BATON ROUGE, La. — Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson received the snap and immediately came under pressure. Desperate to make something happen with time running out, the redshirt freshman floated a pass off his backfoot for wide receiver Rick Wells.
Instead, it fell short into the waiting arms of LSU linebacker Damone Clark, the final nail in the coffin of Florida’s 49-42 loss to the Tigers.
The Gators dropped their third game of the season Saturday in Death Valley. They tallied 488 yards, including 350 through the air, but allowed 321 rushing yards and 454 total to the Tigers.
Richardson replaced starting quarterback Emory Jones in the third quarter and completed 10 of his 19 passes for 167 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. LSU quarterback Max Johnson matched his three scores, all to wide receiver Jaray Jenkins, and running back Tyrion Davis-Price rushed for a school record 287 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries.
The LSU crowd seemed to sleep through the 11 a.m. local time kickoff, but it didn’t matter — the teams did, too. Five of the first six drives ended in punts, and a missed extra point on Florida’s lone 59-yard touchdown drive, meant the Gators led 6-0 at the conclusion of the first quarter. The two squads punted for 180 yards against 155 yards of offense.
The Tigers wasted no time getting their goose egg off the board in the next quarter, as Davis-Price scampered in from 18 yards on the second play to give LSU a 7-6 lead.
UF moved the ball to the LSU side of the field a second time before the first disaster struck: Jones’ pass to wideout Trent Whittemore was tipped and intercepted by Micah Baskerville, who returned it all the way to the Florida 28-yard-line. Johnson’s first strike to Jenkins grew the lead to 14-6.
Richardson followed with an immediate interception of his own on his first play, bringing Death Valley to life. Johnson found Jenkins again four plays later, this time from five yards out, and LSU led 21-6 with seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.
UF seemed destined to retreat the locker room down two scores, but the offense quickly worked its way into Hail Mary position, and Jones launched a 42-yard moonshot to Justin Shorter as time expired to cut the deficit to 21-13 at the break.
Florida’s vaunted rushing game was non-existent in the first half: The Gators totaled just 35 yards on the ground.
UF opened the second half with the ball, and the turnover bug bit again: LSU corner Dwight McGlothern picked off Jones’ pass and returned it 37 yards for the Tigers touchdown: 28-13 LSU.
Backs against the wall, Richardson led the Gators offense back onto the field, and the SEC showdown turned into a Big-12 shootout from there. Florida marched right down the field in eight plays, accented by a 5-yard touchdown run from Richardson. His matching two-point conversion run made it 28-21.
The Tigers wasted no time answering again on a 40-yard run by Davis-Price, his second of three scores for the day. LSU entered the afternoon averaging 83.2 yards per game on the ground — it finished with 321.
Richardson continued with the offense on the next drive, the torch seemingly passed under center. A 38-yard completion from Richardson to Gamble jump-started the Florida drive. The Gators found the endzone five plays later, as AR-15 hit Justin Shorter on a slant route for the 5-yard touchdown. 35-28, LSU.
After the Florida defense forced its first three-and-out of the half, Richardson again raced the offense down the field. The Gators went 65 yards in six plays, ending in an 11-yard toss from Richardson to Pierce. Tie game.
The Tigers and Gators combined for 36 points and 329 yards in the third quarter alone.
Following Davis-Price’s final touchdown run from 25 yards to open the fourth, Richardson left the game with a finger injury the next drive, and Jones trotted out again with the weight of Gator Nation on his shoulders. In what Mullen called the play of the game, he completed an 18-yard strike to Shorter on third and 13 for the first down.
Richardson, finger taped up, re-entered the game shortly after. Mullen rolled the dice, keeping the offense on the field for a fourth down. The young QB delivered, picking up seven yards on a pass to Gamble. Richardson threw a laser to Jacob Copeland three plays later, tying the game at 42 on a 33-yard touchdown.
“I thought he (Richardson) did a really good job,” Mullen said. “He got hot, and so we kind of stuck with him… He’s a young quarterback that’s learning and developing.”
LSU head coach Ed Oregeron matched Mullen’s gamble and kept his offense on the field on fourth and goal from the 1, and Johnson connected with Jenkins for a third time to give the Tigers a 49-42 lead with 3:30 remaining.
Richardson trotted out to the field, looking to forge a legacy in his first significant conference action. The fairytale ending wasn’t written, though, as the late-game interception ended Florida’s hopes of escaping Death Valley with a victory.
“We had opportunities to make plays,” Mullen said. “We dug ourselves into some holes during the course of the game that you obviously can’t do when you’re playing good teams… We gotta play better, we’ll evaluate it all. We gotta coach better, play better.”
Florida receives a much-needed bye week this week before traveling to Jacksonville to take on No. 1 Georgia.
Contact Michael Hull at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33.
Michael Hull is a fourth-year journalism sports & media major and a sports writer at The Alligator. He hosts the weekly sports podcast and has worked on staff for five semesters. In the past, Hull has served as the sports editor, the men's and women's golf beat writer, the volleyball beat writer and the football beat writer.