Countdown to Kickoff: 2014 LSU narrowly escapes disaster in Gainesville

The purple and gold bus screeched to a halt as it arrived in the unfriendly confines of Gainesville, Florida. 

Les Miles had coached many LSU teams who had the misfortune of playing in Florida’s stadium affectionately called “The Swamp” by the Gator faithful, but this time his team disembarked from the bus with their backs against the wall.

The Tigers were 4-2 through their first six games of the season with losses coming from Mississippi State and Auburn. If LSU failed to win against the Gators, the Tigers were set to start the 2014 season with an 0-3 Southeastern Conference record.

That result would give LSU its worst start to a season in conference play since 1999, and Miles would certainly find himself on the hot seat if he wasn’t there already.

Florida coach Will Muschamp was in a similar situation to his counterpart. While the Gators began the year 3-1, Muschamp’s Florida team famously (and embarrassingly) lost the last seven games of the 2013 campaign.

When LSU and Florida took the field that October night in 2014, it was clear that both teams needed some magic to buy their coaches more time with the respective administrations.

The game did not disappoint.

Both offenses struggled moving the ball downfield with consistency early, and LSU ran into issues with a botched snap that Tiger running back Terrence Magee recovered deep in LSU territory.

Jamie Keehn punted the ball to Andre Debose who promptly returned it 62-yards for a Gator touchdown.

Down 7-0 early, doubt began to rear its ugly head. “Here we go again,” said Tiger fans who were growing tired of watching the same story unfold every Saturday.

Miles and his team needed a spark, and LSU running back Leonard Fournette delivered one.

After the Tiger defense recovered a fumble on the Gator 32-yard line, Fournette’s number was called, and he ripped off a gain for 16-yards. 

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron decided to feed Fournette the ball again, and this time the freshman back plowed through a Florida safety on his way into the end zone.

The Gators responded with an eight play drive that quarterback Jeff Driskel capped off with a nine-yard rushing touchdown, and Florida took a 14-7 lead into the second quarter.

The second and third quarters were fairly uneventful, but it is worth noting how committed LSU was to the rushing attack throughout this game.

LSU ended the second quarter with a 12-play scoring drive where they ran it 11-straight times.

While it’s understandable that Fournette was a significant factor in this game, the Tigers absurdly finished with 50 team carries compared to Florida’s 35.

Throughout the game, Miles made it clear that LSU was going to win or lose on the back of Fournette who happily obliged by rushing for 140 yards on 27 carries and scoring twice.

The Tigers held on to a 20-17 lead into the 4th quarter, and there was a sneaking suspicion that LSU’s lead was not sustainable. This suspicion was quickly proven correct.

Halfway through the final quarter, Andre Debose almost took another Tiger punt the distance when he rambled his way for 53-yards to the LSU nine. Driskel found Demarcus Robinson for an 11-yard touchdown strike, and the Gators recaptured the lead at 24-20.

If LSU was going to win this game, Tiger quarterback Anthony Jennings was going to have to pass the ball. This is a thought that many Tiger fans conceivably shuttered at during the time, but Jennings proved his worth.

On 3rd down and 25 yards to go, Jennings hit LSU wideout Travin Dural in stride for a 41-yard gain, and the duo connected again for an 11-yard touchdown pass.

The scoring play was a beautiful pass to the back corner of the end zone which Dural hauled in with one arm as his other arm was being interfered with by the Florida defensive back.

27-24 Tigers.

The Gators set up shop on the next drive looking to one-up Miles’s passing attack, and one-up it they did.

Or, so it seemed.

Driskel landed a pass into Robinson’s bread basket for a 73-yard (!) gain, but LSU’s sophomore cornerback Rashard Robinson made what could be argued as the defensive play of the game after getting toasted off of the line of scrimmage.

LSU’s Robinson stayed with the play and hustled after Florida’s Robinson. The Tiger defensive back secured the tackle at the Tiger two-yard line and saved what looked like a surefire touchdown.

Third and goal came and went for the Gators after senior tight end Tevin Westbrook dropped a wide open pass in the back of the end zone, so Florida settled for a field goal with less than two minutes left to tie the game at 27.

Surely, LSU was set to respond with an efficient two-minute offense and win the game no?

No was correct. The Tigers ran three plays, picked up a whopping -4 yards, and took all of about 55 seconds from the clock. The Gators were going to have their shot at winning the game and sending Miles to an inevitable firing.

Luckily for the Tigers, LSU’s defense still wanted a word.

With the ball on the LSU 45, Driskel passed across the middle, and his pass was tipped into the hands of Tiger defensive back Rickey Jefferson.

After a few plays to attempt to gain yardage, eight seconds remained on the clock. LSU’s Colby Delahoussaye lined up for the field goal and drilled a 50-yarder (!), and the Tigers escaped The Swamp with a 30-27 victory.

Just how Mile drew it up.

LSU avoided a collapse in the first seven games of the season, and staved off the naysayers calling for Miles’s job. Muschamp wouldn’t be as fortunate, and the Gators would part from their head coach at the end of another lackluster season.

However, the magic of the 2014 season wasn’t finished quite yet, and the Tigers would play in another classic two weeks later against Ole Miss in Tiger Stadium.

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