Simonton Says: Five Final Thoughts
BATON ROUGE, La -- Another trip to Death Valley, another rough loss for the Gators. No. 17 Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC) dropped its second game of the season, losing to No. 10 LSU (6-1,3-1 SEC) 17-6 in Tiger Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Here are Five Quick Thoughts on the loss.
PUMMELED UP FRONT
Florida waltzed into Death Valley playing efficiently dull offense, but the Gators' methodical attack proved futile against a young, fast LSU defense. Saturday's game -- despite the pregame chatter of Florida's suffocating defense vs. LSU's prolific offense -- was actually headlined by the Tigers' ferocious front-seven. LSU beat Florida at its own game in a reverse déjà vu performance from UF's 14-6 win last season in The Swamp.
Anthony Johnson and the rest of LSU's relentless front harassed quarterback Tyler Murphy and UF's leaky offensive line all afternoon. The Tigers racked up four sacks, six quarterback hurries and eight tackles for loss -- Murphy had been sacked just three times in three games since replacing junior Jeff Driskel.
In a combination of calamities, Murphy was holding the ball too long, while D.J. Humphries (left tackle), Tyler Moore (right tackle) and Jon Halapio (right guard) all had miserable performances. Florida didn't get into the redzone until the fourth quarter.
The Gators, aside from a late Kelvin Taylor led drive, also struggled to run the ball (111 yards [season-low] on 40 carries) averaging just 2.8 yards per carry.
A GLIMPSE, PERHAPS?
One of the few bright spots for Florida on Saturday was Taylor's performance. In Matt Jones' absence, the freshman running back ran hard, displayed solid vision and flashed some potential explosiveness.
After tallying zero yards on his first two carries, Taylor piloted UF's second field goal drive with 36 yards on the ground on six carries.
He finished the afternoon with 51 yards on 10 carries, but did struggle in pass protection, botching several assignments. Post game, coach Will Muschamp subtly pointed out Taylor's errors (while also praising his running), pumping the breaks on fans' crazy expectations moving forward.
A NEW KICKER EMERGES
Move over Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips, it's the Francisco Valdez show now. The redshirt junior walk-on from Ocala Trinity Catholic (who traveled for the first time in his career) nailed both his kicks Saturday (44, 27), emerging as a promising fixture at a position plagued by inconsistencies for the Gators.
A week after Hardin was benched and Phillips was left off the travel roster, Valdez ran with his unlikely opportunity. Muschamp said he kicked well in practice this week, something the redshirt junior said he's done all season.
DEFENSE HIT OR MISS
Florida's defense didn't play that poorly -- all things considered. The nation's No. 2 ranked unit held LSU's excellent attack under 400 yards, while Zach Mettenberger was a pedestrian 9-of-17 for 152 yards and zero touchdowns. But key penalties (roughing the passer, pass interference, offsides) and hit-or-miss rush defense plagued the Gators all afternoon. Jeremy Hill gashed UF for 121 yards on 19 carries -- the first 100+ yard rushing performance since Todd Gurley of Georgia in 2012. Overall, LSU rushed for 188 yards against UF -- a season-high allowed by the Gators.
The loss, while telling in many ways, does not doom Florida's season. The SEC East is wide-open as injuries have ravaged Georgia, Florida and now Missouri. The Gators caught a pair of breaks early in the afternoon before losing to LSU -- Mizzou upsetting UGA but also losing its starting quarterback. While next week's road test will still be a challenge, without James Franklin the game looks a lot less daunting for Florida. Getting to Atlanta will still be quite a challenge with 3-of-4 conference games away from The Swamp, but it remains possible.