Column: Florida’s loss to LSU was devastatingly meaningless
BATON ROUGE, La. — This might go down as the most feverishly exciting and devastatingly meaningless defeat in the history of Florida Gators football.
At first glance, No. 5 LSU’s wild and crazy 42-28 shootout victory over the No. 7 Gators on a surreal Saturday night on the Louisiana bayou would seem to be calamitous for Florida’s growing College Football Playoff semifinal hopes. But, in reality, the loss means nothing.
The Gators still have everything in front of them. If they run the table, they still win the SEC East and advance to the SEC championship game. If they win the conference championship, they still go to the College Football Playoff semifinals.
“Next week’s game (against South Carolina) is a bigger game than this week’s game,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said after LSU ended Florida’s 10-game winning streak dating to last season. “Our next four games are against opponents in the SEC East, where we control our own destiny.”
Translation: This matchup, as highly publicized as it was, had few ramifications other than being yet another memorable, entertaining, emotionally charged LSU game in what has become the most intense rivalry on Florida’s schedule.
Some will argue Florida’s most intense rival is Florida State.
SEC historians will claim it’s Georgia.
There was a time long ago when it was Tennessee.
When it comes to pure football and sheer animosity, there hasn’t been a more memorable and hateful rivalry in recent years than Florida vs. LSU. You could just see in the eyes and hear it in the voices of the players before Saturday night’s monumental SEC showdown.
“It’s just bad blood colliding,” LSU outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson told Baton Rouge reporters earlier this week.
“We always hated the Gators,” chirped LSU insider linebacker Patrick Queen.
The feeling, of course, was mutual. Florida wanted badly to beat LSU and did everything in its power to overcome 102,000 maniacal fans, the No. 5 team in the country and the highest-scoring offense in the nation.
This was supposed to be a game matching LSU’s dynamic offense against Florida’s dominant defense. Instead, it turned into a game pitting LSU’s high-flying offense against a Florida offense that admirably and desperately tried to keep up.
LSU came into the game with the nation’s top-scoring offense while the Gators came in with the nation’s fifth-best scoring defense. LSU was averaging 55 points, and the Gators had given up 57 points all season.
Florida’s defense came in leading the nation in interceptions and leading the SEC in sacks, but LSU quarterback Joe Burrow orchestrated an offense that gained 511 yards without giving up a sack or committing a turnover. Burrow was nearly perfect, completing 21 of 24 passes for 293 yards and three TDs. LSU’s quick-strike offense ran only 48 plays but scored 42 points.
With the Gator defense being a nonfactor, quarterback Kyle Trask and the Florida offense were left with the unenviable task of trying to match the Tigers score-for-score.
Give Trask and the offense credit for keeping pace for much of the game. Every time LSU scored in the first half, the Gators answered. With the score tied 21-21 at halftime, Trask led Florida on a 75-yard touchdown march and a 28-21 lead at the outset of the second half.
But in the end, LSU had too much firepower. The Tigers hit big play after big play in the second half, including a 33-yard touchdown run by Tyrion Davis-Patrick and a 54-yard TD pass from Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase.
“I’ve been playing football my whole life,” said Trask, who completed 23 of 39 passes for 310 yards and three TDs with one interception. “I’ve won and lost games. Obviously, it (stinks) to lose, but this is a great group of guys and this loss is going to make us better.”
Not exactly Tim Tebow’s Promise Speech, but Trask’s postgame comments were another emotional moment at the end of yet another memorable game in the Florida-LSU rivalry.
Who would have thought the Gators could lose such a big game and it have so little meaning?