Quick, name the best rivalry in the SEC over the past 12 years. LSU-Alabama? Keep guessing. Florida-Georgia? Nope. Ole Miss-Mississippi State? OK, maybe you didn’t guess that one, but they have been competitive with each other albeit with bad teams. If you answered LSU-Florida, then you reward yourself. The Gators and Tigers have been two of not only the conference’s best teams since 2001, but two of the best in the nation. UF and LSU have tied the series 6-6 over the 12 years, and each team has gone 3-3 at home. The Gators in The Swamp have compiled an outstanding 68-10 record while the Tigers have gone a ridiculous 75-7. Each school has won two national championships since 2001, and each school has kept the other from winning more. As Florida heads to Baton Rouge on Saturday, let’s take a look at some of important games since 2001.
2001: In what would be the Ol’ Ball Coach’s last season, Steve Spurrier’s second ranked Gators put the beatdown on Nick Saban’s #18 Tigers 44-15 in Tiger Stadium. The 2001 Florida team is arguably the best football team UF has fielded in 107 years of football. Sophomore QB Rex Grossman should have won the Heisman, but Nebraska’s senior QB Eric Crouch stole it from him, throwing 7 TDs to 10 INTs. I use the QB term lightly when I talk about Crouch. But I digress. Grossman threw for nine straight 300 yard games, and his game versus LSU was no different. Grossman threw for a Florida record 464 yards and five touchdowns. Gators WR Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney each had 100 yard receiving games. And Florida’s defense, led by Alex Brown, held a potent Tiger rushing attack to only 137 yards on 41 carries. That Gator team narrowly missed out on a national championship game appearance after the Tennessee game was postponed until December 1, the final game of the season. The Vols ended up beating the Gators 34-32.
2002: FireRonZook.com was in full effect. The 25th ranked Tigers headed to Gainesville and handed the #20 Gators their third loss of the season, 36-7. It was Florida’s second straight conference loss, something that hadn’t happened at UF since 1992. And LSU got their first win at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since 1986. It was a typical LSU win: They scored on a pick six, fake field goal, and two touchdown passes from QB Matt Mauck to WR Devery Henderson. It was an important win for LSU, as it was the beginning of their rise to prominance.
2003: This game was Ron Zook’s signature win at Florida. The Gators came into Baton Rouge ranked 17th in the nation and faced the number two Tigers. LSU went on to win 13 games on their way to the 2003 national championship, but took a loss at home against a freshman QB in Chris Leak. It was the Tigers’ only blemish on the season and one still talked about today. Leak is now a grad assistant at UF and Will Muschamp, the defensive coordinator of that Bayou Bengal team, is now Florida’s head coach. The Tigers defense finished that season ranked number one, but Leak shook off six sacks to throw two big touchdowns in the 19-7 win. The win propelled Florida to win at #11 Arkansas and over #4 Georgia in Jacksonville, the highest ranked team a freshman QB has beat for the Gators.
2004: The game that changed college football history. Had Florida held on to their 21-7 lead late in the second quarter, we might still be talking about Ron Zook as coach of the Florida Gators. Not likely. Had Chris Leak scrambled for three more feet on third and six up 21-17, maybe Florida ends up with Nick Saban instead of Urban Meyer. It’s all outlined in a superb article by Andy Staples. But the Tigers did come storming back to win the game 24-21. Marcus Randall was the hero of the game for LSU, throwing two touchdowns in place of the injured JaMarcus Russell. This was the game which Zook lost his sixth home game in two years, more than Spurrier had lost in 12 years at Florida. And the rest is history.
2005: Urban Meyer and Les Miles were in the midst of their first year at Florida and LSU, respectively. In a back and forth game in Baton Rouge, Miles’ Tigers got the best of Meyer’s Gators, 21-17. LSU’s defense smothered the Gators all night long, while Florida’s defense also played well. The Gators forced five turnovers and five sacks. JaMarcus Russell turned out to be the hero with his two TD passes. This was a tough one for Gator Nation because they jumped ahead late in the third quarter, only to have Joseph Addai run in for the game deciding touchdown in the fourth quarter.
2006: This game is so important for the Gators. It was the breakout party for QB Tim Tebow. He flourished in specially designed plays, scoring three touchdowns and leading ninth ranked Florida to a 23-10 win over #5 LSU at home. The win propelled the Gators all the way to the BCS Championship Game where they destroyed Ohio State. The lasting image from this game and maybe Tebow’s career was the famed jump pass to TE Tate Casey that took everyone by surprise.
2007: This could be the most frustrating game I’ve ever watched. The rankings were swapped from the year before with Florida coming in at #5 and LSU at #9. The Gators raced out to a 10-0 lead to quiet Tiger Stadium. However, the Tigers came back and they traded punches until it was 24-14 late in the third quarter. LSU QB Matt Flynn cut the lead to 24-21. Then came the most improbable. LSU converted five fourth and twos to win the game, 28-24. I remember watching this game and almost breaking my hand punching a wall afterwards because it was that demoralizing.
2008: This game featured the past two BCS Champions. Florida came into the game ranked 12th and hosted third ranked LSU. The Gators got out to a 20-0 lead, but the Tigers came roaring back and cut the lead to 20-14. Thoughts of last years game kept creeping into the Gator Nation’s collective head. But that would not happen, with QB Tim Tebow leading the Gators to a 51-21 win. This was a fun game to be at. My lasting memory is of LB Brandon Spikes taking an interception 52 yards to the house. It was the slowest 52 yards I think I’ve ever seen a football player run, but it blew the top off of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida used that momentum to go all the way to the BCS Championship game where they defeated Oklahoma.
2010: In a back-and-forth game, 14th ranked Florida traded barbs with 12th ranked LSU at Florida Field. The Tigers pulled ahead 26-14 in the fourth quarter. Florida KR Andre Debose blew the roof off of The Swamp when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown and QB John Brantley(!) led the Gators down the field to bring the score to 29-26. LSU QB Jarrett Lee trotted the Tigers down to the Florida 36 yard line with 34 seconds to go. Les Miles decided to put the field goal team on the field. But little did the Gators know, LSU holder Derek Helton no-looked the ball to kicker Josh Jasper, where it took a fortuitous bounce into Jasper’s arms as he ran for a first down. On the last play of the game, Lee tossed a 5 yard touchdown to WR Terrence Tolliver to win the game 33-29.
It wasn’t my intention to go through every game Florida and LSU have played, but by checking in on past games, I quickly realized that nearly every game in the past 12 years was an instant classic. Last year, LSU head coach Les Miles voiced his concern about playing Florida as their permanent SEC East rival every year. Personally, I love playing LSU every year. The past games have been spectacular and no series has been as tight as the Tigers and Gators since 2001. Here’s to hoping Florida and LSU play every year from here on out.
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