By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Perhaps it’s a fitting ode to Les Miles that an LSU/Florida slugfest came down to a toss dive run on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
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With the inside track to a Sugar Bowl berth and potentially Ed Orgeron’s job prospects hanging in the balance, LSU, needing a touchdown with three seconds remaining, called a toss to Derrius Guice needing one yard to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in classic Miles fashion.
Instead, the injury-riddled Gator defense rose up and stripped an airborne Guice short of the goal line to preserve No. 21 Florida (8-2, 6-2 SEC) a 16-10 victory that clinched the SEC East and left No. 16 LSU (6-4, 4-3) in the all-to-familiar position of wondering what went wrong.
“You can second guess that, sure,” Orgeron said. “We thought we could run it in. Maybe we should’ve spread them out a little bit. Hindsight’s 20-20.”
“It was a good call,” center Ethan Pocic said. “Just wasn’t run right.”
Orgeron and LSU’s players conceded after the game that the play wasn’t executed properly. Nobody pointed fingers, but the run was designed to go left and Guice stepped right before launching himself toward the end zone.
“Offensive line squeeze play,” left guard Will Clapp said. “Get up tight and fire off the ball. Not sure what the backfield was doing. We’ll see it on film.”
Both Pocic and Clapp said they thought there was enough push in the middle to get the ball carrier into the end zone, but both deferred any judgement until seeing the film. It was the fourth consecutive run play called after Danny Etling hit Malachi Dupre to set up first-and-goal at the Gator 7-yard line.
“That play was kind of indicative of a lot of plays,” fullback J.D. Moore said. “They were fundamentally sound, but I thought it was more bad offense than good defense. We weren’t executing well this afternoon.”
That final goal line stand by Florida left LSU with a third empty red zone trip of the afternoon. Guice got stripped by Caleb Brantley on first-and-goal when LSU had a chance to build on a 7-3 lead in the first quarter.
The Tigers finished with just 10 points to show for five red-zone opportunities. Those wasted chances, more than any one play, told the tale in a game LSU outgained its opposition 423-270.
“Outside looking in, it appears that it comes down to that last play,” Pocic said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to score more in the red zone. That’s how I look at it. I don’t look at it as a fourth-and-1 game loss. I look at it as we have to score more in the red zone.”
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Orgeron summarized.
The game’s final carry in all likelihood would have gone to Leonard Fournette if he were healthy.
Fournette, who Orgeron said asked to play pregame — the request came after Fournette was involved in a team-wide shoving match, though Orgeron downplayed the idea that it motivated his star tailback to suit up — gutted his way to 40 yards on 12 carries. He didn’t touch the ball in the fourth quarter.
“You can see he wasn’t full speed,” Orgeron said.
Nobody used Fournette’s injury as an excuse for the loss, particularly against a Florida team that was missing seven starters.
“It just came down to execution,” Orgeron repeated. “We just didn’t execute right.”
MAKING THE GRADE
Offense (C-) LSU moved the ball well at times, but coming away with just 10 points from five red-zone trips ultimately did the Tigers in.
Defense (B-) The loss of Kendell Beckwith hurt LSU’s run defense immeasurably as the Gators ran for 126 yards, 57 of which came on their touchdown drive.
Special teams (D) The botched field goal hurt Donte Jackson’s fumbled kick return spotted Florida an extra six points, the final margin.