Florida football: All goals remain after loss to brilliant Burrow, LSU
For four hours Saturday night on the Bayou, two tremendous college football teams matched each other haymaker for haymaker, until the home team in the white jerseys finally pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 42-28.
Saturday’s seesaw affair was a brilliant SEC football game befitting a burgeoning rivalry beset by bitterness.
There was pregame chirping, but come Saturday night, the game lacked petty cheap shots and headhunters. Instead, fans viewing on television and the 102,000 fans who turned Tiger Stadium into a roaring aircraft carrier of sound were treated to plenty of good football in LSU’s victory over Florida.
In the end, the difference was the great LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy candidate senior who has changed LSU’s offensive fortunes so dramatically in his two years on campus he may never have to buy a drink in the state of Louisiana again– which is quite a feat considering how much revenue flows into the great state of Louisiana via the sale of adult beverages.
Burrow was brilliant, a maestro at the height of his powers, completing 21 of 24 passes for 293 yards and 3 touchdowns. When he was pressured, which was frequently in the first half and not often in the second, he eluded it, often tucking the ball and taking what he could get with his legs.
He was bolstered by the sensational Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the bruising LSU running back who gutted the interior of Florida’s front with 134 yards on just 13 carries.The LSU run game tallied 218 yards in all, providing Burrow the balance necessary to keep the Gators blitzes and pass rush at bay.
LSU’s incomparable wide receiver pairing of Justin Jefferson and longtime Florida commit Ja’Marr Chase did the rest, collecting 250 of LSU’s receiving yards on 17 receptions. They did much of the damage against Florida’s outstanding cornerback duo of Marco Wilson and All-American CJ Henderson.
As much as Florida’s defense struggled to slow LSU’s breakneck offense, the Florida offense turned in some sensational performances of its own.
Florida’s Kyles — quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts — were marvelous. Trask was unflappable, completing 23 of 39 passes for 310 yards and 3 touchdowns. Trask became the first Gators quarterback since Tim Tebow to throw 3 touchdown passes against a Top 10 opponent on the road — rarefied air at a program that has produced its fair share of excellent quarterbacks.
Pitts continues to emerge as a mismatch nightmare, difficult for even a defense of super-athletes like LSU’s struggles to contain. Pitts caught 5 passes for 108 yards, bullying linebackers, corners and safeties until LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda made a smart adjustment to chip and bump him at the line in the second half. Other Gators were terrific too, including senior Van Jefferson, who caught 8 passes for 73 yards and 2 touchdowns, absorbing brutal punishment after the catch throughout the game.
In many ways, this was a game that wrapped up all the adversity, warts, excellence and toughness that have defined Florida over the first eight weeks into one 60 minute jambalaya stew of football.
Adversity? Tiger Stadium was a madhouse 30 minutes before kickoff. Then the Gators, who have still not played a full game with a healthy defense, lost one of their best defensive players on the first series of the game when sack machine Jon Greenard was forced to exit with a high ankle sprain.
Warts? The Gators still struggled to find a consistent run game, rushing for 146 yards on 40 carries. That pedestrian number made life in the red zone hard on the Gators, who were stopped twice inside the LSU 20 in the fourth quarter. Florida’s much-maligned offensive line pass protected well, but ultimately crumbled for two vital third-quarter possessions, allowing LSU to get the ball and reclaim the lead.
Finally, the Gators’ safeties, a question mark in August, struggled all evening in coverage and space.
Toughness? Florida answering three consecutive LSU touchdown drives in the first half is as good a place as any to begin. After LSU stormed back into the lead to begin the 4th quarter, the Gators defense came up with a critical stop, but a great punt by LSU’s Zach Von Rosenborg (yes, LSU has a punter on the roster this season) pinned Florida back on its own 7.
What did Kyle Trask do with a cauldron of sound ringing in his ears? How about lead the Gators on a 78-yard drive into Tigers’ territory until LSU’s sensational freshman Derek Stingley — picked on and lost much of the night — made the game’s biggest play, intercepting Trask to preserve LSU’s narrow lead.
Florida made mistakes, but the Gators were ready to play in Baton Rouge Saturday night.
LSU was just a few plays better.
For LSU, a talented and likeable team moves forward, on the precipice of greatness.
As for Florida, regardless of the result in Baton Rouge, the goals remain possible.
It starts next week, but continues over the next four.
“We play an even bigger football game next week against South Carolina,” UF coach Dan Mullen said after the game. “That’s life in the SEC. It’s bigger because it is in the East. We have four conference games remaining and control our own destiny.”
Forget that South Carolina might party all week after upsetting Georgia.
Forget that the Gamecocks might have to start a third-string quarterback against the Gators. If the Gators hope to make the Cocktail Party the most meaningful regular season game Florida’s played for the better part of a decade, they had better take care of business in Columbia next Saturday.
Want to rule the SEC East?
Forget that Georgia lost to South Carolina between the hedges in Athens Saturday afternoon. Florida still needs to beat Kirby Smart, Jake Fromm and what will be an angry group of Bulldogs to make that happen on Nov. 2. Georgia will see the film of the Gator run defense Saturday night and lick its chops.
Want to go to Atlanta and play for the SEC Championship?
Forget that Missouri lost to Wyoming. That version of Mizzou’s football team never left Laramie. The one you’ll play at Faurot Field has been crushing everyone since and has beaten Florida by an average of 25 points a game the last two seasons. If the Gators can’t figure out how to be competitive against the best version of Mizzou they’ve ever faced, all the sweat, happiness and heartbreak of August to early October won’t matter much.
This has a chance to be a special season in Gainesville. They didn’t change because Florida lost Saturday night. That only changes if the Gators take the road again next weekend and let LSU beat them twice. That only changes if Florida can’t vanquish a Georgia team that suddenly feels a whole lot less inevitable than they did a month ago. That only changes if the Gators let it change.
The first 8 weeks of this Florida football season have been testy — at times saddening and at times tiring, but most of all fun. It has been fun to watch the Florida Gators play football again. When was the last time that was true two seasons in a row?
It can stay that way. If Florida seizes its own destiny and all that is ahead of it, heartbreak won’t happen.
A rematch with LSU on a neutral field in Atlanta might.
Wouldn’t that be fun?