BATON ROUGE, La. -- We were sold a bill of goods. No. 8 LSU pulled a bait-and-switch on America. For the first half of the season, quarterback Zach Mettenberger and a newly discovered passing game has been the talk of the Tigers. Mettenberger came into the game leading the SEC in passing efficiency. Depending upon whom you ask, Mettenberger has been the best LSU passer since JaMarcus Russell -- or Y.A. Tittle.
And Mettenberger seemed emblematic of something bigger in the Southeastern Conference. The first half of the SEC season seemed to tip the balance in the league from the power game to the hurry-up, spread, 50-point style that has overtaken the rest of college football. LSU's past two games had been a 44-41 loss to Georgia and a 59-26 victory over Mississippi State.
But that's not what the Tiger offense showed Saturday, not with No. 17 Florida on the other side of the ball. The LSU offense played the game between the tackles, just the way that Gator coach Will Muschamp likes it. Actually, Muschamp coaches as if it he wants to play in an office cubicle. The LSU linemen know what the Florida linemen had for pregame meal -- and vice versa.
And when the Tigers' 17-6 victory ended, they had proven that their offense might have modernized, but they can be valedictorian in the old school, too.
LSU coach Les Miles used the phrase "close-quarter scrum." He said that about the end of the game, but it describes all 60 minutes. It appeared that the former Michigan offensive lineman borrowed a game plan out from the library of his college coach, Bo Schembechler. LSU ran the ball 39 times and threw it 17.
"Had we hit a couple more passes, we would've thrown it a bit more," Miles said.
LSU really had no need. The Tigers might have gained only 327 total yards, but they controlled the game. Florida held the ball for 34:11, ran 12 more plays than LSU and gained only 240 yards.
A very young Tiger defense that made a lot of mistakes in the first half of the season made a lot fewer Saturday. Defensive coordinator John Chavis held an emotional meeting with his players this week and implored them to play better. In their past six quarters, the Tigers have allowed nine points. That might good enough.
"I think they're maturing. I think they understand what they're supposed to do," Miles said.
Junior quarterback Tyler Murphy had to play catch-up football without the benefit of time to throw. Murphy completed 16 of 28 passes for 129 yards. That's an average of fewer than 5 yards per attempt before you consider that LSU sacked him four times, hurried him five times and knocked down three passes at the line. I mean, really, why even bother? Because the Tigers didn't let them run the ball, either. That's why.
"They kind of beat us at our own game," Florida defensive tackle Damien Jacobs said.
Florida played this style a lot more effectively before preseason All-American Dominique Easley blew out his knee three weeks ago. Not only did the Gators lose their best player on either side of the ball, but they lost their depth. LSU decided to exploit that, believing that the Florida linebackers played better running sideline to sideline than they did taking on a power running game.
"I love those big-contact games," LSU fullback J.C. Copeland said, "being able to hit somebody on every play."
This was a game for Copeland, the 6-foot, 270-pound senior fullback who scored the Tigers' first touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter. It took LSU six snaps from the Florida 11 to slam the ball into the end zone. Copeland went in on third-and-goal from the 1, sending a Gator helmet flying, presumably without a head in it.
"Why is it fun?" Copeland repeated. "I can hit somebody and not get sued for it."
Copeland opened plenty of holes for 6-2, 235-pound tailback Jeremy Hill, who rushed for 121 yards on only 19 carries. The Gators came into the game allowing 65 rushing yards per game. They gave up 175.
"Our guys just didn't get off blocks," Muschamp said.
Florida has an offense that looks like it's on blocks in Muschamp's front yard. The Gators win ugly, and on Saturday, they lost ugly. LSU, after half a season of winning pretty, proved it hasn't forgotten how to win ugly. That might come in handy on Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa. Hitting someone on every play has its pluses.