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.
That’s the most for LSU ever in an SEC game.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.