The No. 9 Florida Gators fell 42-28 to the No. 2 LSU Tigers on a Louisiana Saturday night in Death Valley…and strangely, Gator fans should feel encouraged? Yes encouraged. You read that right.
As you head back to work on Monday morning, here are you topics of discussion as you brag—and offer some earned criticism—for your Gators.
Kyle Trask was on fire
Redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Trask played arguably his best game to date. In his fourth start, Trask stepped into a stadium with 102K+ fans, at night in the toughest environment in college football. And he never flinched. He lit a flame that had been simmering, giving him the fire to lower his shoulder on multiple runs—10 for a gained 38 yards. His pocket awareness showed marked improvement, encapsulated in a 4th quarter play that moved Florida down the field. On a 3rd and 12 from their own 27-yard line, the Gators sent five wide with an empty backfield, leaving no help as an extra blocker for Trask. With pressure coming, the passer felt it off his back and stepped up in the pocket, delivering a shot over the middle as he did so to Tre Grimes for a 19-yard reception that moved the chains.
Trask also dealt with high snaps much of the night and was able to take care of the ball on each one.
Overall Trask went 23-29 for 310 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, the latter of which proved backbreaking when it was picked off in the endzone. The Tigers were able to turn the possession into a touchdown. Yet it was the poise Trask showed under the most intense of circumstances that give the Gators confidence moving forward.
“I thought he did a really good job,” Mullen said of Trask.
"I thought Emory [Trask] did a really good job, came in and gave a really good mix-up for us. Both those guys. I don't have a whole lot to complain with their performances tonight. I thought they handled the environment. It was an amazing environment. That's what makes the SEC so special. Everyone was worried: was the environment going to get to our young offensive line and get to our quarterbacks without much experience? It didn't. They handled it in every situation. But, you know, I mean, we didn't do the things we needed to do at the end to win.”
Mullen was in his bag
The Gators ran 84 offensive plays on Saturday night with 17 of them coming in as chunk plays (rushing plays of 10+ yards and passing plays of 15+ yards). Florida went 9-17 on 3rd downs and had 28 first downs in total. Six different guys rushed the ball and eight receivers had at least one catch or more with Van Jefferson leading the way with eight for 73 yards and two touchdowns. We don’t have the time to go through every single play Mullen dialed up but the offensive guru was mixing in slants, screens and deep sideline passes. Van Jefferson threw off a defender with a slant that he “sold off” as a fade for a score. Tre Grimes was moved into the slot, using his big body to win easy matchups. Kyle Pitts was everywhere and we’ll discuss him more soon. Josh Hammond was mixed in on reverse pitches. And so on and so forth. Let’s just say it’s a shame one of his best called games during his time at Florida had to come on a loss.
Gators desperately missed Greenard and Zuniga
Florida’s top defensive ends, Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, both saw limited snaps during the loss. Greenard suffered an injury during last week’s win over Auburn and played through it but did not practice any this week. He did try to go versus LSU, playing for the first series, coming out for the second, going back in for the third and then had to come out for the rest of the game. Zuniga played for the first time in three games (injury suffered against Kentucky) and stayed in for the entire first half. He re-angered the ankle sprain though after stopping Ty Davis-Price for no gain on a rush. That was midway through the 3rd quarter and Zuniga didn’t return.
With Greenard and Zuniga out, the defensive line turned to freshman like Khris Bogle and moved Luke Ancrum to end at times. This put the Gators out of position on several running plays, a worry of Mullen’s coming into the game. The Tigers averaged 9.1 yards on the ground per play.
“I thought the fact that I was concerned with run and then once we had all those injuries on the D-line, I thought that was a big factor. So it really wasn't surprising. I knew they could score points. You look at what you want to accomplish, which is create some pressure, don't give up explosive plays, stop the run. No, no, no. You're doing that with some freshmen D-linemen in there at times. Missed some fits. So, all stuff we've got to get fixed up.”
Marco Wilson admits that not having Greenard and Zuniga threw them off but that’s no longer an excuse: “It takes the air out of us, really, but the next guy has to step up. We need to put it in our mind that guys are going to go down in a game. Guys are not going to be able to go. The next guy needs to be ready to play just as well as the starter.”
Marco at STAR
In the second half, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham elected to sit STAR Trey Dean who got beat on a touchdown, and move corner Marco Wilson to the nickel spot on passing downs. Freshman Kaiir Elam came in for Wilson at corner during those plays. Dean was entrusted with the spot left vacant by Chauncey Gardener-Johnson and was expected to be the perfect fit with his safety background, splitting time with linebacker Amari Burney on more running downs. He has admittedly struggled though near the line of scrimmage. Wilson, in his place, filled in well enough to be considered for a more permanent look moving forward.
Holy Kyle Pitts Batman
Sophomore tight end Kyle Pitts was everywhere and once again became a favorite target for Trask. In all, Pitts was targeted 10 times, catching five for a team leading 108 yards. He pulled in quick passes on slants and impressed with one handed catches deep down the sideline. All of Pitt’s five receptions were for 15+ yards. He is one of three FBS tight ends with 300+ receiving yards and three touchdowns.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron called Pitts “a tremendous football player and one of the best players we have seen all year.”
Running game improved?
The 146 yards on the ground was the Gators third best rushing game of the season and best overall against an FBS opponent. Lamical Perine led the way with 65 yards on 17 rushes. Of course UF’s 3.7 average rushing play still needs attention and isn’t conducive to breaking off big runs. But it does help open up the passing game, which is the job it was meant to serve and did serve on Saturday night when Kyle Trask passed for 310 yards. The lanes created by the offensive line have formed quicker and, for that matter, have actually formed. The Gators have now faced arguably the two best defensive lines they’ll see all season and can move forward with a line that’s gelling and a running game that’s finding its footing.
Florida will now travel to South Carolina to face the Gamecocks and former coach Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks are coming off a huge upset, defeating (then) No. 3 Georgia 20-17 in double overtime. The game will kick off at noon eastern on ESPN.