GAINESVILLE -- By the time the sun found its home in the western sky, the Gator tail was fried and burned.
It was hardly Saturday night in Death Valley -- early kickoff, poor alumni attendance, a blistering sun -- but with LSU’s theme song blaring on a loop and its favorite provocative chant also on repeat, Florida still left Tiger Stadium battered and bruised in a score (17-6) barely indicative of the actual game.
The Gators were outclassed -- especially on offense. Much has been written about Florida’s struggles on both lines of scrimmage, so I’ll try not to rehash those too much, but this piece easily could’ve been titled: When Murderball shoots blanks -- or runs out of hammers.
Ultimately, Florida is a flawed football team, yet so is Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri (without quarterback James Franklin). The East remains wide open, but the Atlanta carrot might be a false door for Florida fans. Changes won’t (and can’t) happen overnight and the schedule doesn’t help either.
To the bullet points…
* No offense Les, but Miles’ Tigers were quite hammer-ish on Saturday.
* Penalties killed LSU’s opening drive, but Florida once again struggled with tempo out of the gate. The Gators looked confused (see: a 12-yard completion to wideout Jarvis Landry) on multiple plays, substituting at the last second several times.
* LSU averaged 5.8 yards per play. The most of any opposing offense since… Furman (2011). Really.
* Marcus Roberson was toasted on his very first play returning from a knee injury that cost him three games. Fortunately for the junior though, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger airmailed his intended target. The Tigers senior QB was not particularly sharp throughout the game.
* As for UF’s signal caller, Tyler Murphy was erratically inaccurate and oblivious of the blitz for much of the afternoon. Of course, his receivers (especially the freshmen) did him little favors. Ditto for the offensive line. I counted two dropped pick-sixes (Lamin Barrow, on Demarcus Robinson’s wrong route; T. White, on a throw under siege) and another three (including a pair of batted balls at the LOS) potential interceptions also dropped.
* Best combination throw + protection of the day: Murphy’s 15-yard completion (on fourth down) to freshman Ahamd Fulwood on a deep square-in late in the fourth quarter.
* The official stat sheet credited the Tigers with 10 sacks + hurries. I counted 14. Yowzers. This too from a LSU defensive front that hit Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray ZERO times.
* Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease loves him some sprint rollouts and five-wide empty sets. I didn’t chart every rollout, but Florida ran seven empty set snaps -- despite an inability to pass block or identify the patented John Chavis special (the mystical 5+-man rush is commonly called a zone blitz). The results of the five-wide plays: A Trey Burton 14-yard reception, a batted down screen pass, a sack on a safety blitz, a 19-yard completion to Solomon Patton (a hurry credited with a nice escape by Murphy), an incomplete pass, a Fulwood 4-yard completion (zone blitz), 4-yard completion to Patton (another zone blitz).
* I tweeted this Monday, but Florida tailback Matt Jones appeared to actually tear his meniscus on a non-contact jump-cut -- not when an LSU player allegedly rolled up on his knee. Rewatch his final run. Jones sees the hole, cuts and starts to go down before Barrow ever touches him. The sophomore tailback remained in the game for the next play, but Jones limped through the play action fake and barely jogged his route.
* Florida has a supremely talented and deep secondary, but the aggressive man-to-man defense comes at a cost against at quarterback who can throw a back-shoulder fade (throw). Mettenberger and LSU ran multiple iso plays resulting in a 17-yard gain to tailback Terrence Magee (vs. UF linebacker Antonio Morrison), Landry’s outstanding 29-yard catch against Vernon Hargreaves III and a 15-yard pass interference penalty on Roberson. Remember, Georgia and FSU love this throw too.
* Speaking of Morrison -- Florida’s middle linebacker -- Oy. The talented sophomore did not have a good game Saturday. Morrison’s best two snaps were a pair of vicious stuffs at the goal line, otherwise he was seen chasing the play, getting run over or being targeted on passing downs.
He busted his assignment on Jermey Hill’s 30-yard reception, allowed a TE to run free down the seam for a would-be touchdown (another throw Mettenberger missed) and got straight run over by Hill twice.
* Others who struggled Saturday: Ronald Powell, Darrin Kitchens, Neiron Ball (who played more than I thought in real time), Damien Jacobs, Cody Riggs, Dante Fowler Jr. Offensively, Clay Burton, Tyler Moore, Jon Halapio, D.J. Humphries and Mack Brown. Halapio again proved: Great as run-blocking pulling guard. Awful as a one-armed pass protector (see: Anthony Johnson sack).
* Linebacker Michael Taylor and safety Jabari Gorman continue to surprise and play consistently well. Taylor is easily Florida’s best and most productive linebacker, while Gorman has emerged as Florida’s top tackler in the secondary. Also, another solid performance from VH3. He saved a touchdown on a long Hill run (more later), had a nice pass breakup in the end zone and nearly wrestled away an interception from a future NFL wideout.
* Hill’s 26-yard scamper on LSU’s fourth-quarter field goal drive was as well a blocked run play I’ve seen all season. Florida was absolutely destroyed across the line scrimmage, with linebackers/safety Kitchens, Riggs and Morrison all pushed 10+ yards down the field too. An all-out-effort tackle by VG3 saved a touchdown.
* LSU’s right guard definitely moved early on fullback J.C. Copeland’s one-yard goal line plunge. Copeland did run to the left side though, so there’s that.
* Florida’s frosh receivers (Fulwood and Robinson) clearly have some size and skills, but Fulwood busted a pair of run-blocks and Robinson ran the wrong route multiple times. The on-the-job learning process remains ongoing.
* LSU converted five third downs in the first half -- not including Copeland’s one-yard rush on 3rd-and-goal. The backbreaking 22-yard completion on 3rd-and-17 was a poor execution of zone bracket coverage between Taylor and nickel back Brian Poole.
* After the game, Pease (and the much-maligned offensive line coach Tim Davis) was heavily criticized for shoddy playcalling. The run/pass ratio was to be expected in a hostile environment, but the lack of shots (especially against a secondary that looked so befuddled in the loss to UGA) was bizarre. The jumbo package was the ultimate meat-grinder formation: positive yards but zero explosive plays. Pease’s option pitch call on 4th-and-1 from the 48-yard line was a great call. LSU had nine guys in the box/between the hash-marks, and the pitch to the wide side resulted in an easy, but critical, conversion.
* The Little Giants-esque fumblerooski call on 2nd-and-goal though? Even the self-proclaimed ‘Tactical Genius’ thought that was awful.
* Finally, The Kelvin Taylor experiment era. The freshman displayed solid vision, natural cutback ability, some Knowshon-esque hip sinking and a total inability to pass protect.
At this point, Taylor is strictly a runner -- possibly a good one -- but the true loss of Jones will be felt on obvious passing downs. Mack Brown isn’t much better at blocking either (see: LSU’s finally sack -- a bust by Brown and Humphries), but it’s clear Taylor has little idea of the assignments or protections. I’m not sure Taylor had much of a chance on the broken 3rd-and-goal play anyways, but he still crashed into Patton without ever touching anyone in purple and white.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton