It is called Death Valley for a reason.
The No. 17/18 Florida Gators (4-2, 2-2 SEC) learned Saturday exactly why their opponent’s home field earned that nickname while being routed 41-11 by the No. 1/2 LSU Tigers (6-0, 3-0 SEC) at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA.
The Tigers jumped ahead 24-0 early on the back of a pair of touchdowns from running back Spencer Ware before the Gators got their first points on the board. Florida added a touchdown in the second half, but LSU ensured there would be no comeback.
The Gators entered the game without the first two quarterbacks on their depth chart after redshirt senior John Brantley (lower leg) and freshman Jeff Driskel (ankle) were both injured last Saturday against Alabama.
Florida went three-and-out on Brissett’s first series, and LSU quickly took advantage of the short field with QB Jarrett Lee throwing a 46-yard strike to wide receiver Rueben Randle for the first touchdown of the game. The Tigers scored again on their next drive, rushing the ball six times for 52 yards before Ware bounced into the end zone.
The offense opened up a bit for the Gators after that. Brissett completed four passes on Florida’s next possession and earned a first down, but a fake punt run by sophomore RB Trey Burton failed, handing the ball back to LSU on UF’s 49.
However, Wing celebrated before reaching pay dirt and the officials tacked on a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting at the spot of the foul, negating the score but allowing the Tigers to maintain possession. They wound up kicking a 35-yard field goal three plays later to take a 17-0 lead with 13:22 remaining in the first half.
Penalties suffocated the Gators’ next drive before it really got underway, and a deep interception thrown by Brissett turned the ball over once again. Two possessions later, the Tigers completed a two-play, 45-yard drive with an eight yard rush from Ware for his second touchdown of the day.
With time running out in the first half, Florida engineered its first scoring drive of the game with Burton and Brissett both playing quarterback. Brissett completed a pair of passes for third-down conversions and junior RB Mike Gillislee carried the ball six times for 35 yards on the drive before redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis hit a 23-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining.
Each team failed in their first respective possession of the second half, but LSU added its second field goal of the afternoon to cap a 10-play, 51-yard drive that was helped along by three Gators penalties including a personal foul and two offside calls.
Florida responded quickly as Brissett connected with redshirt sophomore WR Andre Debose for a 65-yard touchdown on the very next possession. The Gators also succeeded on a two-point conversion when a fake high snap to Brissett was taken direct by redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey into the end zone, cutting their deficit to 16 points.
Taking a cue from their opponent, the Tigers answered right away as Lee hit Randle for 57 yards down the left sideline. Three players later, QB Jordan Jefferson threw a jump pass to tight end Mitch Joseph for LSU’s fourth touchdown of the game.
Starting from midfield, Florida hoped to replicate their downfield success. Brissett tried to find Debose in the end zone, but cornerback Tyrann Mathieu caught up just in time and intercepted the ball. Sophomore WR Solomon Patton got a hand on the Tigers’ next punt, but the Gators again failed to capitalize on good field position.
LSU RB Alfred Blue ran for a short touchdown with 1:27 remaining in the game, finalizing his team’s 30-point margin of victory.
Ware led the Tigers with 24 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Lee and Jefferson each threw a touchdown, and Randle caught four balls for 127 yards and a score.
Gillislee led the Gators on the ground with nine carries for 56 yards, and Debose’s 65-yard score was one of two balls caught by UF receivers on the afternoon. Brissett finished 8/14 for 94 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
LSU outgained Florida 454-213 offensively and held the Gators to 2-for-11 on third down conversions. UF committed 12 penalties for 89 yards in the contest and also lost time of possession to the Tigers 35:40-24:20.
Florida hopes to bounce back from consecutive losses (including their worst defeat since losing to Nebraska 62-24 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl) as they take on Auburn on the road next Saturday. The game will air live at 7 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN3.com.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press