It was nice to have a fun football game again, regardless of the outcome.
Let’s first give some credit to Ed Orgeron and the LSU football team. In a week marked by a seeming nonstop stream of bad news for the program, Orgeron did not lose the locker room. The team came out swinging, undermanned as they were. The team was undaunted by personnel losses, wild momentum swings, or even a fog rolling into the stadium. Max Johnson would put in work, and finish the game with 239 yards on 21/36 passing. Even bigger, he threw 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
There was even more bad news before the kick, as both Micah Baskerville and Derek Stingley did not suit up to play, two more losses for a defense that can’t afford any losses. And on the opening Florida drive, it looked like Alabama all over again. On the second play of the game, Kadarius Toney went 44 yards down the field. The drive would culminate with a first and goal situation and an LSU offside on fourth down bringing the ball down to the one. The LSU defense stepped up and made the stop.
That would set the tone for the first half.
Florida would continually run the ball up and down the field, only to somehow find a way to screw up and not score. Of Florida’s first seven drives of the game, only once did the Gators go three and out. The shortest drive of the other six went for 44 yards. Florida had 346 yards in the first, 256 of it through the air…
…and just 17 points. Poseur’s Law reared its ugly head: if a team dominates the run of play and does not turn its advantage into points, the advantage dissipates.
Instead, LSU controlled the scoreboard despite getting dominated in the run of play. Kyle Trask would be the Gators ahead with the game’s first touchdown, but LSU responded with a workmanlike 11-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a touchdown pass from Max Johnson to Jaray Jenkins.
If the early vibe was an outmatched LSU team hanging on for dear life against the highly ranked Gators, the tenor changed early in the second quarters when Eli Ricks picked off Kyle Trask and took it 68 yards the other way to the end zone.
The Gators again worked the ball inside the ten thanks to a big play, only for Kyle Trask to throw another interception, this one bouncing off a helmet before landing in the waiting arms of Jay Ward.
Then, it seemed like there was a sense that Florida was done messing around. Florida kept knocking on the door, and finally took the lead 17-14 with a touchdown pass to Jacob Copeland with just about two minutes left in the half.
Instead of saying good job, good effort and taking a close margin to the half, LSU’s offense marched down the field again, and Johnson found a wide open Kayshon Boutte for the score. Florida tried to respond in the final seconds of the half, but instead put the ball on the ground, for their third turnover of the half (fourth if you count the failed fourth down), allowing LSU to kick a field goal for a 24-17 halftime lead.
The second half started off great for the Tigers. The offense orchestrated a 17-play drive down to the goal line which was the platonic ideal for methodical. But on third and goal from the one, Chasen Hines’ hold took a possible touchdown off the board, and LSU settled for a field goal.
LSU needed that touchdown badly, as attrition had started to catch up by the second half. LSU only brought roughly 55 players, and then lost two corners, one to injury and another to targeting. But the real loss was an offense: over the course of the game, LSU lost its two starting running backs (Emery on a hit a good five yards out of bounds that somehow went unflagged) and the entire right side of its offensive line.
Now, they just needed to hold on before the clock, or the roster, ran out.
Florida continued to march up and down the field with ease, only this time Kyle Trask decided to call the touchdown play instead of the interception play. It made all of the difference and the Gators quickly reasserted themselves and took the lead near the end of the third.
LSU would open up the fourth quarter by driving the field with its hodgepodge lineup. Chris Curry earned the tough yards, Kayshon Boutte made the big catch, and Tre Bradford caught the touchdown pass from four yards out on 3rd and goal to put LSU back in front, just before the fog finally settled onto the field after hovering in the stadium bowl for most of the second half.
The end game settled into some old school positional football. A huge part of that was the fog, making it hard to see a thrown pass, but… come on. LSU twice had the ball on the Florida side of the midfield strip and twice went run-run-punt.
Fortune favors the bold. In three plays, Florida was back in its old familiar, first and goal. However, the Gators could not take full advantage of LSU’s timidity, and merely tied the game with a field goal rather than scoring what would have felt like a back-breaking touchdown. With 2:51 left, LSU had a chance to drive down the field and pull of the upset. Lord knows the players had earned it, even if the coaches had failed to put their full faith in the effort and went a little too conservative in the end.
It looked like LSU had blown it and gone three and out again, but after LSU was stopped well short of the sticks on third down, the Florida defense celebrated by throwing Kole Taylor’s shoe down the field. It was a decision so stupid it hurt me, and I was rooting for Florida to lose.
This would simply kick off a cacophony of stupid decisions. LSU would get the ball to the 40 yard line, at which point LSU stopped trying to gain more yards. Treating a 57-yard field goal as automatic is an insanely terrible decision.
Then Orgeron wasted all of his timeouts before third down, and then Johnson threw a checkdown route which was stopped in bounds, keeping the clock running. This would have forced LSU to sprint on to the field to frantically get off a final desperation try, but Mullen wanted in on the terrible decisions and bailed LSU out by calling his own timeout.
Of course, Orgeron’s ridiculous clock management was then validated by Cade York calmly nailing it from 57. It was like watching two teams try to lose, only for a kicker to calmly come out there and win it like a boss.
Being the 2020 season, it wasn’t even that easy, as if that was easy. Bo Pelini called the prevent defense (insert the joke now), allowing Florida to drive down the field in the 23 seconds remaining and get a 51-yard shot at tying the game on the final play. It went just wide.
The LSU Tigers players played their guts out and were nearly betrayed by a coaching staff that didn’t seem to have the same trust in them that the players have in them.
This win costs Florida a shot at the playoffs and the national title, probably costs Kyle Trask the Heisman, and leaves open the chance LSU does not have a losing season.
This was the definition of a gutty win. LSU-Florida rarely disappoints and this one was a classic. We deserved one after this week.