The last decade-plus of Florida-LSU games has been filled with dramatics and dynamic players.
Florida has won games largely with a Herculean forced fumble, a stoning of LSU at the goal line in Death Valley, and a late pick-six before a euphoric Swamp; LSU has won via Hugely Improbable Les Miles Shit and yet another fake and a missed extra point.
Last year, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase were unconquerable in Death Valley, but Kyle Trask tried; eight years ago, that forced fumble involved Matt Elam and Odell Beckham, Jr. falling to the turf in The Swamp. In between, there were also starts at quarterback by Treon Harris, Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris, Danny Etling, and Austin Appleby.
But one thing that the Florida-LSU rivalry — one that got overheated via being superfluously spiced, arguably — has lacked in the last decade was a Florida beatdown.
Those used to be most of the rivalry. And 2020 presents Florida with a great chance to serve up another — which it should.
Younger fans — who increasingly, and for better and worse, dominate the conversation about Florida football on social media — likely do not remember the Nick Saban years at LSU, much less Gerry DiNardo’s tenure. But there was a time when Florida beating an LSU team that went on to be the national champion was a real feather in Ron Zook’s cap.
And prior to that, there was a whole lot of Florida hammering LSU’s nail.
From 1988 to 2001, the Gators went 13-1 against LSU, with more games putting up 56 or more points than losses. There was a 58-3 destruction in Tiger Stadium — still the worst loss in LSU history — and a 56-13 rout in The Swamp en route to a national title. Florida won its first two meetings with LSU under Steve Spurrier by a combined 50-8 score; it won its last two by a combined 85-24. All but one of Spurrier’s wins over LSU came by double digits.
Now? Florida hasn’t gotten such a win in more than a decade, with the 13-3 win in 2009 — a nervy affair that was no one’s idea of a blowout — counting as the last such victory.
The last Florida rout of LSU came in 2008, when the Tigers came to The Swamp with Florida looking to re-establish itself as a national championship contender after its infamous early-season loss to Ole Miss and left entirely obliterated, with Florida’s 51-21 victory looking preordained from the moment that Percy Harvin hauled in a tipped pass and glided to the house for six and the final score probably underrating the Gators’ dominance.
In that game, Florida compiled six drives of 60 or more yards, ran for 265 yards on 6.5 yards per carry and threw for 210 yards on just 21 attempts, forced three turnovers and coughed just one up, and settled for field goals of 20, 34, and 25 yards. If Urban Meyer had wanted to put up 60 in that game, he certainly had the opportunity.
Since then, LSU has largely wrested the driver’s seat in the series back from the Gators. Florida went 3-7 against the Tigers in the 2010s, and while there was just one true blowout among those losses — the 41-11 clobbering that a BCS National Championship Game-bound LSU put on Florida in Jacoby Brissett’s ill-fated first start for the Gators — the Tigers have often been Lucy Van Pelt pulling the ball away from an orange-and-blue clad Charlie Brown in the victories, whether via trickery (2015) or simply having too much firepower (2019).
No one will confuse this 2020 LSU team for one with too much firepower — or a defense.
LSU is 3-5, and its wins have come over two teams that fired head coaches — Vanderbilt and South Carolina — and in controversial fashion over the Arkansas team that has overachieved by getting even three wins out of what was often projected as a winless fall. In those wins, LSU has twice given up more than 400 yards of total offense and 24 points; in its losses, LSU is conceding a jaw-dropping 528.2 yards of total offense per game at a clip of 7.4 yards per play, and a stunning 42.4 points per game.
Four teams have put up more than 500 yards of total offense on Bo Pelini’s bunch, and three — Mississippi State, Missouri, and Alabama, three very different teams of very different qualities — have barraged the Tigers for 586 or more, with Alabama’s 650 from a week ago coming at slightly better than nine yards per play. LSU is currently No. 115 in total defense in FBS, one spot below Louisiana-Monroe and two behind Florida State, and the only things that have saved this defense from an even lower rank than that are the rank incompetence of the Vandy offense and Texas A&M’s game plan against LSU.
If the Tigers didn’t make a Faustian bargain to have that Burrow-led 2019 season of dreams, you sure would have a hard time finding dispositive evidence.
And it should be even harder after this weekend.
Kyle Trask and Florida’s offense are far better through the air than on the ground, with Trask’s numbers well-documented at this point. LSU’s defense? It’s far worse against the pass (No. 125 at 313.1 yards per game) than the run (No. 58, though No. 84 in yards per carry), and yields 9.7 yards per attempt, a figure that Trask has been within a foot of in four of his nine starts.
But he exceeded that average against Georgia and Arkansas — teams with dramatically better secondaries than LSU’s, at least this year — and is coming off a 49-attempt game against Tennessee. It wouldn’t take that much for Trask to make a legitimate run at a 500-yard game, maybe just a few bigger-than-usual plays.
Naturally, LSU’s defense is great at allowing those. The Tigers have given up 57 completions of 15 or more yards, 42 of 20 or more, and 24 of 30 or more — all bad stats. But they also lead the nation with 16 pass plays of 40 or more yards conceded, lead the nation with 11 pass plays of 50 or more yards allowed, and are tied for the national lead with six pass plays of 60 or more yards permitted.
For the sake of comparison, the 2019 LSU offense compiled 24 pass plays of 40+ yards, 15 of 50+, and eight of 60+ — and that was over a full season of 15 games, almost twice the eight this year’s Tigers have played thus far. The stats suggest LSU is currently having a defensive season of nightmares akin to its offensive season of dreams a year ago.
And it’s obviously in the Gators’ best interests to pad — or, well, worsen — those stats.
Florida isn’t really playing for style points when it comes to the College Football Playoff — if it wins out, it will win its way into the tournament. But it is playing for style points when it comes to Trask’s Heisman campaign, no matter how many times Trask shrugs about his own personal goals having little to do with the stiff-arming statue.
Alabama’s Mac Jones just had arguably his best game of the year against LSU, throwing for 385 yards and four touchdown passes against the defenseless Tigers, and that stat line is assuredly going to be measured against whatever Trask puts up this Saturday. And Florida’s offense, while lethally effective through the air — the Gators lead the nation with 144 completions of 10 or more yards — doesn’t generate the same sorts of deep balls that Alabama’s offense does with Devonta Smith invariably running free behind defenders.
So why shouldn’t Florida let Trask throw it 40 times against LSU and see what stats result?
Beyond bolstering Trask’s chances of winning Heisman — which would help Florida’s prestige and recruiting pitches, sure, but really only sets in stone what is well-known about Dan Mullen’s ability to develop passers — Florida also gets benefits from aerating LSU. The program the Gators have squabbled with most about the rights to the “DBU” nickname certainly hasn’t played up to that moniker this year, and Florida doing even more damage to that rep can’t really hurt, even if there’s no single prospect a 500-yard day might flip.
And then there’s the, uh, actual football-related reason for Florida to be fine-tuning its passing game against the Tigers: It’s going to need the best offense it has against Alabama. For these Gators, that probably means running it just enough to make play-action passing work and not falling victim to orthodox thinking when it comes to down-and-distance situations; for this offense, every down with Trask at the controls and Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney running routes should be a passing down.
If Florida’s going to beat Alabama in Atlanta, it’s very likely that it will do so through the air and by mostly mothballing its occasionally effective running game. Getting comfortable with what might innately feel like an illogical run-pass balance has some value, and this is Florida’s last chance to do it before its biggest game in years.
When it comes to blowing out LSU, the motive, means, and opportunity are all there for Florida this weekend. And a bombardment of these Tigers sounds like a fun air show to catch in primetime this Saturday.