On Friday, I talked about Florida finding a way to reduce this game down to a handful of match-ups. Lowering the margins. And ultimately, the Gators made the handful of plays that they needed to to come away with the win. Florida was one for eight on third down through three quarters of football. They converted three of five in the fourth quarter, scored thirteen points and put the game squarely on Joe Burrow’s hands to win it. And he wasn’t up to the task.
This game wasn’t so much about many big things so much as it was a big collection of little things that added up.
For LSU, the challenge now is to spit the blood out, dust itself off and persevere through this difficult stretch. This team was never making it through unscathed, but dealing with disappointment, persevering and continuing to improve through the remaining half of the season will ultimately tell the 2018 Tigers’ story.
Because they’re about to see teams that are better than this Florida team.
So how did we get here? Let’s take a look:
- LSU had the right idea from the start. Aggressive, stretching the field multiple ways. If you believe you can move the ball on a team on the road, this is how you discharge an environment like The Swamp on Saturday afternoon. Beautiful opening throw from Burrow. Florida was in single-high man coverage, Burrow reads the safety and put the ball high and outside and away from the cornerback.
- Play two featured Florida bringing “star” bandit safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson from the back side to sniff out a run — this type of backside blitz would become a theme but LSU never did much of a job of adjusting to it.
- Overall, that first drive was a great script, using the bigger look to push the ball down the field and then spreading the field to get the edge and create some room inside. Great hole from Adrian Magee and Lloyd Cushenberry inside to get Nick Brossette into the endzone.
- Florida’s first drive didn’t do much besides flip the field, but you could see some of the early things that would give the Gators success down the road — getting some push against Breiden Fehoko at nose tackle, getting Micah Baskerville displaced at inside linebacker and giving up an easy completion underneath.
- One thing you can count on from Todd Grantham is to be true to himself. If you catch him on some blitzes early and exploit coverage, he doesn’t back out of it. He brought six on the sack-fumble on LSU’s second possession, bringing the corner and Jachai Polite from the boundary. Saahdiq Charles tries to get back on the corner and Magee can’t quite handle Polite coming through the B-gap and he’s able to get to Burrow and get the ball out.
- Not that it would have made much of a difference, but it is beyond reason as to why that play wasn’t reviewed to see if Burrow’s arm was moving forward.
- Florida stalled, but they were able to keep the field flipped. LSU started the next two drives inside of the 15. That advantage eventually paid off for Florida.
- The loss of Jacob Phillips shows up big time on Florida’s first scoring drive. Nine plays, eight runs. A jet sweep to Kadarius Toney opened things up for nine yards with Micah Baskerville reading the play slowly and not getting to the alley until the runner was a good five yards down field. Although Grant Delpit missing him near the hole didn’t help either.
- Patrick Queen didn’t do much better, getting completely engulfed on a lead block on the 13-yard run that set up the touchdown.
- Baskerville also got dragged by Jordan Scarlett on an 11-yard run after LSU had finally re-flipped the field and pinned Florida deep.
- On the midfield go/no-go/freeze attempt on fourth and short: I don’t mind trying the freeze — especially after it worked so well against Ole Miss. I don’t mind the back-and-forth/in-and-out motion to try and add the extra twist either. Or taking the penalty to try and get a better punt. But don’t waste a timeout in the process.
- LSU was finally able to get some things going by using Florida’s aggression against itself. Split zone, quick screen, stretch, slant, and then get the big play on a zone read. But eventually Florida brings the house on third-and-short and Clyde Edwards-Helaire appears to get a bum spot a few feet short of the first down. Not that anything was reviewed, again.
- Florida responds with a great speed option call that busted the Tiger front on alignment. Trips formation to the field with Baskerville rolled down to that edge. Florida had numbers into the boundary, Franks reads off Ray Thornton with the pitch and Devin White was blocked. A missed tackle from John Battle helped add another 10 yards. Great call by Dan Mullen. No two ways about it.
- Two plays later, same formation, this time Baskerville is back off of the line but LSU’s defensive front can’t keep he or Devin White clean on the same option look. Devin White’s speed helped lead to a push in the back, but Mullen had clearly found a weakness.
- And then the big pass play. Battle is at just crazy depth at the snap — not sure what happened there — and it’s just too much room for him to make up when Josh Hammond breaks to the corner. Kary Vincent looks like he was supposed to maybe have deep third from the slot, but he glanced at his receiver breaking in for just a second and was out of position to get deep with Hammond.
- And then out of the half, Florida goes right back to Hammond. Vincent can’t get his head around and it’s maybe Franks’ best throw of the day. Along with a very iffy hands-to-the-face call that was more like hands-to-the-collar.
- Luckily Franks makes a terrible read on a play-action pass that did not fool the LSU secondary at all, and Delpit makes an easy pick.
- Ensminger went right back to attacking Florida’s edges with some quick screens to try and loosen the front back up, but David Reese makes some nice stops when the offense goes back inside, and then tracked Burrow wide on a third-down scramble. LSU tried another inside screen, which had been a successful play earlier, but the Florida defensive line squatted down on Brossette.
- Give the Gators’ best players on defense credit in this one; they really all stepped to the forefront to make big plays. Reese, Polite, Jefferson, Zuniga, Joseph and Gardner-Johnson.
- LSU looked to be in position to take the lead a little sooner with a nice completion to Foster Moreau, but Saahdiq Charles got dinged for a holding penalty. Let Polite get underneath him and dragged him trying to hold him off Burrow a bit. Good call, sadly, and one of the small moments that just kept adding up.
- It didn’t help that Burrow couldn’t get the call on a late hit out of bounds on third-and-long. Nothing malicious on Florida’s part, they defender was just caught up with him as they went out and a second guy tripped in the process. But let that same scenario unfold with a bigger name and watch that yellow hankie fly.
- Small thing in the bigger picture (although had a few more small things happened it might’ve made a big difference): Burrow does a fantastic job of getting the ball out awkwardly to Moreau on a bootleg pass with a free rusher in his face.
- Florida’s longest run of the third quarter went for just 10 yards but it featured Baskerville missing Scarlett square in the backfield again. Little things.
- Later, Franks finds a way to throw a ball away when Michael Divinity had him in the grasp for an easy sack. Or Franks making a nice step up to avoid Lawrence a play later. Little things.
- Offense finally wakes up in the fourth quarter: bunch-set counter call with Damien Lewis and Tory Carter lead blocking for Brossette. Blocks hit perfectly, a safety over runs the play a bit and Brossette busts off a big gain. Charles also did a great job getting to the second level and cutting off the Mike linebacker.
- Two plays later, inside zone and Austin Deculus and Moreau create a really nice crease and Brossette does the rest. Seventy-eight yards on two plays to set up the go-ahead touchdown. The two-point decision I get, even if I’m not a huge fan of going for it unless you absolutely have to. I liked the design of the play as well, but Florida defended it perfectly.
- I started re-watching this game expecting to have more complaints with Steve Ensminger’s play-calling, but I think he had a good mix to try and stem the Gator pass-rush in the second half. More screens and quick throws. My biggest question is why Brossette never touched the ball at all after he carried the offense back to the lead, but even that came down to one drive basically.
- Florida comes right back again — hits a back-shoulder throw to Van Jefferson (who makes a great bobbling catch) on Greedy Williams, and then goes back to the speed option again. LSU gets wide with the play, but Glenn Logan gets too wide and ends up screening off White.
- Later, Franks fires a deep route to Trevon Grimes, and it looks like Kristian Fulton has the pass dead to rights for a pick, but it’s just a foot or two out of his grasp. Even as an incompletion, it was pretty close to a turnover. Little things.
- Florida catches the defense at a numbers advantage on the right side again, this time with a quarterback power from Franks. White gets too far outside and gets blocked out of the play.
- And then Mullen comes back with a great call on the tight around pass back to Franks. Caught LSU perfectly flat footed to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
- It’s funny how the emotion fogs your perception of a game in the moment. When I started rewatching this I had talked myself into the idea that Dan Mullen had coached rings around Dave Aranda and just abused the defense up and down the field. But that doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. Both offenses had the same number of three-and-outs. Florida averaged just a half yard more per play than LSU did. Florida ran 71 plays, but on about seven of those plays, they dialed up the exact right call for the Tiger defense.
- Even the offensive line was able to give Burrow more room than you probably think. They gave up three sacks in that first quarter, but Florida didn’t get another one until the very final possession.
- With a Burrow scramble and a timely DPI call, LSU is able to get back to midfield, and this would have been a good time to go back to Brossette. Although Reese made a fantastic job of coming behind a lead block to make a tackle on Edwards-Helaire.
- Defense gets Florida in third-and-short inside the 15, but Baskerville gets out of his gap and gives up one small cut from Scarlett that allows him to pick up the conversion. Little things.
- On the pick six that set the final margin — Florida brings pressure and Burrow is late and a little flat throwing the out to Stephen Sullivan. Almost the exact same pass hit for a big third-down to Dee Anderson against Auburn, but the ball wasn’t on the money and the defensive back cuts it off for an easy touchdown.
- And even when a celebration flag gives LSU what should be a good break on the kickoff, Florida hits a boomer over Edwards-Helaire that bounces perfectly instead of going into the endzone. Even with a facemask call, that only gets the ball out to about where it would have been with a touchback. Little things.
- LSU converts a huge fourth and 19 to Derrick Dillon, and then Burrow’s receivers come up empty, with Jefferson missing a pass down the sideline and Sullivan dropping an easy out cut at the 40.
The reason why teams talk about process and details and all of those little things, is that in these tight moments, that’s what you can count on. In the SEC, especially on the road, a handful of plays are probably going to be the difference. At Auburn, LSU made those plays. At Florida, they didn’t. Now we see how they move on, against an opponent that will force an even tighter margin for error.