Game Gators run into offensive buzzsaw in bayou

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LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for Florida wide receiver Freddie Swain (16) in the fourth quarter Saturday in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won 42-28. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

BATON ROUGE, La. — In the suffocating small room where the visiting head coach answers questions at Tiger Stadium, Dan Mullen could hear the fans still celebrating every time the door opened.

 It was a sobering experience for the head coach who suffered his first road loss as a Gator. He didn’t go 2005 Urban Meyer and shed a few tears, but he was obviously disappointed for the first time in 342 days.

That was the last time his Florida football team had lost a football game. The worst part is that he kind of knew what was coming.

“I was concerned a lot about their running game coming in,” Mullen said. “I saw it on film. They get you worried about the passing game and run it. Their run game is better than most people talked about.”

So on a night where LSU quarterback Joe Burrow looked like a legit Heisman Trophy contender (21-of-24 for 293 yards and three scores), it wasn’t the passing game Mullen felt was the difference.

Instead, it was the 218 rushing yards that LSU piled up (43 by Burrow).

Mullen’s plan to win includes stopping the run. It wasn’t even slowed.

For all of the hoopla about Burrow and the new-age passing attack, Florida was devastated by someone named Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who rushed for 134 yards and two scores.

“Our injuries,” Mullen said, “caught up to us.”

They certainly were part of the problem. Florida finally got Jabari Zuniga back and he went out again with that troublesome ankle. Maybe more importantly, Jon Greenard couldn’t go after suffering an ankle injury late in the Auburn game.

“Not having Jon killed our vibe,” said UF cornerback Marco Wilson.

Certainly, the vibe on defense was a dark cloud. How can a defense look so good one week and so bad the next?

Yo, it’s college football. Every game is it’s own game. And you can rattle a freshman quarterback, but you weren’t rattling Burrow. Not at home. Not on this night.

Instead, he picked the Gators apart with only 24 pass attempts. The running game game set up a remarkably efficient passing attack and the receivers played like they were channeling stars from the LSU past.

Had Florida been even a poor imitation of its usual defensive self, it might have rolled right over the Tigers. The offense was that good. Kyle Trask grew up a ton in a tough environment and Emory Jones was effective when he was in the game.

But even when Florida took the lead on its first drive of the second half, you kind of knew LSU was far from done scoring. 

Instead, the Tigers just kept coming at Florida. LSU averaged 10.6 yards per play.

 PER PLAY!

That’s the most for LSU ever in an SEC game.

EVER!

“We did a lot of good things in this game,” Trask said. “But losing sucks.”

It’s never fun. 

Never has been.

Never will be.

Trask’s interception in the fourth quarter didn’t help. Florida’s inability to punch it in at the end was disappointing.

But in the same way last week’s big emotional victory was on the defense, so is this loss.

“You get into big games like this and the margin for error is very, very, very small,” Mullen said. 

The final dagger against the defense was the 54-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase with 5:43 to play to make it a 14-point lead (how do those guys in Vegas know so much?)

On that play, two Florida defenders bumped into each other and Chase was wide open. 

It was that kind of night.

“They did a nice job,” Mullen said, “and we didn’t cover it.”

The Gators headed home with the sounds of Tiger Stadium ringing in their ears, but it wasn’t the crowd that beat them. The fans are usually pretty quiet when the home team has the ball. 

“We handled the environment pretty well,” said receiver Freddie Swain.

What the Gators did not handle was an offense that came into the game leading the nation in scoring. Now, we understand why.

But here’s the thing. Mullen told the team after the game that one loss won’t define the 2019 Gators and it won’t. It’s the rest of this season that will tell us the story of this team.

“The next four games are against SEC East teams,” Mullen said. “We control our own destiny. Next week’s game is bigger for us than this one. Whether we won this one or lost it, we still had to win the next four.”

Starting with Will Muschamp’s South Carolina team Saturday. 

Here’s one thing we know for sure about that game.

Florida’s defense needs to shake this one off quickly or this season could go south in a hurry. 

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Disappointing. But for being able to count on the defense, which we could on paper at least, we could have won this game. The offense has nothing to be ashamed of, but I knew we were in trouble at the half when it was 21-21…..unless the defense stood up, there was no way in hell we could stand there for another 30 minutes of football trading touchdowns one for one with LSU. Somebody had to get separation, and it wasn’t us.

    We can beat Georgia, but I don’t think we will unless we find a solution to the defense. We might beat Mizzou, but we might not. We knew this was going to be a tough schedule and are probably looking at 9-3 again, 10-3 with a good bowl win, but that ain’t too shabby if that’s the result. THIS IS ONLY YEAR 2 OF DAN MULLEN, and let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I would have liked the recruiting boost that would have come from beating LSU — sure — but we’ll keep building anyway and the target is now 11-1 this season and 12-1 with a bowl win. We find our defense again and the offense keeps giving it everything they have like they did last night, and that can happen. By God, anybody who doesn’t think that we have a quarterback who can lead us there, better get off the train right here. Just needs some help is all. GO GATORS!

    • It’s funny, 6, I felt good at the half, really pleased with the performance of Trask in the famed Death Valley environment, and thinking that we could make our second-half D adjustments and slow them down. Your intuition was much more on target than mine! As you said, disappointing. Seems with Grantham it’s feast or famine, though we obviously missed out star defensive ends. Burrow was way too comfortable in the pocket. Jones’ performance was encouraging, but man, do we need to recruit on the OL to get some semblance of a running game. Still control our own destiny but we’re going to have to fight, scratch and claw for it.

      • I always think back to last season, PVB, when there was somewhere along the way that “magical” shaking it all off, heads came out of asses, and the team started believing. And that team wasn’t as good as this team, but look at what they accomplished in their first season as a Dan Mullen team. Maybe this is that moment.

  2. The Vandy game is a gimme at this point. I think the season comes down to this week at USC. If we win and go into the bye at 7-1, I think we have a legit shot at 11-1. Mizzou and UGA will be tough for sure but I honestly think our coaching is better than UGA’s. Hoping we embarrass FSU. Got to get Zuniga and Greenard back…our defense is average without them.

      • I had opined that there is little correlation between injuries and the strength and conditioning program, or at least I’ve been unable to find a study to support that thesis. Now I stand by my view because we have a much improved SC program. Injuries is part of the game. Some years are worst than others. The important thing is player development and recruiting for depth as you guys have said.

        Next year, we will have a big concern at safety unless we sign some studs ready to play immediately. We have no underclass safeties on the roster this year that I know of.

        • I don’t think it’s a robust r, but do think it’s probably an inverse one at that, Sly (ie, as SC goes up injuries go down). I say “probably” because a study would need a TON of data to test for significance and who’s going to be able to do that? Best shot would be gathering a regression equation to try to determine how much % of the variance is actually accounted for by SC. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to go with anecdotal evidence from the lab and clinical lore…..helluva way to call oneself a scientist or run a railroad, ain’t it just!

          • Doc – I have found some studies that conclude as SC goes up, injuries also go up, not down, contrary to claims made on this board by certain passionate fans. In fact, you could overdo SC to the point where athletes are sent to the ER and may even be fatal in severe cases but more frequently, it causes less severe strains and other nagging injuries. Just ask Willie Taggart and his SC coach about their incident at Oregon. So more strenuous SC isn’t always better. I think it can be argued both ways depending on your perspective.

            Usually when I see posts on this board correlating SC to injuries, I sense it’s coming from those who are fervent McElwain bashers. That may be anecdotal. The following is the logic I sense being applied:

            I hate McElwain
            Premise 1: McElwain’s team had a lot injuries
            Premise 2: McElwain had a dysfunctional strength and conditioning program (as reported by anonymous sources)
            Inference: Therefore, the lack of a good strength and conditioning program led to the injuries
            I heard other people say it too
            Therefore, my inference must be correct
            Consequently, I hate McElwain even more (circular reasoning)

  3. This game on the road, a week after that epic Auburn win, was going to a tough gig no matter what. But, having to face THAT offense, in THAT environment, without BOTH of our star DE’s out injured was a bridge too far. Now, we get to find out if this Gator edition’s mental toughness has really improved over last season’s edition.

    The Kentucky game earlier this season was their first test of mental toughness and the Gators passed only because another injury forced a change at QBs in the 4th quarter of that test. Trask and Jones were such an improvement over Franks that they brought the Gators back to a W in Lexington and almost carried them to another one through that defensive nightmare in the bayou last night.

    In the end, the weak OL and lack of a credible running game proved too much for the Gators to overcome. First and goal at the two demands a respectable running game up the middle and the Gators just don’t have one this season. LSU does have a good running game and THAT, as CDM mentioned after the game, proved to be the difference last night.

    Now, the Gators move on to face a USCe team on the road that’s feeling their oats after upsetting UGA between the hedges, sporting an O that nobody will confuse with LSU’s. They beat UGA with solid defensive play, but are down to their 3rd string QB (typical Chump team.) However, they pose a mental challenge for the Gators every bit as serious as Mizzou did last season, after our tough loss to UGA.

    The Gator D will be without Zuniga next Saturday and Greenard won’t be 100% if he even plays, but that shouldn’t keep the Gator D from shutting down that lame USCe O the way they shut down Auburn’s. On the other side of the ball, our pass happy O matches up really well against USCe’s D.

    Here’s to hoping the Gators put that tough loss last night behind them by Monday morning a refocus all their attention on the upside left this season. Suddenly, UGA doesn’t look as imposing as they did at the start of the season. Winning the East and a one-loss regular season became more realistic goals last night. So, there’s A LOT left to play for!

    And who knows, the mighty Gators may even get another shot at LSU in Atlanta, which will open the door to a spot in the CFP final four…. IF they remain mentally tough and focus on USCe this week!

    GO GATORS!!!

  4. I was proud of FLORIDA’S OVERALL EFFORT. And while I didn’t expect a ‘W’, I was hoping for a bayou miracle. It was a good game for Trask and the receivers who did their jobs beautifully, for the most part. U.F. really missed Zuniga and Greenard on ‘D’. But still, ”elite defenses” adjust, adapt, overcome. So Florida’s ‘D’ is really good, but not yet ”nationally elite,” in my opinion. Florida faced down ‘2’ TOP 10 teams in back to back weeks (1 of which will play probably ‘Bama for the West’s crown), and went 1 outta’ 2. But in the end, I’m with Trask, ”LOSING SUCKS!” Go Gators! Just win baby!

    • If the defense hadn’t taken the second half off, I’m pretty sure we could have won that game, GI. But it was what it was and now it is what it is …. we can go 11-1 for the regular season if we really want it, the depth issue being too bad but not a catastrophy …. or we can go 9-3 if we just want it. I’ll say this tho: Trask & Crew are good enough to go to Atlanta even with the OL slowly coming along. But not without a defense.

      S. Carol didn’t exactly win but Georgia sure as hell lost.

      • You know 6, the Gator D played two equally miserable halves. However, given the heroic performance of the O (mediocre OL and all) the D might have been just good enough to escape the bayou with a W if BOTH of their All-SEC DEs hadn’t been out with bum ankles.

        The Gator D will not see another O as good as the one they played last night until they get to Atlanta. I know now the Gator O is good enough to carry them that far. And if the D can be at full strength by then… who knows?

  5. The LSU offense is very good, so let’s put ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda,’ behind the Gators and move forward. Still got tough games AT South Carolina and Missouri plus Georgia. They have a chance to play LSU again. And remember this: LSU is NOT a top defensive team–they just outscore their opponent. I have LSU favored against Alabama by 3. Just look toward the Gamecocks. They have a good D, but no offense,

    • Sage advice Cattrick, but I for one am having trouble doing that. I don’t mean it as a slam, but I am worried — no, strike that — the more appropriate word is “concerned”, about lapses in the defense given what is ahead. It’s not an isolated lapse, and it sure isn’t an omnipresent lapse either, but we can’t afford another showing like this one defensively …… the possible stakes are just too high. The more probable situation tho, given that we’re in Year 2, is one perhaps two more losses. That said, while we can I don’t think there is anything wrong with shooting for the moon. One thing for sure tho, when it’s all said and done we’ll all still be Gators and damn proud of this team.