Updated at: 10/12/2013 7:35 PM
By BRETT MARTEL
(AP) BATON ROUGE, La. - Les Miles repeatedly dismissed the notion that LSU’s defense was as vulnerable as it had looked recently.
For now, at least, he is a coach validated.
The Tigers were in Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy’s face all game, batting down passes, racking up sacks and keeping their opponent out of the end zone for the first time all season.
Jeremy Hill did his part with 121 yards on 19 carries, and No. 10 LSU celebrated a vintage victory in Death Valley, 17-6 over No. 17 Florida on Saturday.
"The more time we are getting together with this defense, the better we are becoming," said defensive end Jermauria Rasco, who assisted on one of LSU’s eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage. "It is just taking some time and I think the evidence is there now."
LSU, which had been scoring 45.5 points per game, had a much harder time finding the end zone against a Florida defense rated among the nation’s best, but 1-yard touchdown runs by fullback J.C. Copeland and freshman reserve quarterback Anthony Jennings turned out to be more than enough for the Tigers (6-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference).
Murphy was 15-of-27 passing for 115 yards for the Gators (4-2, 3-1), who led 3-0 early, but managed just one more field goal on the day.
Murphy was sacked four times, one apiece for safety Micah Eugene, defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, cornerback Jalen Mills and linebacker Kendell Beckwith. Murphy was nearly intercepted three times, but LSU defensive backs dropped each of those chances.
LSU’s defense "had too many free runners at the quarterback," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "My initial thoughts are there was too much pressure. We’ve got to protect (Murphy) better."
Murphy blamed himself.
"I really have to work on getting rid of the ball quicker," he said.
The Tigers had eight defensive players selected in last spring’s NFL draft, forcing coordinator John Chavis to remake his unit with a lot of youth and inexperience. It showed two weeks earlier in a 44-41 loss at Georgia, and again when the Tigers allowed 23 points in the first half of last week’s victory at Mississippi State.
But LSU allowed only a field goal in the second half a week ago, a promising sign for a unit that has now gone six quarters without allowing a touchdown.
"Our guys did a tremendous job and I’m proud and it was fun watching them play again," Chavis said. "For the last two weeks we have focused on one simple thing: Do your job; count on the guy beside you; count on the guy behind you; and count on the guy in front of you."
LSU never seemed truly threatened, but Florida made it a one possession game on Francisco Velez’s second field goal, a 27-yarder that cut it to 14-6 with 12:11 to go.
The Tigers responded by going to Hill, who carried four times for 45 yards _ including a gain of 26 yards to the Florida 19 _ to set up Colby Delahoussaye’s 31-yard field goal with 7:58 left.
"We can win all different types of games," Hill said. "We can win shootouts or we can win tough, physical ground-it-out kind of games."
The sequence left Muschamp frustrated with his normally dominant defense.
"You can call whatever defense you want to call, kids have got to get off blocks and make a play," Muschamp said. "Our guys have got to accept that."
Needing two scores, Florida started to gamble.
On fourth-and-5 from the Gators 30, punter Kyle Christy converted a fake, hitting Demarcus Robinson over the middle for a 14-yard gain. Murphy then converted a fourth-and-9 with a 15-yard pass to Ahmad Fulwood at the LSU 20.
That’s when the Tigers’ defense clamped down and sealed the game.
First came a sack on a blitz by Mills for a loss of 12 yards, which forced a desperate fourth-and-27. Beckwith’s sack then gave the ball back to the Tigers for good.
"They are maturing and I think they understand what they are supposed to do," Miles said of his defense. "I just think it’s maturity."
Florida entered the game giving up averages of only 217 yards and 12.2 points per game.
LSU gained 200 yards and scored 14 points in the first half.
After punting on their opening drive, the Tigers’ next three series produced two touchdowns and could have resulted in a third score if Zach Mettenberger did not lose his handle on the ball without being hit for a lost fumble on the Florida 27.
Both scoring drives were helped by Florida penalties and gave LSU a 14-3 halftime lead.
Mettenberger finished with 152 yards on 9-of-17 passing, hitting Jarvis Landry four times for 58 yards and Odell Beckham Jr. twice for 47 yards.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)