Gators pass tough test, learn how to win grinding games

Florida Gators defensive lineman Dominique Easley (2) reacts and celebrates after they beat the LSU Tigers during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the Louisiana State 14-6. (Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

In 2011, Florida struggled to win games in the second half – well, actually they struggled to win games. Perhaps the players didn’t buy in to what Will Muschamp was preaching.  Run the ball. Play tough physical defense. Grind down your opponent. Some of it was youth, some was conditioning, whatever you’d like to blame it on this year’s team is showing it knows what it takes to win close games.

The 2012 Gators are winning the second half in a big way. Florida has allowed a grand total of zero points in the fourth quarter through its first five games and has only allowed 13 second half points total on the season (Bowling Green and Tennessee each scored in the third quarter).

To go along with shutting the opposition down in the second half, Florida’s offense has outscored opponents by 65 points during the span. The Gators are averaging 15.6 PPG in the third and fourth quarters combined.

Against LSU, Florida relied heavily on senior Mike Gillislee and an offensive line that’s gotten better each week. With each outing, Gillislee is proving that he is among the elite running backs in the SEC – a place where real men play defense (not the Big 12).  Gilly rushed for 146 yards on 34 carries to go along with both Florida touchdowns for the day.

[Midseason Report: Heisman Rankings from a Fan’s Perspective]

In the first half, LSU’s pass rush was as advertised. The future NFL talents on their defensive line harassed Driskel, and The tigers were able to force two first half turnovers, including a fumble on a Driskel sack that gave their offense the ball at the Florida 7-yard line.

The Gator defense stepped up to the challenge. Les Miles called some sort of bastardization of the Tebow jump pass that the savvy Florida defenders had none of, and the Gators held LSU to a chip shot field goal. The last points Florida would give up on the day.

After LSU’s first drive of the day, the Gators defense held the Tigers to 1-of-13 on third downs.

LSU came into the game with an inexperienced quarterback and a three headed rushing attack, but the Gators defense was able to shut down the run and force Mettenberger to throw.  He eventually found an open man down the sideline on a coverage breakdown by the Florida secondary and Gator Nation cringed, but not to worry, did I mention the Gators defense? Matt Elam took a good angle and – as is the way of this Florida team – he didn’t give up on the play. Elam was able to strip Odell Beckham of the ball. After a booth review the play was confirmed and Florida took the game over on the ground.

The best way to negate a good pass rush is to run the ball right at the opposing defense. That only works if you have the personnel to do so, and Florida has the goods in that department. Florida ran the ball right, left and straight up the middle in the second half. The coaches must have thought, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”, because they finished the game on 25 straight rushing attempts and ran the ball 17-of-18 plays in a stretch through the third and fourth quarters. In fact, Driskel only threw the ball four times in the second half.

The question for this team now is, “Can they finish the season the way they have finished games in the early going?” Florida heads to Nashville for another conference road game against Vandy. Gator Nation, be warned, Vandy usually plays Florida tough. This has the makings of a letdown game. Fresh off a win against a top five team, Muschamp will need to keep his team focused on the task at hand. South Carolina looms ahead, and the game is shaping up to be the biggest matchup between the schools in the history of the contest – but Vandy. Vandy played South Carolina tough 3arly in the Season, but Connor Shaw gutted South Carolina to a wi—Vandy! Will Muschamp will surely keep The Gators more focused than I am, and next week…South Carolina.

PS…Dominique Easley isn’t ever scared.

Scenes from Saturday >> LSU at Florida, Muschamp Edition