The Outback Bowl was expected to be a true defensive battle between Iowa and Florida, and through one half of play that has most certainly been the case, although Mark Thompson ripped through for a 85-yard touchdown play late in the first half to give the Gators a 10-3 lead at halftime.
Florida got the ball to start the game, but the drive ended with Austin Appleby being picked off on a tipped and caught by a diving Brandon Snyder. But Florida’s defense responded by forcing Iowa to a three-and-out to force a punt. That would only lead to another interception off a tipped pass from Appleby, this time with Desmond King getting himself in position to have the ball fall in his chest on the ground. It was Florida’s second turnover in the first five minutes of the game.
King’s interception would lead to a field goal by Keith Duncan for a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Florida would answer on the next drive with a 44-yard field goal off the leg of Eddy Pineiro.
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard nearly reached across the goal line for the first touchdown of the game midway through the second quarter, but the ball was placed just outside of the end zone and Iowa opted to go for it on fourth down. It did not go so well, with Florida stuffing the play for a turnover on downs.
The wait appeared to be worth it for No. 23 Florida (8-2, 6-2 SEC) as the Gators clinched the SEC East with a 13-10 victory on the road against No. 16 LSU (6-4, 4-3 SEC). The game, originally scheduled to be played in Gainesville earlier this year but was rescheduled due to a hurricane, was quite the physical one that saw the Gators fund an edge on the ground in the fourth quarter. A 26-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro with 4:37 to play gave the Gators a lead and the special teams unit recovered a fumble by LSU on the ensuing kickoff to run some more clock. But it was a goal-line stand on the final play of the game that would put the game in the win column for the Gators.
Down 16-10, LSU had the football with a first-and-goal at the seven-yard line and got two plays from the one-yard line to punch it in for a game-tying touchdown and potential game-winning PAT, but the Gators thwarted the Tigers when Derrius Guice lept over the pile and was stopped short of the goal line on the final play of the game.
Jordan Scarlett rushed for 108 yards and freshman Lamical Perine showed he can carry a pile on a key late drive. The play of the game, however, came shortly after LSU botched a field goal try and had a desperation pass by holder Josh Growden fall incomplete to allow Florida to take over from their two-yard line. Austin Appleby unloaded for a deep ball down the right sideline to Tyrie Cleveland, who broke a tackle and raced his way the remaining distance of the field for a 98-yard game-changing play to finish off a 10-point swing. The 98-yard scoring play more than doubled Florida’s offensive output at that point in the third quarter (68 total offensive yards before the play).
LSU running back Leonard Fournette was not scheduled to play today but reportedly convinced Ed Orgeron to allow him to play after a pregame dustup lit a fire under the banged-up Fournette. Fournette carried the football 12 times for 40 yards.
With the win, Florida clinches its second-straight SEC East Division title, which means the Gators are heading to Atlanta for a repeat of last year’s SEC Championship Game against SEC West champion Alabama. Alabama clinched the West last week with a win and an Auburn loss. It will be the first repeat SEC Championship Game matchup since Alabama and Florida clashed in the 2008 and 2009 conference championship games, although both of those games were between the top two teams in the country those seasons. Alabama may be the top team this year, but Florida will likely be outside the top 10. The SEC East hasn’t had a representative in the top 10 for the title game since No. 5 Missouri in 2013. Alabama and Florida have also met in the SEC Championship Game eight times prior to this season. Each team has won four meetings.
Before the SEC Championship Game, Florida will play rival Florida State next week in Tallahassee. LSU will close out its regular season on the road against Texas A&M.