BATON ROUGE, La. — The Gators walked out of Death Valley alive. That’s about the only positive you can take away from Saturday’s loss.
After its 41-11 beatdown at No. 1 LSU, Florida’s season is on life support. The No. 17 Gators (4-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) are 0-2 this month against a pair of top-five opponents, and their slate only gets slightly less challenging the rest of October. Florida will travel to Auburn this weekend to take on the No. 15 Tigers.
UF had not suffered such a one-sided loss since 1996, when Nebraska took the Fiesta Bowl 62-24.
“Our team just has to get better,” linebacker Lerentee McCray said. “Our coaches, collectively, everybody has to get better. That’s basically what we’ve got to do.”
The Gators didn’t stand much of a chance Saturday. They entered Baton Rouge two-score underdogs, and the Tigers surpassed the odds makers’ expectations by the beginning of the second quarter.
On LSU’s second play from scrimmage, quarterback Jarrett Lee hooked up with Reuben Randle for a 46-yard touchdown. The next drive, the Tigers ran the ball on seven of eight plays, carrying it for 57 yards and punching the ball in with a 2-yard run by Spencer Ware.
That became a theme throughout the afternoon for Florida’s defense: an inability to stop the run, and a penchant for getting beat deep.
The Tigers ran the ball 49 times for 238 yards. Florida’s run defense, which earlier this season looked to be the team’s strength, allowing an average of 56.5 yards in its first four games, has become porous as of late. The Gators have given up 464 rushing yards the last two weeks.
“We’ve got to come up with some ways to stop the run game better than we’re doing at this point and that’s been disappointing because I did think we would play the fronts better,” coach Will Muschamp said. “But we hadn’t tackled well when we’ve gotten the ball on the perimeter in some spots. It’s just a collective effort.”
Florida’s defensive backs, meanwhile, were exposed whenever LSU felt like throwing the ball. On 14 pass plays, the Tigers gained 215 yards.
Florida’s offense, meanwhile, could not find a rhythm with freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett making his debut. Playing in front of 93,022 fans, the Gators managed just 213 total yards.
With an ankle injury keeping John Brantley out, the question of the week revolved around who would be fielding snaps for the Gators. Freshman Jeff Driskel was expected to start, but he too was hampered by an ankle injury suffered toward the end of the Alabama game.
Brantley was using crutches on the sidelines Saturday, and Muschamp — who has been guarded with all injury information — all but guaranteed Brantley won’t play this week. Driskel’s status remains uncertain.
Regardless of which freshman was taking snaps taking snaps Saturday, Florida would have run a vanilla offense. The Gators kept things simple, hoping to beat the Tigers with a strong running attack to make Brissett’s life easier. No such luck.
For the second week in a row, Florida’s offensive line was pushed back. The Gators managed 113 yards on 32 carries, but most of those yards came from the wildcat formation, when Florida at times switched to a run-only offense.
Passing the ball, Brissett elected for safe throws early. In the first quarter, he completed 5 of 6 passes for five total yards. He took more chances as the game wore on, and the results were predictable for a freshman — a flash of brilliance sandwiched between deflating turnovers.
Brisset threw a pair of interceptions, the latter coming on a fourth-quarter deep ball to Andre Debose. But on a similar play in the third, Brissett found Debose for a 65-yard touchdown pass, cutting LSU’s lead to 16. Any hope for a comeback, however, was squashed on LSU’s ensuing drive.
The Tigers reached the Gators’ 3-yard line on a 57-yard pass to Reuben Randle. The dagger came about a minute later. .
Lining up in the shotgun, Jordan Jefferson ran forward, an apparent sneak. He then pulled up and left the ground, shoveling the ball to a wide-open Mitch Joseph in the end zone. The jump pass.
When Florida debuted that play with Tim Tebow in 2006, it did so in a win against LSU. Defensive tackle Jaye Howard thinks the play came from Tigers receivers coach Billy Gonzalez, who left Florida on bad terms after the 2009 season.
“That was tough that they did it against us,” Howard said. “I looked at Billy G on the sideline and he was laughing.”
Nobody on the other sidelines was.
Contact Tyler Jett at firstname.lastname@example.org