Abolverdi’s Answers: Florida loses turnover battle, third-down matchup

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney runs after a reception during the second half Saturday against LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Toney had a career-high nine catches for a career-best 182 yards.

Before every Florida game, Gainesville Sun football beat writer Zach Abolverdi comes up with five pertinent questions and then answers them after the game. Here's Week 10:

After the three straight games facing a second-quarter deficit, can UF get off to a fast start?

LSU beat the Gators with a last-minute field goal, but they lost this game in the first half. The offense failed to convert a fourth-and-goal from the 3 on its opening drive, followed by Kyle Trask’s three turnovers — including one in the red zone and two that resulted in 10 points. Eli Ricks’ pick-six gave the Tigers a 14-7 advantage, and they regained the lead with less than a minute left in the second quarter. Kayshon Boutte’s touchdown on a blown assignment and Cade York’s kick before the half came back to bite the Gators in the end. 

How many touchdown passes will Kyle Trask finish the regular season with?

Trask hit the 40 mark, topping record-holder Danny Wuerffel (39), but he should’ve finished with a couple more scores Saturday and likely would have if star tight end Kyle Pitts didn’t sit out. In addition to the turnover on downs, Pitts could have made a difference in the red zone on Trask’s first-down interception from the LSU 15 and the two Evan McPherson field goals Florida settled for. Nonetheless, Trask still scored on a pair of one-yard QB runs and tied his single-game career high for passing yards (474). He also tied Kentucky’s Andre Woodson for fourth on the SEC single-season record list for TD passes..

Will LSU QB Max Johnson make his first start, and does he throw a pick?

As expected, Johnson got the nod Saturday night and did something his dad, former Florida State quarterback Brad Johnson, never did — lead his team to a win in The Swamp. Johnson split time with QB Casey Weldon in 1991 when the Seminoles lost 14-9 at Florida, but his son had all the snaps to himself against the Gators. After coming in for relief of starter T.J. Finley against Texas A&M and Alabama, Johnson replaced the fellow true freshman and led LSU to an improbable upset. He threw three touchdowns, made some nice runs and took care of the football, unlike Trask. Johnson still hasn’t been picked off this season. 

Can Florida's offense win the third-down battle and avoid three-and-outs?

Negative. Heading into Saturday, Florida’s offense and LSU’s defense both ranked No. 3 in the SEC in third-down efficiency. This was the Sun’s key matchup, and the Tigers won this category convincingly. UF moved the chains on just five of its 13 third-down attempts (38.4 percent), which is right at LSU’s season average for opponent third-down conversions (36.6 percent). The Gators, who came into the game converting 51.5 percent on third down, were held to three consecutive three-and-outs in the second half. Those drives set them way back, coach Dan Mullen acknowledged afterward. 

Will the Gators get their ground game going after a season-low 19 yards at Rocky Top? 

Mullen and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson once again relied heavily on the passing attack, with Trask attempting 47 passes, but the Gators weren’t one dimensional on offense. They eclipsed 100-yards rushing as a team for the sixth time this season, finishing with 135 yards on 26 carries (169 yards excluding Trask’s four sacks). Malik Davis led the way with a season-high 81 yards on seven carries, along with five catches for 25 yards. Dameon Pierce ran the ball eight times for 24 yards and had two catches for 19 yards, while receiver Kadarius Toney added 56 yards on the ground with his three touches.

Up next

What: SEC Championship Game

Who: No. 1 Alabama (10-0) vs. No. 6 Florida (8-2)

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850