When LSU and Florida played in Tiger Stadium Saturday night, it was a shootout that no fan of either team was used to or expected coming into it.
After a long battle, the fifth-ranked Tigers proved victorious, defeating the No. 7 Gators 42-28.
Neither vaunted defense could do much of anything as both offenses ran and threw all over them, especially in the first half. LSU had 511 total yards — 293 passing and 218 rushing — and the offensive line had its best performance to this point in the season that allows the pass and the run game to succeed.
“The biggest stat of the night: no sacks,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron. “Credit to (offensive line coach) James Cregg and our offensive line. They worked very hard.”
Center Lloyd Cushenberry said he challenged the offensive after last season’s poor performance against Florida and they rose to the challenge. The offensive line success led to a lot of long runs by both Burrow (19), running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (57) and running back Tyrion Davis-Price (33).
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was confident in the pocket, evading the pass rush and scrambling often as Florida’s defensive line ripped through LSU’s offensive line. On top of his 21-of-24 for 293 yards passing, he added 43 yards rushing on six carries.
LSU moved the ball really well and spread the ball out to different receivers across the field. Justin Jefferson had 10 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown, while Ja’Marr Chase had seven receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has perhaps his best game of the season, totaling 136 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter to put the Tigers up 21-14 and another short run.
Burrow said that Florida was worried a lot about the RPOs and the LSU offense made them guess wrong a lot of the time.
But it clearly wasn’t easy for the Tigers. Every time LSU made a big play or drive, Florida followed up with one of its own in the first half.
Florida was constantly running time off the clock with long, sustaining drives. The Gators had a time of possession of 38:19 with 84 total plays, while the Tigers sat at 21:41 with 48 plays.
“We had to get off the field and we couldn’t get off the field (in the first half),” Orgeron said. “The first half was not very good defense. We did not play good defense. But the guys came in at halftime, there was no panic at halftime, we always believed we were going to win.”
While Orgeron was prepared for both of Florida’s quarterbacks, he wasn’t expected both Kyle Trask and Emory Jones to share as much time.
While the LSU defense looked to have fixed all of its issues, the Tigers continued to struggled with missed tackles and a subpar pass rush following that first drive, allowing Florida quarterback Kyle Trask to make plays in the air and on his feet.
The Gators matched LSU’s first touchdown with one of their own, when Trask hit receiver Trevon Grimes for a five-yard touchdown to cap off a six minute, 75-yard drive.
The LSU defense continued to struggle, giving up a 6:56 touchdown drive. The Tigers stopped Florida on the goal line three times but got tangled up on a fourth and goal from the one-yard line. Linebacker Patrick Queen tipped a pass, allowing it to fall right into Florida receiver Lamical Perine’s hands for the touchdown to tie the game at 14.
Both teams picked up right where they left off, with both the Tigers and Gators trading touchdowns to start the second half.
Florida opened a four-minutes touchdown drive, concluding with a two-yard pass from Trask to Jefferson, while LSU got another big touchdown run from Edwards-Helaire.
That’s when things changed. LSU only allowed seven points in the second half, on that first drive. Orgeron said the defense started to blitz more and play man coverage in the second half to put heat on both of Florida’s quarterbacks.
The turning point in the game came when two defensive freshmen — cornerback Derek Stingley and safety Marcel Brooks — came up in big spots in the second half to keep Florida from getting and maintaining a lead.
Brooks had a big sack of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask on third-and-long to force a punt early in the fourth quarter, while Stingley had an interception of Trask late in the fourth quarter leading directly to LSU’s game-securing drive.
Freshman running back Tyrion Davis-Price followed the first defensive stop with a 33-yard touchdown run to give LSU a 35-28 lead going into the fourth quarter.
LSU iced the game late in the fourth quarter when Stingley came up with the interception and Burrow hit Chase near the sideline for a 54-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 42-28. Chase had seven catches for 127 yards with two touchdowns on the day.
Burrow delivered in one of the biggest stages of his career and he knows he wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.
“I told (Joe Burrow) this is what great quarterbacks are made of,” Orgeron said. “We’re going to go down there and score and throw to the outside.”