There’s a reason why goal-line stands are so memorable; they’re not suppose to happen.
Florida’s 16-10 win over LSU wasn’t just the biggest upset the Gators have had more than 40 years (they were a 13.5 underdog). It wasn’t just their first win in Baton Rouge since 2009. It wasn’t just game that clinched them a second consecutive SEC East title. It was all of those things rolled into one. And it couldn’t have happened in more dramatic fashion.
The goal-line stand that brought the clock to zero was a historic one. In the short term, it saved the game and perhaps the Gators season as a whole. In the long run, however, we may look back on those four plays as the series that defined Jim McElwain’s tenure at Florida. Here’s how it happened.
The majority of the time an offense is in a first-and-goal situation, it runs the ball. Knowing this, and predicting Florida would be stacking the box to stop it, LSU tried to thin out the middle by putting three wide receivers to the right. The key on this play was how Florida adjusted to it. Instead of having cornerback Quincy Wilson move from the left side to the right, it was safety Marcell Harris who moved over to cover the inside receiver.
Wilson stayed on the left side to help contain a run going to the outside. As running back Derrius Guice received the handoff, his initial movement was to the left side of the trench, but good containment by Wilson and others forced him back inside for just a two-yard gain.
On second down, LSU again tried to use deception to thin out the middle of Florida’s defense, this time by using a man in motion. As quarterback Danny Etling hiked the ball, the wide receiver on the left ran behind him to simulate a Jet Sweep. Earlier in the game, the Tiger ran this exact play for a 29-yard gain. However, on that play, the receiver was a decoy, and after faking handoff to him, Guice got the ball up the middle.
The play was moderately successful as it got the Tigers inside the 1-yard line. But, as the play ended, the camera panned to McElwain who appeared to be pleading something to the officials. After taking a timeout, McElwain had the officials re-watch where the ball should be spotted. This turned out to be the most important moment of the game. After reviewing the play, the officials decided to move the ball back about 12 to 18 inches so it sat right on the 1-yard line. That brought us to third down.
On third down, the Tigers no longer cared about trying to disguise what they were doing. This time they lined up in the I-formation with three blocking tight ends and J.D. Moore in at fullback. This formation with Moore in the game was again a telling tale because, before that play, Moore had 3 carries for 15 yards and multiple first downs on short yardage situations. This play was set up to be another one.
After not stopping Moore all game, the Gators came up big and did just that. The push on the left side of the line by Florida’s defensive end CeCe Jefferson was too strong and knocked Moore off balance enough for him to fall sideways, not forward. That brought up a do-or-die 4th-and-goal with only enough time on the clock for one more play.
The final play of the game was set up much like the one before it. LSU came out in the I-formation with three tight ends blocking, but this time had the extra blocker on the left side. With all but two defenders crowding the line of scrimmage, Florida’s human wall was as good as it was going to get. If this wasn’t enough, nothing would be.
Whether it was a miscommunication, a broken play or just hesitation from Guice, the LSU running back wasn’t able to generate enough momentum to push through the contact and cross the plain. In the end, he ended up coming less than 12 inches short of the win — the same amount of distance the ball was moved back after McElwain’s challenge.
Florida’s incredible goal-line stand to beat LSU wasn’t just a play a highlight play for one week or even this season. It was one for the history books.