It was fun. It was wild. It was riveting. It was pretty much any word that even sometimes means “exciting” depending on its context. In the end, it was disappointing.
But most importantly for Florida, the disheartening 35-28 loss was largely irrelevant, nothing more than a BB gun shot to the arm. Sure, it stings, but it causes no significant damage to the Gators’ SEC East hopes, or even their national championship hopes for that matter.
That’s not to say the Gators can’t learn from the loss, though. Because while the 6-0 start Florida got off to has elicited sky high expectations, LSU proved that the Gators have a lot of work to do.
It started out innocently enough. Florida opened the game by going nowhere, and punting. LSU then made the first mistake of the game, as Tre’Davious White muffed the punt, and Florida recovered. Treon Harris, making his first start since the season opener in place of the suspended Will Grier, executed a pretty play fake on fourth and one and lofted a touchdown pass to Jake McGee to get the Gators on the board first.
But then LSU completely took over the game. The Tigers started the second quarter by punching it in the end zone via Leonard Fournette (who Florida just couldn’t stop, by the way, as he finished with 180 yards on 31 carries) to cap an 88 yard drive. After a three and out, Brandon Harris found Malachi Dupree in the back corner of the end zone. Quincy Wilson bit on some minute fake that I didn’t see while the ball was in mid flight, or maybe he just misjudged the trajectory of the ball and jumped the route. Either way, Dupree had an easy touchdown catch. And then another Florida three and out led to good LSU field position, which Harris and Dupree took full advantage of on a 52 yard bomb to set up Fournette’s second score of the game.
Those three drives by LSU were bad enough. The Tigers combined for 213 yards and 21 points in the span of three possessions, and the Gators’ defense looked gassed. The offense tried to help them out, as Harris hit Antonio Callaway for a bomb to get deep into LSU territory, which was followed by Harris’s second touchdown pass to McGee with 1:25 left in the half, but then came the ultimate ignobility.
Instead of being able to lock down with under a minute and a half left in the first half, and go to the locker room trailing 21-14 despite not playing very well, the Florida defense gave up a 50 yard Hail Mary sort of throw from Harris to… who else? Dupree, who scored a devastating touchdown with just :15 left in the half. That’s the sort of thing that, for lack of a better way of putting it, just can’t happen if Florida wants to take the step from contending for championships to winning them. Instead of turning to look the ball, Marcus Maye sort of got lost and then fell down while Dupree set his feet and high pointed the ball for an easy catch at the Florida 7. Then, because Maye had fallen down, Dupree was able to walk the remaining few yards in for the score. Yep, that’s embarrassing.
So let’s recalculate those defensive numbers. Florida’s defense, which had been for the most part outstanding so far this year, was responsible for giving up 288 yards and 28 points in the span of four drives (which all came in one quarter of game action). Consider just how bad that is. Florida’s defense held Missouri, Kentucky and New Mexico State to fewer yards than that for the entire game. Just imagine if they’d kept that up for the other three quarters: at that rate, LSU would have had approximately 1,152 yards of total offense and 112 points for the game.
So it was with a fair bit of doubt and sarcasm that I said this as Florida trudged to the locker room down 28-14:
If UF wants to win,the defense can't give up another point. They literally have to pitch a shutout the rest of the way, and try to win 31-28
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) October 18, 2015
But LSU didn’t keep that pace up, because the Gators’ defense buckled down and stood tall after that. Florida came right back down the field after forcing a punt, a drive that ended when Kelvin Taylor punched it in from two yards out. And when LSU was forced to punt on successive possessions and Antonio Callaway returned the second one for a touchdown, the game was suddenly tied. Just like that.
Unfortunately, I was more right than I knew about my declaration that the defense had to pitch a shutout.
After the Callaway punt return touchdown, LSU came right back down the field using mostly Fournette, but the drive stalled deep in Florida territory with a little more than 10 minutes to go. Les Miles sent on the field goal unit to attempt a go-ahead field goal- wait, stop me if you’ve heard this story before. And before Jim McElwain could do anything, all of our worst fears were realized. Holder Brad Kragthorpe tossed the ball to kicker Trent Domingue, who ran it in for what turned out to be the winning touchdown.
Florida’s offense then stalled on its final two drives, and LSU held on for the 35-28 win. Just another Florida-LSU game, right?
But here’s the thing. Because this was a cross-division loss, it does exactly zero to Florida’s SEC East title hopes. The Gators still control their own destiny, and in fact are a game ahead of second place Georgia with three SEC games to play. That means a win over the Bulldogs essentially wraps up the division for Florida, as the Gators would then need to beat either Vanderbilt or South Carolina- the two worst teams in the SEC East- to officially clinch the division with no possible scenarios for any of the other six SEC East teams.
Raise your hand if you honestly believed Florida would be in the aforementioned position to win the SEC East seven games into the season in August.
There’s a lot to work on, don’t get me wrong. Jim McElwain and co. have all the right in the world to lay into his team. After starting out 6-0 and getting told how great they were by everybody on campus, maybe it’s time for a little tough love to the following players in the two weeks leading up to the Georgia game:
-Treon Harris did fine for his first game as Florida’s full time QB, I thought, but he’s got a lot to learn. His mistakes include missing open receivers (either overthrowing them or short hopping them) in big situations, running away instead of stepping up into the pocket (which makes it easier for defensive linemen to disengage from their blocks and sack him), and taking a sack in a two minute drill where the worst non-turnover thing you could do is take a sack.
-The secondary absolutely blew any right it had to the DBU claim, as getting shredded for the end of half bomb to Dupree is the kind of single play that is absolutely fair to point to as a reason for why a team deserves to lose a game. (Though as an interesting side note, Brandon Harris threw for “only” 202 yards; the quotation marks are a reference to the fact that when you’ve got Leonard Fournette as your running back, your need to throw the ball decreases.)
-The offensive line faced a solid front seven for sure, but they took a step backward after seemingly making nice progress against Mississippi and Missouri. Kelvin Taylor was shut down for 25 yards on 15 carries (though he did have a touchdown) and aside from a nice 11 yard run from promising freshman Jordan Scarlett on a fourth and short, there wasn’t a single play in the running game that will draw praise in the film room. And Treon Harris was frequently pressured in the pocket, causing him to panic and try to run away.
Then again, if all this had to happen, better it happen now against LSU than next week against Georgia. It’s a non-divisional loss, Florida has a bye week to let this boil over in their heads, and… well, let’s face it, I’d much rather beat Georgia than LSU.
So back to the drawing board go McElwain’s Gators, already way ahead of schedule in Mac’s first year yet not satisfied at stopping now. There’s the biggest rivalry game of the season coming up in two weeks, and this year, it serves as a de facto SEC East Championship Game for Florida. This loss was one that the Gators can look back at and learn from, and with the coaching that I know McElwain and his staff are capable of, one that can make Florida a better team because of it.