BATON ROUGE, La. — The game was close. Shocker. LSU won. Not too surprising. Florida’s offense kept it in the game, and the defense was the reason it lost it. Wait, what?
The Gators’ defense, which had held opponents to under 10 points a game and shut two opponents out this season, completely collapsed in Death Valley against the Tigers on Saturday. That’s usually a recipe for disaster, but coach Dan Mullen’s game plan, combined with the offense’s solid execution, kept No. 7 UF in the top-10 matchup for most of the game.
In a season with poorly timed fake punts and interceptions when the team shouldn’t even be throwing the ball, Mullen called his best game of the year.
The game plan was to keep the ball out of LSU’s hands as long as he could, and hope and pray the defense could find a stop. Mullen executed this with short passes and well-timed runs, finding first downs over and over. The offense methodically moved the ball downfield, averaging 11 plays and 75 yards on scoring drives.
Mullen’s mix of creativity and aggressiveness was a big reason for the offense’s best first-half performance of the season, scoring 21 points and 246 yards of total offense with Trask racking up 141 yards through the air by the intermission and a career-high 310 yards and three touchdowns by the game’s end.
His play calling, and the offense’s ability to collect first downs with short throws and screen passes in the face of constant pressure from LSU’s talented defensive line, kept the Gators in the game.
But the offense’s most impressive performance of the season was wasted by UF’s defense, which many thought was the strength of the team after it held then-No. 7 Auburn to 13 points a week before.
It was hard to find one area to fault. The secondary allowed senior quarterback Joe Burrow to complete 21 of his 24 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns, and the front seven — which played without its two best players Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga for much of the game — allowed over nine yards a carry and three rushing touchdowns on the way to 511 yards of total LSU offense.
Defensive performances like that will rarely result in a win.
The good thing, though, is that UF didn’t lose any ground in the SEC East race.
Georgia, Florida’s primary competitor for the top of the division, lost earlier in the day to South Carolina in double overtime. Florida plays the Bulldogs in Jacksonville Nov. 2 — after playing the Gamecocks in Columbia, South Carolina, — with its fate still in its own hands. Hopefully, for the team’s sake, the defense does not perform its disappearing act twice.
“We have to get better,” Mullen said after the game. “Good thing for us is we have an even bigger game. Fun thing being at Florida: Each game just keeps getting bigger as you go along, and next week’s game is even bigger than this game.”
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Florida had its highest yardage output of the season against LSU.