How Florida Lost
Florida gave this one away
Florida should've beaten LSU on Saturday night. But costly errors killed the Gators.
Florida didn't stop LSU on third and 25. Florida gave up a touchdown on that drive. Demarcus Robinson didn't score on his long reception from Jeff Driskel. Florida didn't score a touchdown on the goal to go series that followed, with baffling play-calling scuttling first and second down and a stultifying drop squandering the chance to go up. Florida didn't capitalize on great field position and get a chance at a game-winning field goal, because Driskel made a bad read and threw a really bad pass, handing over an interception in the worst possible circumstance.
Those were mistakes by Florida rather than fine plays by LSU.
And while LSU played well in this game, and well enough to win, Florida lost this game.
Three Good Things
Andre Debose had his finest day
A punt return touchdown. A 35-yard dash on a sweep to set up another touchdown. A punt return to set up a third touchdown.
Florida didn't score six points without No. 4 on this night.
Debose has always had electrifying athleticism, and has shown it in fits and starts over his bildungsroman of a career at Florida, but he's never done as much, or struck quite as much fear in an opponent, as he did last night. Had Florida won this game, he would be the unquestioned hero, and the talk of many.
But Florida lost, and his valiant effort — which still included a muffed punt that he smothered and a brainless 15-yard penalty for reacting to taunting, because he's Andre Debose, for better and worse — went for naught.
Florida's defense fought so hard
Yeah, Florida's defense made what was either the most or second most critical error down the stretch, blowing a coverage — something Will Muschamp put pretty squarely on Brian Poole (without saying Poole's name) in postgame remarks — that allowed LSU life when it should have had none, then adding a dumb penalty to set up an easier touchdown.
But that defense also stiffened late, forcing three punts in the fourth quarter that Florida had to have and clamping down on Leonard Fournette, who finally became the nightmare most feared entering this season, when that was absolutely necessary in this contest. And that defense played without Vernon Hargreaves III, who likely sustained a concussion on a tackle in the first half, for most of the night. And that defense held LSU well under five yards per play.
It wasn't good enough, on this night, and the lack of a turnover for the first time this season was quietly very important. But Florida's defense is not the house on fire that we thought it might be after the Alabama game, and is capable of playing like a house afire for stretches.
This defense seems unlikely to lose Florida many games entirely on its own.
Brandon Powell emerges
Florida didn't have freshman scatback Brandon Powell last week at Tennessee. Given his revelatory play last night, I hope that never happens again.
Powell had just six yards on three carries, but led Florida in receptions with six, which he used to gain 66 yards, mostly on screens and swing passes. Powell looks fast, and capable of genuine scampering, in a way that no other Gator save maybe Debose does, and he's fearless, possibly in the too-dumb-to-know-better sense, which is valuable for an offense that bears the scars of years of futility.
Matt Jones left this game with an ankle injury after inefficacy in the first half, and Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown were ineffective in their limited action, and Driskel was a solid thumper as a runner, but not particularly explosive. Powell could be a bit of dynamite for Florida's running game, and for a quick passing game that serves as a de facto running game, and he earned more chances to be a charge on the field last night.
Three Bad Things
This was The Jeff Driskel Game
Driskel gift-wrapped LSU's first touchdown with a horrific fumble in Florida's own end. But he ran hard and well on the next drive to give Florida the lead. Driskel threw a pick on an awful deep throw later in the first half, and was off on a couple other throws in the period. But he didn't make many other terrible mistakes as a passer until late. Driskel made a brilliant throw in the second half to get Florida's third touchdown. But he couldn't punch it in on Florida's penultimate offensive drive. Driskel made two really good throws on the Gators' last drive. But then he made the (new) worst play of his career.
The account of this game will be Driskel's epitaph as a starter, surely, with Treon Harris poised to take the reins, or at least force Florida to deploy a two-quarterback system with him as the primary passer, but while I've seen a fair bit of "Driskel is the worst Florida QB ever" in the wake of last night, it's worth remembering both that Florida lost this game mostly because of his singular mistake and that Florida wouldn't have been in the game after a staggering defensive error without him. He's not the worst Florida quarterback in history, but I think he'll assuredly go down as the most exasperating.
And this game was ultimately one of the most frustrating, exasperating games I've ever seen as a fan. I can't help but hope Driskel isn't given nearly as much chance to aggravate the anger Florida fans have for him when an alternative to him exists next week.
Leonard Fournette ran Florida over
I tweeted it in the first half: This game was Leonard Fournette's coming-out party like South Carolina's 2010 win over Florida in The Swamp was Marcus Lattimore's. If we want to go further back, it was also like Knowshon Moreno in 2007, or Shaun Alexander in 1999, too: A great running back, one destined for the NFL, had a great game against Florida in the most painful way.
Fournette's game wasn't quite as great as the other three in that category, especially given how Florida bottled him up in the fourth quarter, but he was LSU's offense for stretches of the night, and the Gators could do nothing to stop him. Part of that was attributible to Fournette being a stupendous athlete, but poor play in run defense gave him opportunities to make plays, and that just couldn't happen against a player of his caliber.
Florida won't face another Fournette this year, and the only runner comparable to him on the Gators' schedule is Todd Gurley, who may or may not be eligible for the Florida-Georgia game. But Florida had better learn its lesson about stopping great backs from this game.
The offense couldn't do what it had to, and did what it couldn't
If Florida's offense can do just two things with regularity — score touchdowns in the red zone and avoid turnovers — Florida's going to win games. Florida's defense is very good when good, and mostly young when bad, and its special teams are often solid and occasionally terrifying, so the offense just needs to be average, or maybe slightly above average, to get the Gators some Ws.
Florida's offense didn't do either of those things last night.
The Gators had two red zone possessions end in field goals, including one that ended in a field goal when a potentially game-winning touchdown pass went off a receiver's hands as he turned to look upfield while standing in the end zone. They committed three turnovers, all of them very much on Driskel, two of them resulting almost immediately in scoring opportunities LSU shouldn't have had.
Florida's offense moved the ball better than it has, and doing that without Jones, who is unquestionably the go-to option on this offense when healthy, is positive. But Kurt Roper touted an offensive philosophy of scoring points this offseason, and Florida, despite scoring 20 offensive points against an SEC opponent for the first time in over a year, didn't do enough of that on Saturday to win a very winnable game.