BATON ROUGE, La. — For the second straight season, Caleb Brantley rose to the occasion in Death Valley.
Last year at LSU, the Florida defensive tackle had a career-high 6 tackles. Brantley delivered again Saturday with a season-best 5 tackles and a pair of red-zone stops, including the first forced fumble of his career.
“This tops everything,” the redshirt junior said after Florida’s 16-10 win. “To win the SEC East on a goal-line stand, that’s the greatest moment of my career.”
In the second quarter, LSU had first-and-goal on the 7-yard line when Brantley blew by center Will Clapp and punched the ball of out Derrius Guice’s hands.
“They were trying to one-on-one block me. I feel like that’s disrespectful,” Brantley said. “As soon as I recognized that, I shot through, saw Guice coming and made a play, man.”
Another came in the third quarter with the Tigers facing third-and-goal at the 1. Once again, LSU tried to block him with just Clapp, and Brantley tackled Leonard Fournette in the backfield for a 1-yard loss.
The Tigers mishandled their field-goal attempt and Florida scored a 98-yard touchdown on the ensuing play to take a 10-7 lead. So essentially, Brantley caused 2 turnovers and ignited a 10-point swing at LSU.
“Big-time players step up in big-time situations,” Gators defensive end CeCe Jefferson said of Brantley. “I see Caleb Brantley have a big game every day in practice, man. That guy, he’s consistently working his craft. For him to come out here and transform his practice play to game play is not surprising to me.
“That’s obviously expected of him. I feel like he’s really the leader of our line. He’s one of those guys. If you need him to make a play, he’s going to make a play. He showed it today.”
Brantley is expected to enter the 2017 NFL Draft. This week, Pro Football Focus ranked Brantley third nationally among defensive tackles in “pass rush productivity.”
The former Under Armour All-American has shown flashes of greatness throughout his career, especially this season. But on Saturday, Brantley put together a complete game.
“It came together today,” Brantley said. “I ain’t even had a chance to soak it in yet. … Man, I’m at a loss for words. I actually contributed to us getting to the SEC East championship and us winning this game. It’s just a great feeling, man.”
UF coach Jim McElwain has praised Brantley’s talent for the past two years, but always wanted to see more consistency and mental toughness from him. Brantley wasn’t lacking either against the Tigers.
“Here’s what he did — he didn’t let the little things bother him,” McElwain said. “There’s times where he’ll get held and he’ll have a panic attack or something. Just go back and play the next play. What he did, he grew up in this game.
“He went back and he played the next play and he didn’t worry about all the clutter. He focused on doing his job and I’m just proud of him. This guy’s a heck of a player and when he’s on, he’s as good as anybody in the country. He proved it.”