Florida vs. LSU score: Takeaways as Gators defense disappears in Death Valley

By Adam Silverstein
October 13, 2019
Florida vs. LSU score: Takeaways as Gators defense disappears in Death Valley
Football

Image Credit: Twitter / GatorsFB

There was certainly magic in Death Valley on Saturday night, and most if it had to do with seeing the defense of the No. 7 Florida Gators completely disappear. The No. 5 LSU Tigers absolutely lit up their SEC rivals inside Tiger Stadium with LSU (6-0, 2-0 SEC) posting the most points against Florida (6-1, 3-1 SEC) in 48 years on the way to a 42-28 victory.

The Gators fought against plenty of obstacles in their second straight top-10 game, but none of them were enough to excuse how poorly their defense played in this contest. Florida gave up its most points since Nov. 10, 2017, and only led for a brief moment in the third quarter as its offense eventually failed to keep pace with an LSU team that seemingly scored at will.

So what went down in Death Valley and what can the Gators take away from their first loss of the season? Let’s break it all down.

1. The defense failed the offense: It sounds crazy to say, but for the first time in what seems like forever, a defeat squarely lays at the hands of Florida’s defense. The Gators were absolutely gashed for 511 yards, including 218 on the ground as the Tigers’ running backs got whatever they wanted on Saturday night. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was never affected by a non-existent pass rush and completed an astounding 21-of-24 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns. UF was so filled with holes defensively that LSU only experienced third down four times in 21:41 of offensive possession.

There are some legitimate excuses. Graduate transfer defensive end Jonathan Greenard, Florida’s star defender through the first six games of the season, played a couple snaps in the first quarter and never returned with a high-ankle injury that he suffered last week but was never disclosed by head coach Dan Mullen. Senior DE Jabari Zuniga returned for the Gators and was effective when he played but reinjured his ankle and sat most of the second half. Florida was without its top two pass rushers and defensive linemen, erasing its ability to get pressure against a mobile Burrow and talented LSU offensive line.

“Defensively, injuries finally caught up to us this year. We’ve been just devastated with injuries,” Mullen said. “I don’t know a team that’s suffered more injuries than we have this year, and I thought it finally caught up to us tonight when both your D-ends pretty much out for the game — didn’t play — especially in this type of environment, it catches up to you.”

Also, simply put, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham got outschemed all game. He thought the UF could rush four and dominate like it did last week against Auburn, but it never worked and the defense never adjusted, particularly late. LSU got what it wanted in the passing game as Burrow had all day in the pocket and the running backs averaged a first down per carry most of the game. There was basically no resistance from a unit that looked like it was ferocious and impossible to stop just one week ago.

Yes, there were also multiple uncalled offensive holding penalties on the Tigers, not to mention at least one facemask. Those did lead to some major explosive plays, but that does happen on the road whether you like it or not.

2. About that offense … It stepped up. And so did Kyle Trask. The redshirt junior quarterback has received criticism in this space for his carelessness with the football, but he was rock solid on Saturday night. Trask completed 23-of-39 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns and was a willing albeit slow runner throughout the game. He routinely converted tough passes on third down (UF was 9 of 17 overall) and showed tremendous poise in one of the toughest environments in college football. Trask did have a disastrous red zone interception in the fourth quarter, but you can hardly blame him for a single mistake. And that one came in a unique situation (more on that later).

Senior running back Lamical Perine did not dominate, but he was effective with 65 yards on 17 carries including a couple of well-timed gains. He also caught an insanely difficult tip-drill touchdown on fourth-and-1 to tie the game at 14 in the first half. Trask had incredible chemistry with redshirt senior wide receiver Van Jefferson (73 yards), who scored a tough touchdown to end the first half in a 21-21 tie and caught four passes on the opening drive of the second half, including his second TD of the evening to give UF its lone lead, 28-21. Sophomore tight end Kyle Pitts again came up big for Trask and the Gators with 108 yards on five catches. Junior WR Trevon Grimes also had a TD. Nine total players caught a pass in the game.

The offensive output for Florida was good enough to win. Period. It would have scored even more points had it not been put in tough situations late in the game. The first half from the Gators was the best they have had perhaps in years considering the opponent and location.

3. Mullen outsmarted himself far too often: Coaches receive criticism when their critical decisions fail and praise when they succeed. That’s just how it works. And while Florida would probably not have been undefeated entering Saturday night without some of Mullen’s gadgets and creativity, there is no question that much of his decision making against LSU contributed to his team’s loss.

Redshirt freshman QB Emory Jones adds elements to the Gators’ running game and overall offense, but Mullen inserted him far too often and was too predictable with play calls when he was in the game. When Jones was inserted for a play here or there, it made sense and worked. But Mullen decided to open a critical fourth-quarter drive (Florida trailed 35-28 after giving up 14 straight points) with Jones; the Gators went three and out. Trask was working Florida down the field with multiple third-down conversions on the next drive when Mullen pulled him for Jones. After a failed running play, a cooled-off Trask reentered and threw what was basically the game-sealing pick into the end zone.

Then, with the Gators inside the Tigers’ 5-yard line needing two scores with under 2 minutes to play, Mullen decided to get cute with the playbook. He called a mind-numbing pass play with Perine that was blown up by LSU on first down, followed by a Jones run on third down and an option pitch with a slow runner in Trask to the short side of the field on fourth down. Florida was down two scores, yes, but it could have punched it in and at least attempted an onside kick. Instead, a 14-point loss goes on the resume, whether in Death Valley at night or not.

“Red zone scoring. Huge aspect. If we just score touchdowns in the red zone on two possessions there in the fourth quarter — didn’t come away with points. If we did, maybe we’d still be playing,” Mullen said.

4. The Gators should hold their heads high: Look, Florida was in an unenviable position Saturday night in an insane environment. The defense could have played better and more penalties could have been called and players could not have gotten injured and Mullen could have been more conservative … and UF still could have lost that game to an LSU team that appears to legitimately be national championship-caliber. Ultimately, with Georgia losing at home to South Carolina, Florida has all its goals still in view.

The Gators proved the belong with the top teams in the nation and did not arrive at 6-0 by some fluke. The defense will be far better against less explosive offenses. Trask must have gained insane levels of confidence with his performance, which did not include a single fumble. Even the offensive line stepped up and kept Trask clean most of the night. This was not a “great” loss, but it was far from a disastrous one either. There’s a reason that underdogs winning a top-10 game at home that have to go on the road for another top-10 game the following week were 1-11 straight up entering Saturday night (and now 1-12). It’s tough to beat top 10 teams and even tougher to do so on the road after giving your all against one the week prior.

5. Odds and ends: Florida ended a 10-game winning streak, just its seventh of 10+ games in program history … UF’s defense allowed its most points to LSU since 1971 and in any game since Nov. 4, 2017 … the Gators are now 33-30-3 all-time against the Tigers with LSU holding an 18-16 edge in Death Valley, 11-9 this century, 7-3 this decade and 5-2 in the last seven meetings … this is the second time LSU has defeated a 6-0 unbeaten Florida team since 2015 … UF entered outscoring opponents 112-17 in the second half and 64-7 in the fourth quarter; it was outscored 21-7 in the second half and 7-0 in the fourth quarter … the Gators are now 4-2 against ranked opponents under Mullen (3-2 against top 10 teams) … Florida has scored 24+ points in 11 straight games for the first time since doing so in 24 consecutive contests from 2007-09 … the Gators have scored in 392 consecutive games, an NCAA record … Florida fell to 26-15 when its game was featured on ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast, 2-1 this season

6. Up next: Florida’s gauntlet continues when it travels to South Carolina next Saturday. The Gamecocks upset Georgia in double overtime this week and will be riding high as the Gators visit. Game time is not yet announced, but it will likely be 6 p.m. ET on ESPN.

2 Comments

  1. C Johnson says:

    I’m really proud of the Gators for being ready to go after that tough win against Auburn. The offense almost managed to pull it out on a night when the D was, for once, overmatched. That’s what college football is all about, great games in intense environments.

    Time to get ready for the giantkiller Gamecocks.

  2. Skip says:

    Re #3, Mullen put Jones in with 3 mins left in third quarter when he went three and out acc to espn play by play. Point remains valid tho.

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