All broadcast images herein from libgator's LSU editions of Peasing it Together and Defense Wins Muschampionships.
The reason Florida lost this game was pass protection, plain and simple. When Tyler Murphy got time to throw, he generally found open receivers; those open receivers existed for the entire game, if you believe GatorJustin's comments on what he saw in person. And I do, because it sounds so similar to what I saw in Miami, where Jeff Driskel checked down or was pressured into throwing short instead of loading up for open receivers deep.
Is that a failing of both Driskel and Murphy? Sure, to some extent. But Florida's deep passing game has been short-circuited in recent years because there hasn't been time for receivers to get deep and quarterbacks to load up for a deep throw on the same play very often — last year, those deep throws seemed to invariably get called back for one penalty or another, and this year, they've barely existed.
But in 2010, under a different coach, they didn't happen very much, either, with Florida hitting just one pass play of 50+ yards, and five of 40 or more yards. 2011 Florida, however, had 10 of 40+ and six of 50+, and was third nationally with six of 60+ — but those were mostly play-action bombs to Andre Debose, and more than one of them came against Furman. Charlie Weis, the offensive coordinator responsible for that "explosive" offense, was reviled at the time and has not been missed, and I wouldn't trade him for Brent Pease — but he showed that one good way to make bombs happen when you lack a good offensive line is play-action.
Florida hit two of those in 2011 against Alabama and LSU, two teams that had pass rushes good enough to play for the national title, and hit them with John Brantley and Jacoby Brissett throwing the passes. Throwing deep can be done with mediocre offensive line play, but the Gators had to sacrifice a lot to do it in 2011, and had a less balanced offense then. Be careful what you wish for.
This is what happened literally the first time Mack Brown was put in pass protection against LSU:
This is what GatorZone's Chris Harry wrote about Brown's performance against LSU: "Brown has an obvious edge over Taylor in experience, and actually blocked pretty well against the Tigers."
Reminder: Pravda means truth in Russian.
If subpar pass protection was the proximate cause of death, Florida's inability to get consistent penetration or hold the line on defense was a contributing cause. Zach Mettenberger had eons to throw, and Jeremy Hill could usually get two or three yards before contact, and both of these things helped LSU offense do what no other offense had done this year: Beat Florida's defense consistently.
Penalties were killer throughout for Florida, but Cody Riggs getting flagged for pass interference on a third-down pass into the end zone that wasn't really on target feels like the most painful one on rewatch. That allowed LSU a chance to keep leaning on the Florida defense, score a touchdown despite a false start on its third straight goal-line carry, and take the lead; a stop would have given Florida the ball back with a tie on the scoreboard.
This is a false start, I think.
But Michael Taylor — the Gator whose helmet is nearly even with the ball — kind of twitched before LSU's Trai Turner did. Was that enough to constitute offsides? Was it enough to get the umpire to completely miss calling a penalty for moving early, even though surely someone deserved it here?
Much was made, here and elsewhere, of how good Kelvin Taylor looked in the second half, on a day that saw him run for 52 yards on 10 carries. But he had 53 of those yards on eight carries in the second half after his first two — a run up the middle and a keep on a zone read — went for a net loss of a yard.
And those came on the drive after LSU's first touchdown, a three and out that Florida really couldn't afford. But it was the second down between those two carries that caught me on replay: Murphy had Taylor wide open in the flat for what would've been a first down, and maybe a long catch-and-run.
For the record, the first defender in front of Taylor at the bottom of the shot doesn't appear until Murphy crosses the line of scrimmage on a scramble that netted seven yards, and, by that point, the camera's followed Murphy; the player who appears is still about 12 yards from Taylor, at least.
How tough was that catch Jarvis Landry made on Vernon Hargreaves III? (Photo: Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sport)
Tyler Murphy's great pooch punt was neat — and Mark Herndon did an excellent job of covering it at LSU's 1 — but Florida only needed it because Murphy badly missed Quinton Dunbar on a play that would've gotten the Gators down to LSU's 25 just before halftime. A completion on that play means the pooch punt never happens, and it probably ensures at least a field goal, and a 14-6 halftime deficit that would've been far more manageable than the 11-point chasm that yawned between the two teams.
Jeremy Hill's 30-yard catch-and-run-and-hurdle was the best play we've seen anyone make against Florida's defense this year (second place is probably Landry's catch), and it came at a point that could have totally demoralized a Gators team that was just a step behind all day.
And yet Florida turned that drive into a four-and-out with the help of an errant Mettenberger throw.
Florida went for it on a fourth and one from its own side of the field, got the conversion on a speed option that Murphy pitched a little too quickly — a habit of his — and yet it punted shortly afterward. Florida got all the way down to LSU's 7 on its next drive ... then, after stalling with goal to go (thanks in part to a far-too-cute fumblerooskie and miscommunication on a third down that could've gone for a touchdown) kicked a field goal to make it a one-possession game in the fourth quarter.
When Florida got the ball back, it was no longer a one-possession game. Sometimes, you have to take risks.
This game could've been a lot worse. That bizarre fumble by Mettenberger ended what could well have been a touchdown drive for LSU; Mettenberger's misses were mostly drops or misfires, not pressure-related; LSU ended the game on Florida's 18.
The Difference is borrowed from feature of the same name at The Two-Man Game, originated by Rob Mahoney, which makes a number of points equivalent to the margin of victory about the game just played.
Andy Hutchins is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.