Florida’s 17-16 loss to LSU showcased the Gators’ struggles to stop opponents on third down, a lack of preparation for pre-snap trickery, and the absence of a sense of urgency when the game was on the line.
“This one is a tough one to swallow,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “It hurts. It really does.”
But the Gators still saw some re-assuring signs.
“Whether it’s a win or a loss, there’s always things to build on,” McElwain said.
Here are three things Florida can feel good about heading into another SEC home game against Texas A&M next weekend.
Running backs continue to make strides
For the second straight week, Florida’s ground game was the highlight for Gators fans. All three of UF’s runners — freshman Malik Davis, sophomore Lamical Perine and freshman athlete Kadarius Toney — had explosive plays of at least 20 yards.
Lamical Perine was the first running back on the field for Florida and scored both Gators touchdowns. It was his second consecutive multi-score game as the sophomore from Mobile, Alabama, ran for three touchdowns last weekend against Vanderbilt. Perine finished the LSU game with 12 carries for 70 yards along with 15 yards receiving from a screen pass, UF’s first play from scrimmage.
Despite not starting the game, Davis once again was given the most carries for Florida. Davis capitalized on those opportunities, running the ball for an efficient 6.4 yards per carry to total 90 yards on 14 rushing attempts.
Toney was a big part of UF’s offense again, lining up at quarterback on nine snaps and keeping the ball on six of them. Toney finished with 52 rushing yards and averaged 8.7 yards per carry.
S Gardner curbs tackling trouble
Early in the season, sophomore safety Chauncey Gardner had drawn criticism from fans for failing to finish tackles. By Florida’s fourth game, Gardner led the SEC with a missed-tackle rate of more than 47 percent. But Gardner’s improvement was obvious against the Tigers on Saturday. The sophomore led Florida with 12 total tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss.
“I had to get my swagger back,” Gardner said after the game. “Just go out there (and) be physical. I told my team, it’s back. It’s time.”
By the end of the game, the same Twitter accounts that had called for him to be benched were praising his effectiveness as he made multiple open-field tackles.
“Working on wrapping up, running my feet. That’s all it was today,” Gardner said.
DE Zuniga a menace in the backfield
Usually it’s hard to find something good to say about a defensive line that allows its opponent to run for 216 yards. But Gators defensive end Jabari Zuniga made it a little easier tonight. The sophomore finished with two tackles for loss, including a 7-yard sack on LSU quarterback Danny Etling that forced the Tigers into a third-and-19 in the second quarter. Zuniga continues to build on a solid freshman season that saw him record a team-high five sacks in 2016.
Matt Brannon is the Alligator sports editor. You can follow him on Twitter @MattB_727 or contact him at [email protected].