Florida football score, takeaways: Gators throw away title hopes in embarrassing, inexcusable loss to LSU

By Adam Silverstein
December 13, 2020
Florida football score, takeaways: Gators throw away title hopes in embarrassing, inexcusable loss to LSU
Football

Image Credit: UAA

One of the best regular seasons in the history of Florida Gators football ended with one of the most inexcusable losses in program history. No. 6 Florida fell 37-34 to the LSU Tigers on Saturday night, failing in all three phases of the game as it watched its national championship hopes disappear like the game-ending missed field goal into the fog that swallowed The Swamp.

Like that fog, despair swallowed the Gators as redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Trask had the worst half of his career before bouncing back in the latter 30 minutes, the defense consistently got beat by a true freshman QB starting his first career game and special teams was unable to come through when it mattered the most.

None of that is to mention one of the single most embarrassing and costly penalties in Florida football history: a thrown cleat turning a third-down stop in the fourth quarter into an eventual game-winning field goal for LSU.

The Gators had destiny in their hands for most of the season, ever since Florida beat Georgia to take control of the SEC East. In the end, UF did not even win the division outright.

There is plenty to sort through as Florida was upset by LSU in The Swamp, so let’s not waste any time looking at the Gators’ second loss of the season.

1. The play(er) that lost the game: No win or loss is the fault of a single player — not in this game or any game. So much happens in 60 minutes that any number of plays or decisions can drastically affect the outcome. But it was clear Saturday night that the Florida-LSU game was decided for good on a decision that was so bone-headed it is difficult to believe it will ever be topped.

With the game tied 34-34 and more than two minutes to play, Florida’s defense stopped LSU well short on a third-and-10 pass from the Tigers’ 25-yard line. It looked like the Gators would have plenty of time plus three timeouts to drive the field, score and win the game; however, redshirt junior cornerback Marco Wilson celebrated the stop by picking up and LSU player’s shoe and heaving it 20 yards down the field. Wilson was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, turning the defensive stop in tremendous field position into a first down. LSU took advantage of its second life, gaining a couple first downs before Cade York drilled a 57-yard field goal to put the visitors ahead 37-34 with 23 seconds left.

If Wilson’s penalty was his lone miscue, it could potentially be excused. But he also fell down on a huge gain for the Tigers in the fourth quarter and was victimized on numerous other occasions not just Saturday night but throughout the 2020 season. Wilson walked on Senior Night, so despite him having eligibility remaining, the fourth-year player will not be returning to the Gators.

2. The offense that lost the game: How exactly do you blame an offense that posted 34 points and 609 yards for a loss? As mentioned, there is equal blame to go around all of the Gators’ units — including the best one — and it starts with redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Trask. While Trask’s final line is incredibly impressive, completing 29 of 47 passes for 474 yards with four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) can easily be outshined by miscues. Trask had his worst half of the season in the opening 30 minutes, throwing a pick six, a red zone interception (a bit of a fluke play but nevertheless a forced throw) and fumbling on his own side of the field near the first half. Those turnovers resulted in 10 LSU points and Florida’s first deficit at halftime the entire season.

Trask rebounded massively in the second half. His third quarter was astounding as he led two touchdown drives that combined for nine plays and 156 yards in just 3:42 of game clock. Florida even led 31-27 entering the final 15 minutes. However, the Gators went three-and-out in three straight drives between the third and fourth quarter, gaining 8 total yards on 9 plays. Those wasted opportunities put the onus on a Florida defense that has clearly been ineffective and untrustworthy all season.

The Gators had eight red zone opportunities but converted just four of them into touchdowns with two field goals, an interception and a turnover on downs on the opening drive of the game. Senior wide receiver Kadarius Toney (career-highs of nine receptions, 182 yards, TD) and redshirt sophomore WR Jacob Copeland (five receptions, 123 yards, TD) were incredible. Florida finally got its running game going, too — gaining 105 yards from its running backs and 56 more from Toney.

The game plan was also at issue for the Gators, however, as head coach Dan Mullen was clearly trying to find success in the run game during the first quarter, cutting off his offense’s legs. The Tigers entered with one of the worst passing defenses in the SEC, and it was not only without star CB Derek Stingley Jr., it lost two more starters in the first quarter. Still, Mullen and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson were focused on the run and called numerous questionable plays in the first couple of red zone trips. So yes, Trask and the offense deserve significant blame.

3. The defense that lost the game: For whatever the offense’s failings, and three turnovers plus all those other miscues are legitimate, Florida’s defense was again atrocious against LSU. Wilson’s penalty aside, the Gators allowed the Tigers to convert 7 of 13 third downs over the final three quarters. The inability to get off the field doomed Florida as LSU was able to score 13 unanswered points surrounding halftime that put the hosts on its heels throughout most of the second half. The Gators are usually the team taking advantage of the halftime turnaround but were put in the opposite position and were therefore forced to play for behind.

Florida’s defense allowed 418 yards and let freshman QB Max Johnson complete 21 of 36 passes for 239 yards with three touchdowns, one of which came on a blown coverage resulting from a nonsensical cornerback blitz called by defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. The Gators did have their moments with two sacks, five tackles for loss and four QB hurries, but they were unable to create a single turnover and gave up 179 yards on the ground, including numerous long rushes for Johnson.

It allowed LSU to score touchdowns on three drives of 75+ yards and has now allowed 28 TD drives of 70+ yards this season, an unfathomable amount for a defense with the caliber of talent that Florida possesses. Again, this was a 3-5 Tigers team starting a freshman QB without its best wide receiver and tight end all while operating with less than 50 scholarship players after in-game injuries.

4. The special teams that lost the game: The Gators were not awful in the third phase. In fact, senior punter Jacob Finn had his best game of the season with four punts for 222 yards, including three that went for 50+ and a long of 67. However, the return game was nonexistent and sophomore kicker Evan McPherson unfortunately failed when he was needed the most.

Trask completed three big passes for 42 yards with time ticking down, setting McPherson up for a 51-yard field goal — a distance that he is more than capable of drilling and has multiple times this season. With the game and Florida’s national championship hopes on the line, McPherson missed wide left. As with Wilson earlier, no game is decided based on a single play — but there is no denying that McPherson blew the most important kick of his career on Saturday night.

5. The coaching that lost the game: Most of it has already been covered in the above spaces, but the early offensive playcalling, continued horrific defensive moves and overall questionable decision making deserve criticism just as much as the play on the field. Coaches are not blameless even when they try to put the onus on players, and there is no question that Florida somewhat downplayed LSU entering the game. All you had to do was listen to Mullen explain before the game that a two-loss SEC champion Gators team would deserve a CFP bid. What?!

Saturday’s loss was a failure in all three phases but also from the coaching staff in those phases. Why did Florida enter the game so lackadaisically on offense, choosing to try and run the ball against one of the worst passing defenses in the SEC. Was the Gators defense prepared for a quarterback who could run? Where were the second-half adjustments that Mullen has praised Grantham for extensively this season? Why didn’t Florida’s offense figure out a way to move the ball as opposed to going three-and-out on three straight possessions? Why were no risks taken? Why was there a lack of creativity shown offensively?

This was the fourth straight game that Florida trailed in the second quarter, meaning an adjustment has clearly not been made to the team’s slow starts. The Gators trailed at halftime Saturday for the first time all season, and that’s a position Mullen is unsuccessful facing as his teams are now 6-5 during his UF career when needing a second-half comeback.

Oh, and why did junior tight end Kyle Pitts — arguably the best college football player in the country — not dress despite going through warmups? If Pitts is truly injured, the last thing anyone should do is risk his health by pushing him to play. But if he was sat purely for precautionary reasons because the Gators felt like they had enough to beat the Tigers without him, well, clearly they did not.

6. Trask is still special and Heisman Trophy worthy: Trask’s three turnovers were unforgivable, particularly two of them, but making a couple mistakes does not flush your season down the toilet or disqualify you for the top college football award in the land. Trask now holds the Florida program record with 40 passing touchdowns in a single season, passing Danny Wuerffel’s 36 in 1996. Remember that Trask accomplished that in only 10 games, all against SEC opponents, with Pitts out for three games.

Trask had yet another 400-yard game and finished with four total touchdowns. He has 13 more passing touchdowns than Alabama QB Mac Jones, the co-favorite for the Heisman, and 14 more total touchdowns on the season. Trask did see his interception numbers rise from three to five (compared to Jones’ three) on Saturday, but the scores should far outweigh the miscues. It was the third multi-pick game of his career, but UF won the other two handily. Trask also did not play 10 games with the other best playmaker in the nation (DeVonta Smith) suiting up every contest like Jones did, nor did Trask have as strong of a running game.

7. Odds and ends: Florida lost to a team with a losing record for the first time in more than a decade; it was previously the only FBS team other than Alabama to not drop such a game since 2008 … the Gators fell to 33-31-3 all-time agains the Tigers and are now 16-14-3 in The Swamp … UF is 2-3 against LSU in the last five meetings, 3-8 in the last 11 …

the Gators lost for the second time under Mullen when scoring first (21-2) and leading after the third quarter (25-2) with both losses occurring this season … Florida is now 6-3 in games decided by fewer than 10 points and 7-7 when being outrushed by an opponent … UF is 23-3 against unranked teams under Mullen … Florida has scored 24+ points in 25 of its last 27 games … UF has scored in 408 consecutive games, an NCAA record

8. What’s next? Florida failed in its quest to win the SEC East outright and will now split the division title with rival Georgia, though it will advance to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2016. The Gators have also flushed their hopes at the College Football Playoff but can still win their first SEC title since 2008, though they will have to do so over No. 1 Alabama.

Florida and Alabama met in the first three SEC title games and will square off for the 10th time with the league crown on the line. The Crimson Tide are 5-4 in the nine prior meetings with three straight wins (2009, 2015-16). Alabama is 25-14 all-time against Florida with six straight wins and a 9-2 mark in the last 11 meetings since 1998.

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