BATON ROUGE, La. -- Things should have been worse.
A lot worse.
LSU dominated all aspects of Saturday’s 41-11 drubbing of Florida in front of the third-largest crowd (93,022) ever in Tiger Stadium.
Had the Tigers not momentarily called off the dogs in the third quarter, Florida’s wounds might be impossible to lick.
Despite giving up just 213 total yards to the Gators, LSU linebacker Ryan Baker said the defense was upset that Florida scored at all.
“In a way, guys were upset that we actually gave up some points,” said Baker, who had five tackles Saturday. “Every time we come into a game, we feel like we can shut a team out.”
That might seem a bit arrogant, but he’s right. If not for an uncharacteristic mistake by cornerback Morris Claiborne on Andre Debose's 65-yard touchdown reception, Florida wouldn’t have gotten in the end zone. If not for the LSU defense's failure to adjust to Florida’s Wildcat on its final drive of the first half, the Gators wouldn’t have made it into the scoring column.
These two teams -- really the programs in general -- are on completely different levels right now.
LSU is on pace for another double-digit win total behind a beastly defense and its efficient, pound-it-on-the-ground offense. Florida is fading with five stars.
LSU has confidence seeping out of its ears, while Florida looked out of this one after Rueben Randle's 46-yard touchdown catch less than four minutes in.
LSU is tough. Florida just isn’t.
When Claiborne looks at his teammates, he doesn’t see hesitation in their play or anyone holding something back. They go 100 percent, every down, every chance they touch the field.
“I sit back and watch the confidence that we have on defense and it’s amazing,” Claiborne said.
“You gotta have confidence. You have to feel like you’re the best on the field. Each 11 guys that are on the field, they feel like they’re the best and we go and play like it.”
It’s not just the defense. LSU’s offense overpowered the Gators with its running game, getting 238 yards, with Spencer Ware collecting 109 of those and two touchdowns.
LSU exacted its will on Florida and its gang of highly recruited, maybe highly overrated, high school All-Americans.
“We pay no attention to stars whatsoever,” Claiborne said.
When asked about facing Florida’s defensive line, LSU offensive lineman Will Blackwell said he was impressed and expects a lot of improvement, but it’s not there yet and LSU was more than ready for it.
“We face a D-line that’s as good, if not better, every day,” Blackwell said. “They’re going to be good, but we had a good day today and got the best of them.
“It’s a different game now. This isn’t high school anymore. It’s Division I, SEC football.”
And LSU clearly knows that. LSU also clearly has the talent to not only play lights-out but have fun, too. There was Brad Wing’s foolish taunt, Tyrann Mathieu’s honey badgering and that jump pass that must have eaten Gator Nation up inside.
This team is businesslike, but it knows when to clown around at the appropriate times.
“It’s like backyard football,” Baker said. “Anytime someone comes into your backyard, invades your space, you have to give them your best that day, but at the same time you want to keep it fun.”
When you look at these two teams, you see polar opposites. Florida has taken a step back in the past two seasons, getting outscored by Alabama and LSU 143-56 in the process. LSU, meanwhile, is a national darling.
It won 11 games last season with a team that struggled on offense, but made teams suffer with its defense. This season, the offense is improved, but not great. However, the defense is just plain scary, there is no letup and the mistakes are either limited or almost nonexistent.
Those characteristics are what make this team special.
“I like the idea that we’ve played quality opponents and had the earnest to really gain the advantage and then withhold the opportunity to let them recover, especially in the beginning, and we did that,” LSU coach Les Miles said.