BATON ROUGE, La. — The Florida defense went into Saturday night’s top-10 showdown with LSU leading the SEC in scoring defense (9.5 points per game), sacks (26) and interceptions (12).
Those numbers didn’t faze the Tigers, however, who dominated offensively in a 42-28 win to hand the Gators their first loss of the season. LSU had 511 yards of total offense and punted the ball just three times. It didn’t turn the ball over once and quarterback Joe Burrow went the entire 60 minutes without taking a sack.
“You look at what our plan to win is,” coach Dan Mullen said after the game. “Play great defense; we didn’t do that.”
How could this have happened just a week after the Gators defense dominated No. 7 Auburn in a 24-13 win?
For one, LSU has a much better offense than Auburn. It may be the best in college football —
the Tigers led the SEC in scoring (54.6 points per game) and averaged over 400 yards passing and 571 yards total per game heading into the contest.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is a Heisman candidate, and he played like it on Saturday, going 21 for 24 with 293 yards and three touchdowns.
It was obvious coming into the game that Florida’s defense would have a tough time. Still, it was hard to see this one coming after such a dominant performance against Auburn.
The biggest difference between those two games? UF couldn’t stop the run against LSU. The Gators’ vaunted front seven let the Tigers run wild to the tune of 218 yards on 24 carries. Auburn had just 124 yards rushing last weekend.
“Obviously, we didn’t do a great job stopping the run,” Mullen said.
There’s a caveat, however. UF was without its two best defensive linemen – Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga – for a good portion of the game. Greenard left for good in the first quarter. Zuniga followed in the third.
“Defensively, injuries finally caught up to us,” Mullen said.
The absence of Greenard and Zuniga meant the Gators pass rush took a hit in addition to the run defense. Burrow consistently had all the time he needed in the pocket, which he utilized to either find open receivers or scramble — he had 43 yards rushing in the contest to go along with just the three incompletions.
Florida’s pass defense was just as poor as the run defense. The dagger to UF — a 54-yard touchdown pass where wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was left uncovered because of a miscommunication between the safety and corner with less than six minutes left — was the most egregious of the blown coverages.
“It’s unacceptable for us,” defensive back Marco Wilson said about UF’s defensive performance. “We’re going to put our head down and grind. Make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The good news for the Gators is that this was the best offense it will face in the regular season. The Nov. 2 matchup against a Georgia team that suddenly looks very beatable will likely still decide the SEC East. And if UF can make it to Atlanta, it might get a shot for redemption against this Tigers offense.
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano. Contact him at [email protected].