Gators have improved plenty since big 2011 defeat at LSU
OCT 10, 2013 8:45p ET
That's sort of the way the Gators felt about LSU two years ago.
In Will Muschamp's first season, the Gators rolled through September with four consecutive wins. And then the calendar flipped to October and Alabama visited Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The carnage was sizeable: a 38-10 loss, starting quarterback John Brantley injured and his backup, Jeff Driskel, suffering an ankle injury late in the second half.
As if all that wasn't enough, the Gators walked off the field that night knowing a trip to No. 1-ranked LSU was on tap the following week.
Brantley watched from the sideline at packed Tiger Stadium in an ankle boot. Driskel was out. True freshman Jacoby Brissett started, becoming the first freshman quarterback in UF history to make his first appearance as the starter. The backup that day was a redshirt freshman named Tyler Murphy, who did not play.
Final score: LSU 41, Florida 11.
"It was definitely a low point in most of our careers here," Gators senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins said. "It was definitely a bad taste in our mouth."
The Gators hope Saturday's return to Baton Rouge serves as a gigantic bottle of Listerine. The 17th-ranked Gators (4-1, 3-0) face 10th-ranked LSU at 3:30 p.m. on CBS.
"It was tough. We really had a good week of practice, and we felt very confident," Murphy said. "To come out with a loss, it hurt. Especially after losing to Alabama. I thought we gave a great effort. We probably didn’t execute the way we should have. But I thought we played hard. That’s something where all you can ask for from a team is just to play hard and give everything you have."
The loss remains the worst for the Gators under Muschamp, who was LSU's defensive coordinator a decade ago when the Tigers won the national championship.
That 2003 LSU team is being honored at Saturday's game. Muschamp will say hello to some of his former players and colleagues, but his main focus is spoiling their day.
The Florida-LSU game has been a huge momentum turn for Florida in each of Muschamp's first two seasons. The loss two years ago sent the Gators spiraling deeper into the abyss. They went 0-4 in October, the program's first four-game losing streak since 1988.
A year ago at The Swamp, the Gators rose to the occasion to defeat the No. 4-ranked Tigers 14-6. The victory boosted a young team's confidence and launched the Gators to an 11-1 regular season that saw them climb all the way to No. 2 in the polls.
Which way will the Gators go this season? The final score Saturday could end up a road sign.
If the 30-point loss two years ago provides extra motivation for the Gators, Muschamp will take it.
"I think everybody is motivated differently, but if it motivates them, then certainly it should if you're a competitor," he said. "I know we have a bunch of competitive guys in the locker room. "Most of the guys I've been around certainly will use that. I will."
The Gators mustered just 213 yards of total offense at LSU in 2011. The game got so out of hand that former Tigers punter Brad Wing had a 52-yard touchdown run nullified on a fake punt for taunting. Wing held the ball out toward a Gators defender as he raced into the end zone.
Brissett, who transferred to N.C. State after last season, finished 8 of 14 for 94 yards. He threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Andre Debose but also tossed a pair of interceptions.
The Gators never had a chance after walking past caged LSU mascot Mike the Tiger on their way toward the field.
However, Murphy's play since replacing the injured Driskel three games ago and Florida's SEC-leading defense cast a different tone over Saturday's matchup. The Gators are 3-0 in the SEC and Murphy has thrown five touchdowns and only one interception, stabilizing a position that was never the same two years ago after Brantley went down against Alabama.
LSU is favored but the talent gap between the programs is not nearly as wide in 2011.
"Baton Rouge is a very lively place," Murphy said. "It’ll be a very hostile environment. As a team, we’ll have to focus on ourselves and not get caught up in the hype and all that stuff. Just treat it as another game ... execute like we’ve been doing.”
LSU's offense versus Florida's defense is the matchup most are talking about.
The Tigers are ranked 23rd nationally in total offense (488.8 yards per game) and senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger (1,738 yards, 15 touchdowns) has blossomed under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Meanwhile, Florida's defense has a deep secondary and the Gators lead the league in pass defense (152 yards a game) and pass defense efficiency (81.2 percent).
Watkins is ready to get another crack at LSU in Tiger Stadium.
"We get a chance to go back and try to redeem ourselves," he said.
Teammate Darious Cummings wasn't with the Gators during their last trip to LSU. But he had heard enough from his coaches and teammates to understand what to expect.
He is ready.
"It's going to be loud. It's going to be intense," Cummings said. "It's something to look forward to."