BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 08: Brandon Taylor #18 of the Louisiana State University Tigers celebrates after an interception during the game against the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Florida lost to LSU, 41-11. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, which reacts to the game in full before a second viewing, comes first.
Florida's second straight loss to a top-two opponent featured the Gators looking as bad for stretches against LSU as they did for stretches against Alabama. And for the second straight week, an expected beating was only briefly redeemed by flashes of potential.
How Florida Lost
LSU scored twice in the first nine minutes, while Florida went three and out twice. And if that when the game truly was a lost cause, John Brantley's injury last week was probably the turning point. Florida played too conservatively early and had too big a hurdle to leap late, and both of those things were probably caused, in part, by Brantley's injury.
Andre Debose's speed makes him a weapon on offense on vertical routes, and for the second straight week, he came through with a touchdown pass. Florida's still yet to win a game in which Debose has scored, but I have to think that dubious distinction has much more to do with Debose only scoring against Alabama and LSU than with any mysterious voodoo.
Michael Taylor played extensively in the second half, as a Ronald Powell injury forced Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn to raid the bench for linebackers. And Taylor played well, as he has in limited action all year, with a couple of tackles and a great job of anticipating a snap on a hurry-up play the rest of the Florida defense seemed clueless about.
Mike Gillislee ran nine times for 56 yards against one of the best rush defenses in the country, and not all of his carries came in garbage time. It doesn't matter if Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are healthy; Gillislee has proven time and again that he deserves to play for this team, with hard running and good instincts, and he's certainly no worse than Florida's third-best option at tailback.
Jacoby Brissett was remarkably composed for a freshman seeing his first collegiate action on the road against the nation's top-ranked team. He evaded pressure, threw the ball well and deep, rifled one throw in for a first down, and generally seemed unfazed by his circumstances. Brissett may still not be Florida's second-string quarterback, but he showed a lot more than Jeff Driskel has in his limited play so far, completing more passes for more yardage and a touchdown against one of the finest collegiate secondaries in many years than Driskel has in mop-up duty. And Brissett's two interceptions came on 1) an overthrown jump ball that Jordan Reed quit on and 2) a jump ball that Tyrann Mathieu made a spectacular play to intercept. If this is the third-best quarterback Florida has, we're in great, great shape at the position.
Florida's secondary made the lion's share of its mistakes in pursuit, not in coverage. These are young players who still get handsy, but the only deep passes allowed came when Marcus Roberson slipped in coverage and when Cody Riggs just got burnt. The catch-and-runs, and there were many, weren't necessarily just the secondary's fault, and also reflected failures in tackling.
Florida's front seven stiffened in the third quarter, much like it did against Alabama last week. That stretch of better play didn't last, just like last week, but it proves that these Gators have the talent, conditioning and focus to stop even good SEC offenses in fits and starts.
Rainey didn't have any huge plays, topping out with a 25-yard run that featured him getting caught from behind by Mathieu. But Rainey didn't show any visible frustration, as a younger, less mature Rainey might have, and kept straining for yardage despite taking more than a handful of hits. If not impressive as a display of proficiency, that sort of effort does reflect well on his makeup as a football player.
Solomon Patton blocked another punt. Woohoo.
Jordan Reed needs to focus and become more consistent in the passing game, or else his playing time is going to any tight ends Florida brings to Gainesville next year. He might not be threatened by the alternately showy and invisible Gerald Christian and penalty-prone A.C. Leonard, but if he's Florida's best tight end, there is a gaping hole at the position.
Florida's offensive line vacillated between decent and horrific blocking. Xavier Nixon was not part of that line for the entirety of the game, but inconsistency on the line is the sort of thing that kills a good team when it plays a better one. Brissett covered for a lot of the problems in pass blocking with his mobility, and Gillislee ran through holes, but there was very little dominance and a fair bit of groan-worthy work, and that is definitely not what the Gators need.
Florida's play-calling early on didn't help the Gators do anything but dig a hole. If Charlie Weis has the routes Debose excels at in his playbook, he needs to use them: Nothing else Florida does in the passing game can reliably keep a defense honest, and the short bootleg passes weren't giving the Gators much yardage.
Similarly, though on a different note: Playing an injured Demps is just stupid.
Florida's defensive line is Charmin soft when it comes to defending the run. Defensive tackles will get pressure up front, but only enough to allow bounces to the outside; defensive ends rarely get outside to deny the corner. And the Gators gave up 180 yards on 38 carries to Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue as a result. You think Michael Dyer, Isaiah Crowell, and Marcus Lattimore aren't going to do damage to that Florida line?
Florida seemed to have its penalty problem managed last week. And then the Gators committed 12 penalties for 89 yards. It's frustrating to watch, and I can only imagine how exasperating it is for Muschamp. This might just be what comes with the youth Florida has, but that doesn't make it easier to swallow.
Rumor was that Quinton Dunbar was not at the game. If so, among Florida wide receivers, he's the only one who had an excuse for being a non-factor in the game. (Debose, obviously, is exempt here.)
Getting taken by a jump pass is embarrassing, but understandable: It's very hard to defend correctly, especially if it's deployed correctly. LSU deployed it correctly and Florida gave up a touchdown. I'm not mad about that, but I guarantee there are Gators fans who were red-faced after it.
Trey Burton can do things for the offense, especially in extreme short yardage situations that make his versatility as a fullback more valuable. But if he never throws another pass as a Gator, I'll be very, very happy: His two throws today were a flip to Rainey on a shovel screen that required a great one-handed catch to haul in and a wounded duck that was an insult to jump balls. Florida fans who cling to Burton as a Tim Tebow Lite ought to accept that his drastically different skill set means he needs to be used differently and more sparingly.
Florida's defense may have missed 20-30 tackles on the day. If I force myself to count when I watch the game again, I will hate myself, but I honestly think the number was in that range. Chances are that the young Gators will get better at this as time goes on, but right now, it's a fatal flaw and seems to be part of a lack of discipline that will be really, really hard for fans to accept.
Florida's early fake punt failure torpedoed any chance of keeping the game close in the first half, and it's got as much to do with using Burton (and not, say, Gillislee) as the executor of the fake as it does the bad timing and whiffed block.
But nothing, bar nothing, is more upsetting than getting burnt by a fake on special teams against LSU by the damn punter. As it was described on air by Gary Danielson, Brad Wing was actually freelancing when he took off and raced 52 yards for a touchdown, meaning that he saw an opening massive enough to eschew a punt in favor of a run. That's a catastrophic failure for any team, but for a Florida team that lost to this LSU team because of a fake field goal in 2010, it's sickening.
The only thing worse about that play than Florida's blow-up? Wing didn't even get credit for a smart, athletic play, thanks to an asinine rule designed to suck the fun out of college football. Good job, NCAA!