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Florida's 19-7 win at LSU 10 years ago was the Tigers' only loss that season.

Friday October 11, 2013History Lesson: 2003 Florida-LSU Game was a Shocker Few People Saw Coming

Florida's 19-7 win at LSU 10 years ago was the Tigers' only loss that season.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It is with some orange and blue-colored irony that LSU has chosen this weekend, with Saturday’s showdown against the Florida Gators, to welcome back members of its 2003 team to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of that Tigers national championship squad.

What a team, it was.

The Tigers, coached by Nick Saban, went 11-1 in the regular season, crushed Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game, then defeated No. 3 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and got the nod from the coaches’ poll to share the national crown with Associate Press poll champ USC.

It marked LSU’s first national title since 1958 (See Cannon, Billy).

“The thing that made that team special to me was that most of the guys that were recruited on that team came to LSU when we weren't all that great and they came there sort of with a mission to accomplish something special,” Saban said this week. “I love that team.”

Here’s where that irony comes into play. 

The Gators weren’t feeling much love when they went into Death Valley to face the unbeaten Tigers on Oct. 11, 2003 -- exactly 10 years ago today. UF, under Ron Zook, was 3-3 with losses to Miami, Tennessee and Ole Miss. The Gators’ best win to date that season was a comeback at Kentucky. 

LSU was ranked sixth in the nation, averaging 40 points per game and seemingly laying in wait, armed with more than a dozen future first- or second-round draft picks.

The Gators, meanwhile, were in disarray. 

Worth noting: One Baton Rouge radio talk-show host pronounced this UF team as “dog poo.”

Guess who won? 

Once again, it’s history-lesson time, folks.

 

THE GAME 

Skyler Green returned UF’s first punt of the game 80 yards for a touchdown, sounding the deafening din. Obviously, the rout was on, right? 

LSU did not score another point the rest of the game. 

True freshman quarterback Chris Leak, in just his third start, passed for two touchdowns, cornerback Keiwan Ratliff intercepted two passes and defensive end Bobby McCray had three sacks as the Gators thoroughly frustrated the Tigers -- much like they’d frustrated their own fans the weeks before -- with a 19-7 shocker that few outside the UF locker room could have seen coming.

Leak completed 18 of 30 passes for 229 yards, but was sacked six times. Unlike LSU’s Matt Mauck, though, Leak did not make any killer mistakes and maintained his poise from the outset, answering the Green touchdown with a 13-play, 80-yard drive he capped by hitting wide-open running back Ran Carthon for a 22-yard touchdown to tie the game.

On LSU’s next possession, Ratliff picked Mauck and went 36 yards on the return to set up a Matt Leach field goal that gave the Gators a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter and took the edge off the visiting team.

From there, it was all Florida.

The Gators defense was spectacular, aided by the unexpected return of fiery linebacker Channing Crowder. The unit's emotional leader who had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery the week before and was expected to be another two games at least. Crowder only had four tackles, but his mere presence fueled his teammates, especially McCray, who was a wrecking-machine answer to Ratliff’s ball-hawking in the secondary.

UF held the high-powered Tigers to just 287 yards -- 56 on the ground; only 39 yards for future first-round pick Joseph Addai -- and forced a trio of turnovers, including a late fumble by Devery Henderson to wipe out any chance of a comeback.

Zook was doused with Gatorade after the game. 

 So was defensive coordinator Charlie Strong.

 

POST-GAME QUOTES 

* “It feels like we just won the Super Bowl or something.” -- Ratliff 

 * “I told them in the locker room, enjoy this win. They played their tails off. But you know what? Next week it can go the other way.” -- Zook, whose team actually started a five-game winning streak that day and went on to finish the season 8-5. 

* "We’re not paying attention to small things." -- LSU cornerback Corey Webster's rationale for the Tigers' 13 penalties for 99 yards.

* "It's like a cake. Look at the eggs. It's not real pretty. Look at the milk, it's not real pretty. Look at the flour, you know? But get everything together. Mix everything and cook it into a cake, the end result is beautiful. The cake's out. Time to ice it up." -- Crowder on the Gators’ season through seven games. 

* “We only blitzed ‘em three times all game.” -- Strong. 

* “Like I’ve been telling you guys all season, we’ve got a good football team.” -- Zook.

 

 FAST FORWARD 

Present-day Gators coach Will Muschamp was at Tigers Stadium that day. Muschamp was defensive coordinator of that LSU team and recalls the memories of that season fondly.

LSU officials actually asked if he could participate somehow in their week, but Muschamp cited a conflict. 

“I’m more worried about the 2013 LSU team, not the 2003 one, that’s for sure,” Muschamp said respectfully. “Granted, we had a bunch of guys go play on Sunday, but we had a bunch of successful people whether they are teachers or they are in the business world, they have all done an outstanding job, and it was a lot of fun.” 

Present-day Florida fans would agree.

 

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