LSU leaves Florida football singing the blues on Tom Petty Day

David Whitley
Gator Sports

In keeping with Saturday night’s theme, Florida didn’t back down when the fourth quarter rolled around.

The problem was how it backed up the rest of the night. In further keeping with the evening’s theme, you could say the Gators are free falling, and there’s not a parachute in sight. Especially when it comes to the basic task of stopping the other team from scoring.

“We’re gonna be sick when we watch the tape,” Billy Napier said.

Gator Nation certainly has a case of queasiness after LSU delivered a 45-35 slap-down on Tom Petty Day/Night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Napier got his first earful of boos, and they weren’t exactly uncalled for.

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I’d say the Gator defense has vanished, but that would insinuate it existed in the first place. Anthony Richardson looks more like a really good running back every week, which isn’t ideal when your position is quarterback.

A rebuilding season means taking three steps forward, two in reverse and grading things on a curve. The Gators have started moonwalking.

“We're in year one,” Napier said. “I think the big thing I would say is we're working hard on the people, and I think we're making progress there. We're working hard on expectations and culture. The football execution part is where we need to improve."

No question about that, considering the Tigers scored on their first seven possessions. Napier again talked about the need for patience, how rebuilding is a process, and this project is going to take time.

All that is true. Considering the mess Napier walked into, the “Sun Belt Billy” memes and social media pitchforks are overreactions. Changing the culture and restocking the talent really is more than a one-year process.

There's ample evidence the overall culture is trending in the right direction. But as the overall process evolves, fans aren't delusional to expect seven or eight wins out of Year 1.

Though at this point, they'd probably settle for one third-down stop.

Classless move by LSU band

There weren’t nearly enough Saturday night. By the time “I Won’t Back Down” rolled around between the third and fourth quarters, LSU was up 42-21 and the crowd was not exactly in a singing mood.

Then a strange thing happened, which is never surprising in this shoe-toss of a rivalry. As the song was winding to a crescendo and the Petty family was being spotlighted in the North end zone, the LSU band decided it was a good time to crank up a song.

I don’t know what the tune was, but it hit all the wrong notes. The crowd started booing, then started drowning out the band with a full-throated “Heyyyyy, Baby!” chorus.

Fans tossed a few items toward the band, and I can’t say I blame them. Maybe it’s not unusual for a visiting band to intentionally disrupt a home-crowd tradition, but that was a classless move.

Speaking strictly as a Petty fan, it would have served the band right if a sinkhole had swallowed the entire horn section. There was a quick jolt of karma on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Richardson broke out of the pocket and took off on a winding 81-yard TD run. It was classic AR, looking like the greatest athlete to ever wear a Florida uniform.

“It felt pretty good just to be a part of that,” he said.

There would be no Petty-fueled miracle

Then the Gators finally forced LSU to punt, scored again and a Petty-fueled miracle seemed possible. It really seemed so when Jason Marshall intercepted a pass on LSU’s next possession.

But that was called back because Gervon Dexter was called for roughing the passer. LSU got a field goal, and that was that.

A win would have glossed over UF’s shortcomings, but the film of the first three quarters still would have made a lot of people sick.

The Gators came in ranked 125th out of 131 teams in third-down conversion stops. They may well be at the bottom after Saturday night.

LSU converted eight of 12 third downs, including seven of its first eight. The only failure was when it got 14 yards on a third-and-15. It made the fourth down anyway.

The offense was adequate, though I'd trade some of Richardson's spectacular ability for more basic, boring passing consistency. The way the defense is playing, the Gators will need both to survive the next two games against Georgia and Texas A&M.

"If they put up 100 points," Richardson said, "we ought to be able to put up 101."

Keep that in mind as UF uses the bye week to prepare for the top-ranked Bulldogs.

“We didn't do enough to win the game tonight,” Napier said. “And when you're in a leadership position, there's only one answer – you’ve got to do better for the people that you're leading."

Translation: He said he’s got to do a better job.

Hey baby, it's hard to argue with that.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley