Florida brought their A-game on Saturday night. Sure, it was irritating, but the other team is trying to win, too. Florida’s offense, which had looked barely competent all season, suddenly looked downright terrific. The Gators made big play after big play, and put together their best half of football all season.
Yet they were only tied 21-21 at the half. It must be frustrating to play literally your best half of football, and maybe as well as you can possibly play, and not even have the lead. But the Gators rectified that issue on the first drive of the second half and for the first time all season… LSU faced adversity.
LSU responded with 21 consecutive points, and never allowed the Gators to score again. Not a bad response. It wasn’t a dominant game, but it was a dominant response to a team playing its near-perfect game. Let’s go the box score.
10.6. LSU’s average yards/play. That is off the charts great. LSU scored 42 points on a mere 48 plays. Joe Burrow averaged 12.2 yards per pass and the LSU running game averaged 9.1 per carry. That goes beyond efficiency. If 10+ yards is considered a big play, then LSU averaged a big play on every snap. That’s crazy.
457. Florida’s total yards. This was Florida’s second biggest offensive output of the season, behind the Tennessee-Martin game. The Gators ran 84 plays, averaging 5.44 yards per play, which is below the career average. So, LSU’s defense performed well on a rate basis, but it’s problem was the sheer number of plays allowed. That’s because…
38:19. Florida’s time of possession. Just as LSU sought to limit Utah St’s offense by keeping it off the field, Florida clearly wanted to do the same to LSU. Florida had five drives of over 10 plays and three drives which took over five minutes of game clock. This was great when the game was within a score, but in the end, the slow play cost Florida, as they couldn’t close the gap in the fourth quarter despite running 27 plays for 139 yards while eating 10 minutes of the fourth quarter’s clock. The result? Zero points.
9-17. Florida’s third down conversion rate. The way Florida was able to eat so much clock is because the Gators simply dominated 3rd downs. While LSU didn’t even have a third down in the second or third quarters, the Gators converted 4-7 1st half 3rd downs and then 4-7 again in the fourth quarter alone. This was a team that would not die, and these were not easy conversions. Florida converted 3rd downs of 6 and 5 yards to go on their first scoring drive, both in the red zone. They would again face two third downs in the red zone on their next scoring drive, of 2 and 1 yards to go, but only converted the first. Florida scored its second touchdown on fourth down, effectively making their 3rd down rate 10 of 17. The biggest conversion in the first half was 3rd and 6 from their own 29. JaCoby Stevens was flagged for PI, so instead of getting off the field and having a chance to go up two scores before the half, LSU instead gave up another long TD drive, and went to the half tied at 21.
But the conversions in the fourth could have been back-breaking:
3rd and 10 from the UF8
3rd and 12 from the UF27
Those conversions ended up leading to a third down failure… Derek Stingley’s interception in the end zone came on 3rd and 1 from the 16, and might have been the biggest play of the game.
3rd and 4 from the UF31
3rd and 16 from the UF31
Another two big conversions, both from their own side of the field. Instead, LSU would eventually stop the drive on downs with a goalline stand. Still, the third down defense was a massive issue.
13-134-2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s line. When your starting tailback clears 100 yards before the half and ends up averaging over 10 yards per carry, you’ve had a good night running the football. LSU didn’t run the ball a lot, but they absolutely gashed Florida when they did.
4. LSU receivers with a catch. Joe Burrow has spread the ball around all year, but when the chips were down, he want to his two big targets. Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase combined for 17 catches for 250 yards and 3 TD. Burrow was not playing Keep Everyone Happy. When this team has to score points, Burrow gets laser focused on his top threats.
0. Florida sacks. Much was made of Florida’s pass rush, and the Gators managed one measly TFL. K’Lavon Chaisson by himself outproduced the Florida pass rush, with 3 TFL and a sack. The Gators needed their defense to live up to the hype and… they couldn’t.
3. Pass breakups by CJ Henderson. Give some credit, he made plays. While some of the Gators defense might be some selective stat padding against bad teams, CJ Henderson showed to be the real deal. But here’s the thing, his 3 PBU were the only ones recorded by the Gators defense. Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens tied for the LSU lead with two apiece, but the entire team had 9 PBU plus Stingley’s interception. Kyle Trask may have gone for over 300 yards, but LSU did stake a decent claim back for the DBU moniker. Trask had an excellent night that could have been even greater had the LSU defensive backs not shown out.