A soul-crushing 50-yard game-winning field goal pushed the LSU Tigers (5-2, 1-2 SEC) ahead of the Florida Gators (3-2, 2-1 SEC) on Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, as LSU took advantage of multiple Florida miscues to pull off a 30-27 come-from-behind victory in The Swamp.
Head coach Will Muschamp spoke with the media after the close loss, and OnlyGators.com takes a look at a number of key moments in the game.
HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS
» After the win, LSU is now 27-31-3 all-time against Florida, trailing the Gainesville portion of the series 12-15-3. The Tigers have won four of their last five meetings with the Gators.
» Saturday was the 44th consecutive year, dating back to 1979, that UF and LSU squared off on the gridiron.
» The Gators are now 21-5 against unranked opponents under Muschamp and 12-3 against unranked SEC teams during his tenure.
» Florida has converted 19-of-20 red zone trips into points this season but have only scored 11 red zone touchdowns through five games.
» The Gators scored more than 21 points in regulation for the first time in nine SEC games.
» UF’s offensive line once again did not allow a sack; the Gators have only given up five through five games, including none against Eastern Michigan, Alabama and LSU.
» Florida entered Saturday with a +8 turnover margin but lost three turnovers in the game and did not gain any back; the Gators are now +5 for the season. UF gained 15 turnovers in its first four games.
» Florida’s run defense had only allowed 11 double-digit runs on the year entering Saturday’s game but gave up nine more over the course of the LSU contest.
» Redshirt senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar entered Saturday having caught a pass in 32-straight games. He dropped his only target of the evening and came three games away from tying a school record for most consecutive contests with a reception.
“You know, uh, had our opportunities. Countless. Third-and-25, we had a miscommunication on an empty check. You cut a guy loose in that situation, you don’t deserve to win. Guys responded, came right back. Jeff [Driskel] made a nice throw to Demarcus [Robinson], who finished the play down there. We get an opportunity inside the 3-yard line to score, we don’t get it done. Defense does a great job, comes back, makes a stop, gives you an opportunity to win the game. We’re trying to go win the game and they get a blitz look, we heightened the ball inside, tipped ball, they get the ball [off an interception] there. Credit them. They made the plays when they needed to. …
“We never got anything much going other than Jeff in the running game. We felt good on some designed runs that we had for him in the game. Got to continue to search for consistency throwing the football, catching the football. Defensively, we just can’t have a mental error like we had. They’re a good running football team, we knew that coming in. We knew they’d gain some yards. Certainly felt like we’d play the blocks a little better up front than we did. Our guys fought their butts off, they had an opportunity to win the game, we didn’t get it done. That’s the bottom line. Credit LSU too, they got a good team.”
The Gators lost arguably their three best players at one point or another during Saturday’s contest, but an injury to junior wide receiver Latroy Pittman late in the fourth quarter was obviously the most serious. Pittman, trying to make his way over the middle to haul in a pass from Driskel, was drilled with a lowered helmet on a helmet-to-helmet hit (no penalty); the result of the play was a tipped ball and interception, and Pittman lay motionless on the field until trainers arrive. The Swamp was silent as Pittman was carefully loaded onto a board and than carted off the field. In a somewhat feel-good moment, he gave a thumbs up to the crowd, and Muschamp provided what sounded like a positive update after the game.
“We think Latroy Pittman’s going to be fine. He had all movement [in his extremities],” he said. “I think more than anything, precautionary [decision] to make sure that he’s OK.”
On Sunday, the Gators noted that Pittman was released from the hospital Saturday night after “everything checked out.”
The first player to be sidelined Saturday was junior running back Matt Jones. Muschamp had deemed Jones a game-time decision with knee swelling on Wednesday, but Jones’s knee was apparently fine entering the game; instead, he had a huge wrap around his left ankle. He gained 18 yards on five touches but was removed before halftime and never returned, as Muschamp said his ankle was “loose” while he was on the field.
Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was also forced to exit the game for good, though Muschamp did not specify his injury. Midway through the second quarter, Hargreaves appeared to connect his helmet with LSU RB Leonard Fournette’s knee, and it looked like he was dealing with a head injury. He went into the locker room before the half and came out wearing street clothes. “I think he’s gonna be fine,” Muschamp said.
Redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Orr (knee) and freshman linebacker Daniel McMillian (head) did not suit up for the contest. Freshman DT Gerald Willis did not play in the game after getting into an altercation with redshirt sophomore QB Skyler Mornhinweg on Monday.
THE INTERCEPTION & THE CLOCK
Following a great defensive stand, the Gators started with the ball on their own 42-yard line and 54 seconds left on the clock. Florida, which did not have any timeouts, chose to try and work the ball up the field safely with Driskel completing back-to-back screen passes to freshman RB Brandon Powell for a total gain of 13 yards. Suddenly on the Tigers’ 45-yard line, with about 10 yards to go until redshirt sophomore kicker Austin Hardin could have attempted a long-but-possible 52-yard field goal, UF went away from safe and Driskel threw a pass over the middle that was tipped up, intercepted and returned 23 yards down to the home team’s 36-yard line.
LSU ran one play with 24 seconds remaining, a Terrence Magee rush over the right tackle for a three-yard gain. Florida appeared to try and hinder the official’s ability to spot the ball as the clock ran down and the Tigers did not have a timeout to call. With three seconds remaining, the referee called an official timeout to stop the clock, add seven seconds to it and give LSU a chance to spike the ball and then attempt what would eventually be a game-winning 50-yard field goal.
“Got down there at the end, I’m not real sure exactly what happened with the clock there. I’ve never been in a situation her they put seven seconds back on the clock. I’ll call Steve Shaw [SEC head of officials] for an explanation. I don’t know if I’ll ever get any, but certainly will call to try to find out,” Muschamp said. “So if you ask me about it, I don’t know. I never got an explanation on the sideline. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve never been a part of that situation. No flags thrown. I don’t know. We’ll find out.”
THE FAILED DRIVE
The Gators looked to be down and out after allowing the Tigers to convert a seemingly-impossible third down and seeing the visitors wind up in the end zone two plays later (see below). Instead, Driskel and Florida’s offense responded with one of its best plays of the season.
Driskel, who once again struggled with his deep ball throughout the game and threw an early interception on one such pass, hit sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson in stride for a 73-yard gain on 1st and 10 from UF’s own 25-yard line. The Gators suddenly faced 1st and Goal at the LSU 2, but Florida was unable to convert the drive into a touchdown.
“Guys responded, came right back. Jeff made a nice throw to Demarcus, who finished the play down there. We get an opportunity inside the 3-yard line to score, we don’t get it done,” explained Muschamp.
Powell rushed over the left guard for a yard, Driskel was stopped up the middle for no gain, and the Gators were forced to come up with something a bit more creative on third down. It appeared as if offensive coordinator Kurt Roper called a triple option. Driskel chose not to hand the ball off or run it himself (both correct decisions with defenders covering the run options) and instead found senior tight end Tevin Westbrook in the back of the end zone…except Westbrook dropped the ball after trying to catch it with his fingers.
“He got open; he just didn’t make the play, obviously,” Driskel said after the game. “Physical mistakes happen. We’re going to be there for him and we’re going to continue to pick him up because I’m sure he’s feeling down on himself right now. But that’s not a play that wins or loses a game.”
Florida settled for an 18-yard field goal from redshirt senior K Frankie Velez to tie the game.
THE BUSTED COVERAGE
Florida would not have needed Westbrook to catch that touchdown had its defense not once again been unable to stop LSU on a 3rd and Long that most teams would have no problem defending.
Backing themselves up into a 3rd and 25 scenario after an 11-yard sack and substitution infraction, Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings completed a 41-yard pass down the right sideline to WR Travin Dural; Dural caught a 11-yard touchdown (one-handed) to complete the drive and put LSU ahead.
“Third-and-25, we had a miscommunication on an empty check. You cut a guy loose in that situation, you don’t deserve to win,” Muschamp said.
“We had a good coverage called, they aligned in empty, we had an empty check, and we didn’t get it communicated to one guy. Ten guys got it and one guy didn’t. So we didn’t cover the guy, so we didn’t get it communicated. We got it signaled across the board, and we had a miscommunication.”
WHAT RUNNING BACKS?
With Jones injured and Muschamp seemingly having trust issues with Florida’s other ball carriers, Driskel became the Gators’ primary rusher on Saturday. He toted the rock 21 times for 71 yards, converting some important downs and dragging two defenders into the end zone for a touchdown along the way.
Yet no matter how well Driskel ran, it was foolish of Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to think that a struggling player accounting for 83 percent of Florida’s offense on Saturday (183 passing yards, 71 rushing yards out of 306 total yards for UF) would be enough to win the game.
Except…it would have been enough…had Westbrook caught the perfectly-placed touchdown pass Driskel threw him. Had he caught that ball, the Gators would’ve been up 31-27 and Driskel never would’ve been throwing when Florida regained possession.
Then again, if the Gators decided to give another one of their running backs and opportunity to tote the rock, Westbrook may have never been called on to make that catch in the first place.
“We never got anything much going other than Jeff in the running game. We felt good on some designed runs that we had for him in the game,” Muschamp said.
It would be hard for Florida to get something going in the running game when the three running backs that did touch the ball aside from Jones accounted for only six carries on the evening.
Redshirt senior Mack Brown (one carry, no gain) and sophomore Kelvin Taylor (two carries, no gain) did yeoman’s work filling in for Jones during the 2013 season – averaging 3.6 and 4.7 yards per carry, respectively – despite their inability to pass protect.
But the Gators chose not to run them on Saturday, even when they only needed to gain two yards on 1st and Goal. Florida probably did not want to tip that it was running the ball by putting Brown or Jones in during most of the game, but in that situation, with Muschamp’s proclivity for running the football, what harm would have come from giving one of those two players three-straight touches (or running Driskel on a quarterback sneak instead of a shotgun run)?
“It was a result of Matt being out, but again, it’s not just about running the ball. It’s about protections and a lot of things going in to making those decisions,” Muschamp said.
The coach also explained his decision to kick the field goal rather than try for a touchdown for a fourth time.
“I did [consider going for it]. I just felt like being at home in that situation, get it to overtime. Being on the road, probably would’ve gone for it. I did think at the time about going for it on fourth down and going for the win, I just felt like going to overtime in that situation, not knowing how they were going to come back. They only had one timeout at that time and then they had burned it on the third down,” he said.
“I just felt like, in that situation, being at home, you kick the field goal, you get the tie, you go possibly to overtime or you have an opportunity to pin them back – which we did – and you get an opportunity to get the ball back – which we did. We had an opportunity and we didn’t get it done.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On Powell and his standout performance: “Brandon’s a guy that does a nice job of catching the ball out of the backfield, he does a nice job in protection, he does a nice job with all those things.”
» On redshirt senior WR Andre Debose, who contributed to all three Gators touchdown drives with a 62-yard return touchdown, 35-yard rush and 53-yard return to set up a score: “Andre Deobse was fantastic tonight in returning the ball. We did a nice job with blocking and making a difference in the game there. … He did a great job in the return game. There’s no question he’s an electric guy who can change the field position for us very quickly. He’s an electric guy with the ball in his hands and we need to get him more opportunities.”
» On freshman QB Treon Harris, who spent the game in the press box with Roper as to not be a distraction to his team: “It’s been a very taxing week, difficult week for him. I’m very proud of the way Treon and his mother and father and how they handled the situation. It’s very difficult situation for everyone involved. It’s a learning experience for all of us, certainly welcome him back Friday, and I know that he was happy to try to move forward. Everybody’s a victim in this situation, including Treon. This isn’t good for anyone. No one wins in this situation. I feel sorry for all of the parties involved because this has been a difficult time for him and his family and obviously everyone else involved in the situation.”
» On how taxing and emotional the week was for Florida: “I thought our guys played their butts off. We understand there’s always not going to be the perfect set of circumstances in life. It’s part of the deal. You got to manage your situation and move forward.”