BATON ROUGE, La. — There were two persistent and important questions that kept popping up all week in advance of Saturday night’s top-10 showdown between No. 7 Florida and No. 5 LSU.
One, is the Tigers’ explosive, unstoppable offense capable of doing what it has been doing against an elite defense, something LSU had yet to face this season?
Two, would Florida be capable of producing enough offense to keep up if the game turned into a shootout.
The answer to the first is, yes, the Tigers definitely are what they are on offense, unstoppable even against a highly rated defense.
The answer to the second is, no, the Gators don’t have quite enough offense yet to keep up in a shootout like this game turned into.
On a loud, crazy and breathless night in sold-out Tiger Stadium, the Tigers simply had too much firepower on offense and ran away from the Gators in the second half for a 42-28 win.
The loss ends UF’s 10-game winning streak and drops the Gators to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC. LSU, now viewed as a serious threat to Alabama in the SEC West, improves to 6-0 and 2-0.
“I’ve been playing football my whole life,” said UF quarterback Kyle Trask, who threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns. “I’ve won and lost games. Obviously, it sucks to lose games. This is a great group of guys and it’s just going to make us better.
“You have to follow the plan to win. There’s always more we could have done on offense. We did a lot of good things in this game. We showed a lot of toughness to come into an environment like this. We communicated well. We didn’t let the environment impact us negatively at all. We really came together and just really gelled and put some great drives together.”
After keeping up with the high-flying Tigers in the first half, matching score for score, touchdown for touchdown, the Gators simply could not keep up in the second half, getting outscored 21-7.
The Gators killed their chances with a critical turnover midway through the fourth quarter — a Trask pass that was intercepted in the end zone by LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. when it looked like UF was possibly going to tie the score at 35-35.
A few minutes later, the Tigers delivered the dagger — a 54-yard touchdown pass from Joe Burrow to former UF commitment Ja’Marr Chase with 5:43 left in the game to put LSU up by two touchdowns.
Trask and the Gators did not quit. They responded like they did much of the night, driving down to the LSU two-yard line before the Tigers sealed the win by nailing Trask for a two-yard loss on a fourth-and-goal option play from the two with a little more than a minute to play.
On his interception in the end zone, Trask said he was trying to make a play with a receiver Freddie Swain, who had drawn man-to-man coverage.
“Had a one-on-one matchup and obviously a guy trying to make a play,” he said.
The two red-zone failures came after the Gators were a perfect four-for-four there in the first three quarters. UF had a chance to possibly pull the game out late, but just couldn’t make it happen.
“It was tough,” Trask said. “I think there’s two ways you can go. You can either lose and start pointing fingers or you can lose and come together. I think we have a great group of guys and it’s just going to make this team better.”
It did not seem an appropriate way to end this game, with two defensive stops deep in the red zone.
This is a night when both offenses rolled up and down the field.
LSU piled up 511 yards of total offense, while the Gators were far behind with 457.
The Gator defense, playing without standout defensive end Jon Greenard, had no answer for Burrow and the Tigers wide-open passing attack. Burrow threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers also hurt UF badly with a ground game that had been suspect through the first five games of the season. LSU rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns.
“This is unacceptable for us,” sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson said of the defensive performance. “We definitely need to put our head down and grind and make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“We weren’t good with stopping the run, and that really killed us. Big run plays set them up for touchdowns they should have never been set up for. Really, we gave them the plays that they got. We didn’t play to the standard that we’re used to. That’s why it turned out like this.”
Greenard, one of UF’s elite defensive players, left the game early in the first quarter after tweaking a sprained ankle. The other starting end, Jabari Zuniga, left the game late in the first half after re-injuring his ankle.
“Great night of college football,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “It is a lot of fun to play in those games — obviously not fun to have it end up like we did. If you look at what our plan to win is, I don’t think we followed that.
“Play great defense, we didn’t do that. I was really concerned about the run game coming in and we obviously didn’t do a good job of stopping the run. From watching them on film, I thought they ran the ball better than what they were getting credit for. I think defensively injuries finally caught up to us this year. You know we have been just devastated with injuries.”
The Gators and Tigers combined to put on an impressive display of offense in an up-and-down the field first half. The Tigers did it swiftly, the Gators were more methodical but just as effective.
The result was a 21-21 tie at halftime.
Undaunted by the huge, hostile crowd, Trask and the UF offense answered every touchdown drive by the Tigers with one of their own.
After the Tigers went 66 yards for a touchdown in just two plays early in the first quarter, the Gators matched it with a 75-yard TD march in 12 plays. The LSU score came on a nine-yard pass from Burrow to Chase. The UF TD came on an eight-yard pass from Trask to wide receiver Trevon Grimes in the back of the end zone.
Early in the second quarter, when Justin Jefferson caught a seven-yard TD pass that culminated an 82-yard dive in only five plays, the Gators marched 75 yards again in 13 plays and tied the game 14-14 on a one-yard reception by Lamical Perine on fourth-and-goal.
The trend held to form later in the quarter.
LSU went back ahead 21-14 on a 39-yard run by Clyde Edwards-Helaire that finished off a 75-yard drive in just four plays.
The Gators responded again, driving 75 yards in 11 plays for the equalizer, which came on a six-yard pass from Trask to Van Jefferson with just four seconds left in the half.
So, there the Gators and Tigers stood through two quarters, tied 21-21. The two teams combined for 42 points and 511 total yards in the half, setting up an anticipated scoring fest in the second.