GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When Kevin Minter left LSU's 14-6 loss to Florida with cramps in the third quarter, LSU was leading 6-0 and had stymied Florida's offense all day.
When he came trotting out of the locker room and into the game some 20 minutes later, the Tigers were behind 7-6 and Florida was driving again.
That's the kind of impact LSU's junior middle linebacker had on the game.
His 20-tackle day was the second best effort in LSU history, one tackle short of Al Richardson's school record set in 1982. What further illustrates Minter's contribution, though, is what happened when he left the game. Seams that Florida started to find with a misdirection running game -- Minter would often close the gaps in a heartbeat and turned promising plays into minimal gains -- turned into gaping holes. A Gators running game that had struggled to find ways to piece together a couple of good plays was, all of a sudden, gashing the LSU defensive front.
"He showed up with a tremendous game to help us try to take a win," defensive end Barkevious Mingo said. "But it takes a team effort. The team should've rallied around that and got him off the field."
He did get off the field, but not in the way he wanted. With LSU's offense going three-and-out on six straight possessions, Minter, like many of his defensive teammates, wore down and Florida's running game was ready to take advantage. It forced Minter to the locker room for intravenous fluids to solve a cramping issue in both legs on a hot, muggy day.
When he came back from the IV, Florida had scored and was driving again. His return didn't immediately stop the Gators -- running back Mike Gillislee scored the second of his two touchdowns -- but the Gators didn't score again.
"They took care of me [in the training room]," said Minter, who added that both of his legs locked up. "I was fine after that."
And Minter had done so much to take care of the Tigers before he went down.
With LSU stalling on offense and the Gators abandoning their vertical passing game after five sacks in the first half, Minter had ample opportunities to make stops.
Among his tackles were three for loss. In the second quarter, he had back-to-back sacks of Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel. When the Gators did sustain a drive, Minter was there to halt it, stripping Florida's Frankie Hammond of the ball at the LSU 20, killing the drive after teammate Kwon Alexander recovered it.
"I think Kevin played his butt off," LSU coach Les Miles said. "He has given us great leadership and he is the captain of our team. He is exactly what you want from a college football player."
That Minter is earning that kind of praise on a team so full of stars is remarkable. The Tigers entered the season with NFL draft picks all over the field, starting with defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Mingo, tackle Bennie Logan and defensive backs Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.
Minter's reputation fell somewhere behind all those players on a defense that's among the best in college football.
Halfway through the schedule, it's hard to argue now that he isn't LSU's best defensive player. Already the team leader in tackles coming into the Florida game, he's now threatening to run away with the lead at 54. He leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and now has two sacks.
Minter, perhaps subdued by the sting of defeat, was humble when taking questions about his performance.
"I was just working hard," he said, "and doing what I could for my team."
That he was so dominant is consolation on a night when the Tigers were knocked off their preseason pedestal.
If LSU can get its woeful offense on track, the solid play from Minter could make the Tigers every bit as formidable on defense as last season, when linebacker was considered a weakness. On Saturday, Lamin Barrow and Alexander also played well and were also, at some point, knocked out of the game because of minor injuries.
As Florida found something that worked with a misdirection rushing attack, LSU was losing linebackers -- "That misdirection running game, it kind of caught us on our heels a little bit," Minter said -- and their value to the defense became more apparent.
Already formidable on the defensive line and the secondary, the Tigers are now also getting elite play at linebacker, particularly from their rising star in the middle.