Gators threw it all away in loss to LSU

Dec 13, 2020 | 0 comments

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It was all there for the taking for the No. 6 Gators on Saturday night. All they had to do was take care of business against an LSU team that lost by 38 points last week and entered the day barely above the SEC’s 53-player threshold to play a game, and they would find themselves in a de facto national quarterfinal against No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game next week.

Instead, they threw it all away. Literally.

With the score tied at 34, Florida’s defense appeared to get a three-and-out that would’ve given their offense the ball back with more than two minutes left with a great chance to win the game. However, after assisting with the tackle of Kole Taylor on third down, UF cornerback Marco Wilson inexplicably ripped Taylor’s shoe off and threw it. That was an easy unsportsmanlike conduct call for the referees, and it kept the Tigers’ drive alive.

Six plays later, LSU kicker Cade York drilled a 57-yard field goal to give his team the lead with 23 seconds to go. Gators quarterback Kyle Trask led his team 42 yards on four plays, but Evan McPherson’s 51-yard field goal attempt as time expired sailed wide left, and LSU (4-5) stunned the Gators (8-2) 37-34 in the Swamp.

While Wilson is the name most associated with the debacle, he was far from the only reason the Gators lost the game. When you roll up 609 yards of total offense, it takes failures in all three phases of the game to lose, and that’s exactly what happened.

“It was just a mistake,” linebacker Amari Burney said. “Everybody makes mistakes. You can't kill him for the mistake that he made. It was in the moment; he just got to learn from it and move on.”

Offensively, Trask’s Heisman Trophy campaign went down in flames. While he threw for a career-high-tying 474 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, he also turned it over three times in the first half, including a 68-yard pick-six by Eli Ricks early in the second quarter. His other interception and his fumble both led to Tigers' field goals.

In what’s been a trend of late, Florida’s offense struggled to convert in the red zone, coming away with just two touchdowns and a field goal in five trips to the red zone in the first half.

While they scored 17 points on their three trips to the red zone in the second half, they went three-and-out on three consecutive series that could’ve turned the game around.

“We probably had one of the worst starts that we’ve ever had to a football game, and when you turn over the ball that many times, it’s hard to win games,” Trask said. “I thought we fought really hard in the second half and gave our team a chance. LSU played a great, tough game. Give them credit. Obviously, it was not the result we wanted. I think if we play a clean first half, we’re looking at a different result.”

Defensively, UF gave up 179 rushing yards to the second-worst rushing team in the SEC entering the day. LSU freshman quarterback Max Johnson, making his first start, completed 21 of 36 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. They allowed the Tigers to convert eight of 18 third-down attempts and go 4-for-4 in the red zone. When the offense gave them a 31-27 lead and the momentum late in the third quarter, they squandered it two possessions later by giving up a 9 play, 84-yard touchdown drive.

“We just did things you can’t do,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “We had a missed assignment to give up an easy touchdown. We get the stop at the end to win the game pretty much and get a personal foul. A stop at the end of the game where we’re going to go have the opportunity to go win it. We’ve got to keep working. We got to get better. We’ve got to make better decisions out there on the field. You just got to keep playing harder.”

On special teams, York made his 57-yarder into the fog, while McPherson pulled his 51-yard attempt wide left.

“You can’t win doing what we did tonight, no matter what’s going on, no matter who you’re playing,” Mullen said. “We lose the turnover battle. We turned it over three times, minus-three turnover ratio. We don’t score touchdowns in the red zone. We can’t make key stops when we need to defensively, and we lose the special teams part of the game. It’s not a very complicated deal.

“Here's how you win: play great defense, win the red zone, win the turnover battle, and win special teams. There you go. If we score touchdowns in the red zone, we win by three scores.”

With the shocking defeat, UF’s playoff chances have all but vanished. The Gators insist that they’ll still be motivated and energized to play Alabama next week. After all, winning the SEC was their goal before the season began. That’s still very much alive, at least in theory.

“I think this is somewhat of a wake-up call,” Trask said. “It could be a good thing to happen right before playing them just to make sure that we’re completely locked in, making sure we are doing all the little things right.

“I think we can play with anybody in the country if we’re playing our best. We’ve got some of the most talented people in America on this Florida Gator football team. So, if we put together a great game plan and execute it, we can play with anybody.”

When Saturday began, the Alabama game represented an opportunity for the Gators to definitively show the world that they’re back as championship contenders. Now, it looks like it will be the next step in a disappointing finish to a season that began so promisingly.

The Gators threw more away than just a shoe on Saturday night.

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