A Big 12 game broke out on the Bayou as No. 5 LSU managed to outdo No. 7 Florida 42-28 in a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair on Saturday night in Death Valley. Gone are the days when the SEC’s elite take turns punting and daring the other to score. Both teams spent the better part of three quarters exchanging touchdowns.
It wasn’t until the Tigers and Gators were tied 28-28 that the defense so long associated with the SEC finally showed up. The LSU front seven was finally able to get home while pressuring Florida quarterback Kyle Trask to get its first sack of the night. It was a sack that seemed to alter the outcome of the game, as it forced UF to commit a cardinal sin in this game. The Gators punted, and they paid for it.
LSU took advantage by turning that punt into a touchdown, and then, after a couple more punts, the game had its deciding moment. Florida had a chance to tie the game again, putting together another impressive drive of their own to get back into the red zone, but Trask made his first, and only, true mistake of the night. He forced a pass that wasn’t there into the end zone, and LSU’s Derek Stingley saw it the whole way, picking it off. Four plays later, LSU wideout Ja’Marr Chase was racing down the sideline for a 54-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 14, and that’s the way it would stay. LSU finished it off with a goal-line stand in the final minute to end Florida’s comeback attempt.
Joe Burrow had another exceptional game for LSU, completing 21-of-24 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Trask played terrifically as well, throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns of his own, but it was the end zone interception that proved decisive.
Here are four takeaways from this surprising SEC shootout.
1. LSU remains the biggest threat to Alabama in the SEC: I felt this way before Georgia lost to South Carolina on Saturday, as I wrote about it a few weeks ago. Tonight just reinforced my opinion, because while LSU’s defense is a lot leakier than we’re used to seeing, it’s the only other offense in the SEC capable of keeping pace with that of Alabama. Gone are the days when LSU, or anybody, is going to beat Alabama 9-6.
After taking down Texas A&M 47-28 on Saturday, Alabama is averaging 51 points per game through six games. After putting 42 points on the board against Florida tonight, LSU is at 52.5.
This is the new reality of the SEC. Sure, it took the conference a little longer to be dragged into the modern era of offensive football, but it’s there now. And, in its defense, when you’re winning a bunch of national titles, there’s seldom the motivation to change. Alabama changed, and now LSU changed to keep up. It’s Georgia that hasn’t changed, and the Bulldogs learned the perils of limiting the sample size by playing slowly and deliberately. It’s a lesson LSU needed a few years to catch up to, but it’s learned it, and it looks like one of the best teams in the country now. It’s amazing what happens when you pair talent with an advantageous scheme, isn’t it?
2. LSU’s offense may have gotten scarier tonight: Again, this is a team that’s now scoring 52.5 points per game, but entering tonight, LSU hadn’t been running the ball all that well. They entered Saturday night averaging only 4.2 yards per carry on the ground and were going up against a Florida defense that ranked 19th in the country, allowing 2.9 yards per carry. LSU averaged 9.1 yards per carry against it on Saturday. No, that’s not a typo, the Tigers nearly picked up a first down every time they ran the ball.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire led the effort, rushing for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. He had some help, too, as Burrow picked up 43 yards on the ground. Then there was the freshman Tyrion Davis-Price, who introduced himself to the country with a 33-yard touchdown that put the Tigers ahead to stay late in the third quarter. If the Tigers are suddenly able to pair this ground attack with a passing attack that nobody has been able to stop to this point, well, good luck, SEC.
3. Florida still has plenty to play for this season: Listen, this loss stings. With Georgia losing earlier in the day, Florida had a chance to take complete control of the SEC East, but that’s no longer he case. Still, if the Gators beat the Dawgs in Jacksonville, Florida, in a few weeks, they’ll be in the SEC East driver’s seat. So they can still win the division, and that means they can still get to Atlanta where they’ll face either Alabama or maybe get a rematch against LSU or Auburn.
Either way, if the Gators win out, it’s not like a one-loss SEC champion Florida team with the wins it would have is getting left out of the College Football Playoff. And honestly, while it’s hard to feel great about yourself after allowing 42 points, Florida still played well over the course of the game.
The way Trask handled himself in the environment of Tiger Stadium on Saturday night would have me feeling extremely confident about my offense going forward if I’m Dan Mullen. He did not get flustered. Yes, he made one bad pass, and it proved costly, but he was going shot for shot with Burrow — a Heisman Trophy candidate — for most of the night. That’s a great sign going forward. Still, I do have one problem with Florida’s QB situation.
4. Mullen must stop the musical chairs at QB: Listen, I know that Mullen and Florida have had plenty of success using two quarterbacks in the past. That Chris Leak-Tim Tebow combination was rather effective. I didn’t like the way Mullen used Emory Jones on Saturday night, though. With the way Trask was playing, it felt like it was disrupting the flow of Florida’s offense when he was pulled for Jones.
Mullen kept bringing Jones in during red-zone situations, as well as other vital spots, and it made Florida’s offense predictable. The Tigers defense stacked the box because it didn’t think Jones was capable of beating it with his arm, and he proved them right for the most part save for one somewhat-lucky touchdown that was hauled in by Lamical Perine on a tip drill. Jones is a talented QB, no doubt, and he will likely win quite a few games in his career at Florida. But right now? Trask has played too well to be finding himself on the sideline in crucial situations.
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