and started doing the “Gator Chomp.”
Given the team’s tumultuous week, this was hardly taunting. It was a sigh of relief.
Danny Etling threw a short touchdown pass in the second half and LSU rebounded from a stunning home loss and beat No. 21 Florida 17-16 on Saturday.
“Playing with heart, playing with grit and having some pride about yourself,” Etling said when asked about the difference in the past two games. “Last week, we lost some pride. There was no energy on the sideline. If you have a lack of energy out there, that starts with the players.
“We wanted to have energy, be upbeat on the sideline, have some fun out there, have each other’s back and get a win,” Etling added.
The Tigers moved the ball well early with jet sweeps and then pounded it between the tackles late, doing just enough to hand the Gators their first Southeastern Conference loss of the season.
The difference was Florida’s usually stout kicking game. Eddy Pineiro missed the first extra point of his career in the third quarter and never got a chance to atone for it. He had made 46 in a row before that.
Still, LSU (4-2, 1-1 SEC) looked nothing like it did the previous week. The 24-21 loss to Troy was the program’s first at home against a non-conference opponent since 2000. The Tigers responded with tougher practices, two players-only meetings and another involving the athletic director, the head coach and both coordinators.
And finished the week with a much-needed victory.
“It was the mindset of our football team not being denied,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “This team made a decision on Monday that they were going to win this football game.”
The Tigers opened up a 14-point lead early in the third on Etling’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Tory Carter and looked like they might pull away. The drive was aided by D.J. Chark’s 47-yard catch, a 50-50 ball he and cornerback Duke Dawson both came down with.
“Tie goes to the runner, I guess,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said.
The Gators (3-2, 1-1) answered, getting the first of consecutive TD runs by Lamical Perine. Pineiro yanked the extra point left after the second one.
Florida fell to 13-2 at home under McElwain and 10-1 when rushing for more than 150 yards. They also dropped to 9-2 in one-possession games under McElwain.
“It hurts and they should hurt,” McElwain said. “That’s the nature of the beast. … That’s life in the SEC.”
LSU: The Tigers clearly figured out some things offensively, with coordinator Matt Canada drawing up plenty of solid plays. The most effective were the jet sweeps. Russell Gage capped an early drive with a 30-yard TD run around the left end that the Gators pointing fingers and shaking heads.
Florida: The Gators don’t trust quarterback Feleipe Franks. Running backs Malik Davis and Perine did most of the heavy lifting, but when Florida needed Franks to step up, he didn’t. Franks completed 10 of 16 passes for 108 yards and was sacked five times.
Florida set an NCAA record by scoring in its 366th consecutive game. The Gators got on the scoreboard with Pineiro’s 25-yard field goal in the second quarter. That broke the previous mark set by Michigan (1984-2014) and tied by the Gators last week. Michigan’s streak ended with a 31-0 loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 6, 2014.
Florida hasn’t been shut out since a 16-0 home loss to Auburn on Oct. 29, 1988.
The Gators paid tribute to local legend Tom Petty by playing “I Won’t Back Down” at the end of the third quarter. The crowd of 90,000-plus sang along as the hit was played over the sound system.
Petty died Monday at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles a day after he suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu, California. He was 66.
Born and raised in Gainesville, Petty once worked as a groundskeeper at the University of Florida as he tried to make it in the music industry.
LSU: Hosts Auburn next Saturday. LSU has won seven of the last 10 in the series.
Florida: Wraps up a three-game homestretch against Texas A&M. The Gators won the only meeting (2012) since Texas A&M joined the conference.