There have been many wild and wildly entertaining games between the Florida Gators and LSU Tigers in recent years.
None of them was quite like LSU 42, Florida 28 on this Saturday night in Death Valley.
The Gators, quite simply, couldn’t stop the Tigers. Joe Burrow threw for 293 yards and as many touchdowns as incompletions (three); Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for 132 yards and two scores; Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson each crested the century mark in receiving yards, with Chase nabbing two scores to Jefferson’s one.
LSU averaged 10.6 yards per play and didn’t turn the ball over.
Teams don’t lose when they do that.
But Florida was in this game until the very end, somehow, despite lacking the QB who led it to a win over LSU a year ago and getting precious little from edge rushers Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, who were respectively out and limited for much of the night thanks to injury. Kyle Trask threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns of his own. Florida wrung 146 yards out of 40 carries split between six runners, with Lamical Perine (65 yards, and also one of the more unusual touchdown catches in recent memory) and Emory Jones (36) getting the most. The Gators trailed by single touchdowns four separate times and rallied back to tie three times, and took the lead immediately out of halftime.
And yet, with a chance to throw a game-tying touchdown, Trask threw a pick to a well-covered Freddie Swain instead of seeing and throwing to Tyrie Cleveland as the latter was being dragged to the ground. At a crucial juncture in the second half, Florida turned to Jones and not Trask, and stalled out. On a penalty-gifted goal-to-go series in the final minutes, Florida emptied its bag of tricks — and still didn’t get a point.
Ultimately, this — more than any other game of the Dan Mullen era at Florida — felt like a heavyweight fight between two championship contenders. Florida didn’t have enough to stand and trade with the Tigers on an unfriendly field, but the Gators also didn’t have the good sense to go down — and so they lost a unanimous decision to a team among the nation’s best, bloodied and bruised for their effort.
This loss won’t sideswipe Florida’s season unless the Gators let it, and Georgia’s loss earlier on Saturday makes the destiny that Florida holds in its hands look like one it could still well seize in Mullen’s second year.
It stings, though — because, if nothing else, it reminds that being good enough to compete in big games like this and great enough to win them are very different things.