Ex-player's inspirational talk motivates Tigers
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Amid all the players-only meetings, team meetings and that infamous head coach-coordinators-athletic director powwow, there was also a keynote speaker for the LSU football team last week.
And it may have worked the best of them all as the freshly motivated Tigers recovered from the terrible loss to Troy last week to knock off No. 20 Florida, 17-16, on Saturday night here.
"I shed a tear," LSU sophomore inside linebacker Devin White said of a speech by former LSU inside linebacker Duke Riley, who is now with the Atlanta Falcons, to the team on Thursday.
Riley, whose Atlanta team is open this weekend, talked to the Tigers about how much it meant to him to watch LSU games on television now that he is gone. He spoke of "effort, pride, earning your way, and playing for your brother," LSU coach Ed Orgeron explained.
Riley surely must have enjoyed watching LSU on CBS Saturday afternoon. LSU's defense threw a fourth quarter shutout for the win with White at his old position.
"We had a lot of leaders come out and speak up last week," White said after leading the Tigers with 13 tackles. He also had one of LSU's five sacks. "Practice was tough because people had said we weren't physical. So Coach O wanted to get us back to that physicality. Practice was all about that. Coach told us to go out there and play with a lot of grit."
While leading just 17-16 in the fourth quarter, LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's unit forced two punts from Florida and stopped a fourth down. White broke up Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks' final pass on fourth and three to wide receiver Brandon Powell from the Gators' 25-yard line with under two minutes to go.
LSU (4-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) took over with 1:39 left and ran out the clock for the win.
"Coach (Aranda) called a zone defense, and we dropped eight back and rushed three," White said. "I saw Franks' eyes. He tried to throw the ball behind me, and I jumped up and got it."
And it was over. The Gators fell to 3-2 overall and 3-1 in the SEC.
"We needed this win," said LSU tight end Foster Moreau, who showed how physical LSU can be when he caught a short pass and ran through Florida safety Nick Washington for a 21-yard gain in the second quarter. Washington tried to tackle Moreau too high and was knocked out of the game.
The play helped set up a 38-yard field goal by Connor Culp for a 10-3 LSU lead with 25 seconds to go before halftime.
"That gave us some momentum," Orgeron said. "That's what we've been missing."
LSU made it 17-3 with a 75-yard drive in nine plays to open the third quarter. Quarterback Danny Etling completed a 47-yard pass to wide receiver D.J. Chark to get the Tigers to the Florida 17. Chark, like Moreau and White, had to show grit to complete the play. He out-wrestled cornerback Duke Dawson for the ball. Six plays later, Etling hit true freshman tight end Tory Carter for the 2-yard touchdown.
"That was all heart you saw out there today," Moreau said. "Wow. Just a great game all around by the players and the coaches. That's what we were trying to show tonight."
LSU's battered offensive line featured younger brothers playing for injured brothers. Starting senior left tackle K.J. Malone left the game with a knee injury and did not return. Starting right tackle Toby Weathersby also left with an injury and did not return. Starting junior center Will Clapp left with an injury, but returned. True freshmen Saahdiq Charles replaced Malone. True freshman Austin Deculus replaced Weathersby. And redshirt freshman Lloyd Cushenberry replaced Clapp.
"We lost three offensive linemen in the first half," Orgeron said. "And we had freshmen going in who didn't have a lot of experience. We didn't blink, and we weren't going to."
Just two weeks ago, Orgeron said Deculus was not ready to play, but he did.
"Three guys stepped up, and we came back. Like Coach Orgeron says, 'Next man up,'" Moreau said.
"No one blinked," Orgeron said. "I'm so proud of our team. No one blinked. This team made the decision on Monday that they were going to win this football game under any conditions. And we did that."
LSU will have to keep from blinking Saturday. No. 13 Auburn (5-1, 3-0 SEC) will be in Tiger Stadium after beating Ole Miss, 44-23.
"This shows what this football team can be, but we have to pay attention to the details," Orgeron said.
A week that began with recovery from a loss to Troy that White called "tragic" ends with newfound hope.
"This was the perfect week for us," Moreau said. "We needed this win. This was the week where we could build something and find leadership."