By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Two turnovers, two special teams blunders, and a single yard — that could spell the difference between a sweet ending and a bitter one for Ed Orgeron’s tenure.
Tiger Rag’s Gameday Coverage is Brought to you by Yuengling Beer, America’s Oldest Brewery, now available in Louisiana
LSU outgained and outpossessed Florida on Saturday in Baton Rouge, but came up scoreless three times in the redzone — including on the game’s final play, a 4th and goal toss dive from the 1 to Derrius Guice that Florida stuffed– in a 16-10 loss that could end the Tigers’ hopes of reaching the Sugar Bowl and Orgeron’s hopes of becoming LSU’s next full-time head coach.
“We always thought we were going to win the game, as poorly as we played,” Orgeron said. “It just came down to execution.”
The Tigers (6-4, 4-3 SEC) dominated large stretches of the game, winning the yardage battle 423-270. But Guice fumbled once in the red zone, Josh Growden mishandled a snap on a short field goal, and Donte Jackson coughed up a kickoff and got burned for a 98-yard score in the third quarter that spelled the difference on the scoreboard. All that added up to an LSU loss and an SEC East title for Florida (8-2, 6-2 SEC), its second straight divisional crown.
LSU crossed the Florida 10-yard-line five times, but went scoreless on three of them and came away with just 10 points.
“I thought we moved the ball well,” said Danny Etling, who completed 14-of-25 passes for 204 yards. “Unfortunately, we had big mistakes near the goal line, and that’s what cost us.”
The last mistake might’ve have been the costliest. On the game’s final play, a winner-take-all 4th-and-goal from the 1, LSU dialed up the infamous toss dive. But Guice, Orgeron said, went the wrong way on the play, slowing his forward progress and allowing a host of Gators to bring him down short of the endzone. It was the fourth of four running plays with goal to go and the game on the line.
“You can second guess that, sure,” Orgeron said, pointing out it was his staff’s call that he approved. “I let those guys manage it. Maybe we should’ve spread them out a little bit. Hindsight’s 20-20.
“We thought we could run it in.”
Had they succeeded, Etling might’ve been the hero. He was just 2-of-6 on the final drive, but two incompletions were blatant drops from his receivers. He also added 18 rushing yards on the series and, critically, completed a 4th-and-10 strike to DJ Chark to set up the game’s dramatic conclusion.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Etling said. “I just wanted to put my team in a position to win the game. I had to come up big for the team.”
“He led us down that field and put us in a position to win that football game,” added Orgeron. “That fourth down play was a hell of a play.”
Guice, who finished with 112 total yards (83 rushing, 29 receiving), punched in LSU’s first score from a yard out to put LSU up 7-0 after a 12-play, 80-yard drive that began with a 29-yard screen pass from Etling to Guice.
Florida used a 10-play, 39-yard drive to trim the Tiger lead to 7-3 on a 36-yard field goal by Eddy Piniero. A short kickoff from Cameron Gamble plus a 33-yard return by Jalen Tabor gave the Gators a short field, and, in a pattern that would carry over the rest of the game, they took advantage.
Guice gave one back the next drive, the Tigers’ first costly mistake of the game. LSU marched 68 yards on 10 plays, sprung by a 29-yard sweep to DJ Chark, who had 97 total yards (51 rushing, 46 receiving). But on first and goal from the Florida 8, Guice coughed it up, and Kylan Johnson picked up the fumble forced by Caleb Brantley.
“When you get in there,” said Etling, “you have to get points.”
Arden Key’s 10th sack of the season limited the damage and forced a 3-and-out on the next Gator drive. With it, Key became the first LSU player to reach double-digit sacks since Gabe Northern in 1994 and pulled within two of tying the single-season record of 12, set by Oliver Lawrence in 1989. LSU’s defense, as a whole, buckled down to close the first half, forcing three straight 3-and-outs and giving up just three yards on those nine plays. This, after Florida managed 67 yards on 20 plays over its first two drives. Tre’Davious White’s four PBUs led the charge.
The second half brought with it the second critical Tiger blunder.
LSU’s offense came out rolling, piecing together a methodical 9-play, 73-yard drive — 33 on an Etling-to-Dupre connection down the east sideline. But Florida stuffed a hobbled Leonard Fournette on third and goal from the 1. Fournette did not initially dress for the game, but asked Orgeron to dress out after a shoving match with a Florida assistant during warmups. He finished with 40 yards on just 12 carries in what was likely his final game in Tiger Stadium.
That stop would prove vital. Josh Growden mishandled the snap on the resulting field goal attempt, and LSU came up empty in the red zone for the second time.
This time, Florida made LSU pay. Austin Appleby immediately hit Tyrie Cleveland on the very next play from scrimmage for a 98-yard score. Cleveland beat Jackson deep and broke his tackle to give Florida its first lead, 10-7, with 8:57 left in the third quarter.
“We talk about 1-on-1 matchups, our speed vs. their speed,” Orgeron said of the play. “We got beat.”
LSU tied things up early in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard field goal from Colby Delahoussaye. The Tigers drove 79 yards in five minutes but, again, couldn’t find the endzone. CeCe Jefferson’ whipped around Maea Teuhema at left ackle for a second-and-goal sack on Etling that killed LSU’s hopes for six points.
The Gators took advantage of a slew of LSU missed tackles to answer back with their own scoring drive, going 77 yards on 13 plays and pulling head 13-10 on Pineiro’s 26-yard field goal with 4:37 left in the game. It could’ve been worse, though. After running between the tackles with great success all drive, Florida pitched wide on third and goal from the 1. Appleby’s toss was off the mark, and the Gators had to fall on the fumble and settle for 3, despite the Tigers’ difficulty bringing down their backs.
“It’s not us,” said safety John Battle, who led LSU with 8 tackles. “We’re a great tackling team. We don’t miss tackles like that.”
Jackson compounded matters by fumbling the ensuing kickoff. Cristian Garcia punched it loose, and Vosean Joseph scooped it up at the LSU 21. Three plays later, Piniero nailed his third kick of the game, a 34-yarder for the game’s final score.
“We didn’t play very well tonight on special teams,” said Orgeron. “Having two turnovers there is unacceptable. We have athletes. We should be better in that area.”
LSU will have to turn things around quickly. A Thanksgiving day clash with Texas A&M in College Station will force them to move past another painful, last-second lost with little time to lick their wounds.
“It’s a tough loss,” said Orgeron. “Especially the way we lost at the end with a chance to win. We didn’t execute right, and it got taken away from us. It would’ve been a great win for all involved.”