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Florida Football

From Every Angle: Breaking down Florida's goal-line stand against LSU

October 15, 2021
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FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
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Click on the button at the top to watch the Gator Nation Football Podcast Breakdown of the play

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This year marks the five-year anniversary of the Florida Gators’ game-winning, goal-line stand against the LSU Tigers that capped off a dramatic saga starting a month earlier when Hurricane Matthew threatened the state of Florida and Gainesville and ending with the Gators headed back to Atlanta for the second straight year.

Most Gator fans know the story: Matthew results in the game’s postponement, Florida and LSU work to reschedule, LSU was willing to cancel its Nov. 19 game with South Alabama to accommodate the Gators but wouldn’t budge on playing the game outside of Death Valley and thus forcing the Gators to cancel their game against Presbyterian and traveling to Baton Rouge. Those plans were announced a week after the postponement. 

Quarterback Austin Appleby remembers when the decision was made. 

“We’re in a team meeting and he (Head Coach Jim McElwain) goes ‘Hey guys. To heck with it. We can’t take it anymore. What do you say we go play them there?” 

Confusion set in. They didn’t know what Mac was talking about. When asked for clarification he said the team would play the Tigers at their place and beat them. His team thought he was talking about the Missouri Tigers, Florida’s Homecoming opponent that week. 

McElwain clarified further: the Gators were going to go to Death Valley to take on LSU at home. 

The team’s reaction according to Appleby? “It was kind of like a ‘Heck yeah, let’s go do it,’” he said. 

Tensions were already high with the episodic conflict. They only got higher with a pregame skirmish at midfield between LSU and Florida players. 

Defensive end Jordan Sherit was on the field for that skirmish but was too far away to get involved. For him, it didn’t add any fuel to his fire. Appleby wasn’t close to it but did get the aftermath. 

“The only thing I remember was the defensive backs came in hot losing their minds,” Appleby said. “…they came into the locker room and it was like ‘It is on’ kind of poke the bear a little bit and we were ready to roll.” 

Appleby might’ve not been involved in the pregame scuffle, but was instrumental in the brawl of a game that ensued. 

Without him, that 98-yard touchdown bomb to a freshman Tyrie Cleveland for a 10-7 lead doesn’t happen. The Gators lose 10-9 without it. He remembers heavily leaning on the running game with backs Jordan Scarlett and La'Mical Perine combining for 138 yards on the ground and almost five yards a carry. 

Florida was banged up heading into the game, including on the offensive line. 

Center Tyler Jordan went down a few weeks prior, leaving the Gators to rely on freshman TJ McCoy (son of former Gators defensive tackle Tony McCoy). The younger McCoy made his second career start on that cold Louisiana afternoon. He remembered the chippy affair and how the energy from the pregame festivities carried onto the field. 

“The first carry Jordan Scarlett ran for like five yards and even I got into it with some of the defensive players just making sure pushing them past the hole because he didn’t go down initially,” McCoy said. 

Both teams fought all the way down to the final second and Appleby and McCoy were on the sideline for the knockout blow. 

McCoy sat on the sideline bench looking up at the big screen in Death Valley saying “Please, Lord, let them stop this.” Meanwhile Appleby was pacing between the 35 and 20 to stay out of the defense’s way saying as many Hail Marys, Our Fathers and just about any other prayer he could. 

And down on the one yard-line, Joey Ivie and Jordan Sherit were digging in for the most important play of Florida’s season. 

The defense was used to being counted on that season. To that point, only two opponents put up more than 20 points on that unit. 

All four players remarked that side of the ball was littered with NFL talent from first-rounders to late-round picks. Seven players off that unit ended up being drafted that ensuing spring with another five joining them over the next two cycles after the 2017 draft. 

Ivie said the defense was used to playing lights out and maintained its style of play throughout every game. Sherit echoed that sentiment. 

"As soon as the ball gets on the ground and we're on defense, (it) doesn't matter which yard marker we're on (or) where they're at," Sherit said. "We play our style of football. We play to a high standard."

Ivie lined up at the zero-technique flanked by Caleb Brantley, who played a whale of a game up to that point, and Taven Bryan. His responsibility? Take up one of those A gaps while the linebackers come downhill and pick up the other one so every gap is accounted for. 

“You know how important it is to do your job at that point in time,” he said. 

Sherit lined up on the right edge. He’s responsible for the play if it goes outside to the right. Once the tight end blocked down, it became like playing a read option. He’s the line last of defense on the line for if that play gets stretched out. 

Sherit suffered a meniscus injury earlier in the season and it still had him a little hobbled after his recovery. Leaving him to chase down Derrius Guice from the edge once Danny Etling flipped him the ball.

“As soon as I saw they're running that ball in the middle and the shoulders were turned I just closed in and luckily the interior D line played really well and Marcell Harris from the other edge kind of got one leg and I got the other and we were able to come up with a stop,” Sherit said. 

Both Ivie and Reese shot through the gap and it made Guice hesitate for a second. That allowed for Sherit and his counterpart in Harris to close in. 

Sherit knew they got the stop because both he and Harris had both of Guice’s legs, there was no way any part of his body reached the goal line. He knew the ball popped out and he knew it was over when he saw Bryan curled up in a ball with it. 

“You see our defensive players throw their hands up and say ‘No mas’ and then you hear that nice little blue pocket right over there in the left endzone, the left corner, going absolutely ballistic,” Appleby said. “And at which point my eyes were just glued on the ref and he said ‘No touchdown’ it was pandemonium at that point guys are running all over the place. I just dropped to my knees."

The only thing Sherit could hear in all of Death Valley was his teammates and him whooping and hollering in celebration of the most unique ways to ever win a ballgame. People see walk-off home runs, major-clinching putts and even Hail Mary passes. But they never really see game-winning goal line stands as time expires. Sherit referred to it as one of the highlights of his career. 

Appleby called it similar to having the bases loaded with a 3-2 count in the ninth inning of a baseball game.

McCoy was one of the players who rushed the field. What made the win even more special was Florida won without their two big leaders on defense in linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone. 

“It was a good game to show…the young guys, like myself and other young guys got to show how good they were,” he said. 

It was just another game that added to what is one of the wackiest, most entertaining, and random rivalries in the SEC in the last decade or so. There’s been a walk-off goal-line stand, fake field goal pitches that bounce off the ground, a cleat getting thrown deep into a dense fog, LSU students harassing a quarterback over the phone, and not to mention two different quarterback duels at night in Baton Rouge (Treon Harris vs. Brandon Harris and Kyle Trask vs. Joe Burrow). 

Sherit’s been on the other side of a few roller coaster games. Where you end up losing thinking you’ll pull out the victory. So doing it in the fashion the Gators did in 2016 was just an awesome moment in a rivalry where you want nothing more than to win. 

“Just to beat them and send some of their boys back to the locker room crying,” he said. “That just makes a victory even sweeter.”

All four of those players can probably still hear the team shouting “Bitch, I’m from Louisiana” in that visiting locker in a dead silent and vacated Death Valley.  

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Former Florida defensive line coach Jerry Anderson shares his thoughts on the goalline stand

"First of all, coaches spend a lot of time watching game tapes of their opponents, especially the type of play that is run with certain personnel, a specific formation, hash mark, time on the clock, game circumstances, and position on the field. In the process, they determine the percentage or chance a certain play will be run with those criteria in mind. When you think about the circumstances involved, being in “Death Valley” with the crowd, having all the momentum going against you, and how extremely difficult it is to stop someone on the one-yard line, and then you add-in with the game is on the line, I would say it was unbelievable and phenomenal what the Gators were able to accomplish. With the personnel and formation LSU had in the game there was a good chance they were going to try and stick it into the end zone. Defensive linemen key off the offensive linemen stances, their splits, how close they are to the line scrimmage and the game circumstances. Even with the information coaches have sometimes it can still be a guessing game, however, I don’t think it was a mystery LSU intended to ram the ball down our throats. Based off the personnel LSU had in the game UF had basically nine players on the line of scrimmage. In a short-yardage goal-line situation, it is imperative that the defensive linemen get as much penetration as possible and then scramble to the ball. UF did a terrific job of that thereby cutting down the runners’ space and giving time for the pursuit to corral him.

Something LSU could have done differently was run a formation that would have spread the Gators out more and perhaps created more running lanes, or space for the back. They could have substituted an extra offensive lineman in the game, run an unbalance line and make the Gators adjust. Again, the unbalanced line could have helped to create more space and choices for the back to break inside or outside the lead block. If you try something on first down and it doesn’t work you still have three downs left to run the ball. For instance, a play-action flood route where the lead back goes out in flats, flanker comes inside and rubs the player covering the back and the tight end runs a corner route putting the defensive back in a bind to cover the corner or flat route. No one has all the answers but in most cases, you would rather not be too cute, just blast the ball into the end zone. The truth of the matter is, most games are won before you show up to the ballpark to play the game. By that, I mean it is what you do in practice during the week. You have to emphasize in practice specific situations such as short-yardage and goal-line; one yard to go with the game on the line. There are no easy ways about it, you have to practice it live. If you have the desire, determination, and will you should be able to make one yard. I guarantee you that next week LSU coaches challenged their team’s character and toughness.

 
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