The formula for Florida to win games this year has been pretty clear: Drag the other team down into the muck and slowly smother it. Before Saturday, it had worked; but before Saturday, Florida had not faced LSU. And playing against everything we've come to think about LSU this year, the Tigers beat the Gators at their own game.
It was not a thing of beauty. LSU outgained Florida 327-240, the kind of game that briefly seemed to bring back the 2011-12 "dead ball" period of SEC offense. Zach Mettenberger, sterling for LSU during the first half of the season, completed just better than half of his pass attempts (9-of-17) for 152 yards. The ground game did churn out 175 yards on 39 carries, almost three times the 65 yards that Florida has allowed in an average game.
But the Bayou Bengals did an even better job of shutting down Florida than Florida did of shutting down them. Tyler Murphy's introduction to a quality SEC defense did not go all that well; he was 15-of-27 passing for 115 yards and ended up in negative territory rushing. No Florida player had more than 65 all-purpose yards. Florida reached the red zone once, in the fourth quarter, and came away with a field goal.
All of which puts LSU firmly in control of its destiny in the SEC West. The Tigers faced perhaps the toughest interdivision draw of the three top contenders -- Alabama plays Kentucky on Saturday -- and needed to do no worse than split the two games to keep itself in position for a win-and-in situation. Mission accomplished.
Things are a bit dicier for Florida, but the Gators are still also in control of their own destiny. The next five weeks will be crucial; Florida will play Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina over that time frame, with two of those games coming on the road and the other in Jacksonville. But LSU showed that it can win games more than one way, and Florida seemed to show that it could be defeated even in the kind of game it prefers. Whether any other SEC East team can duplicate LSU's formula could decide how far Florida will go this year.