Shortly after 6 p.m. on Saturday, the LSU football season officially reached a crossroads.
More on the Tigers’ 14-6 loss to Florida in a moment. In my mind, the key question isn’t why the Gators won, but how Les Miles’ team will respond.
In the next five weeks, the Tigers play nationally ranked South Carolina in Tiger Stadium, go on the road to face a challenging Texas A&M offense in the first-ever SEC meeting between the schools, host top-ranked Alabama following a bye, and then welcome unbeaten Mississippi State to Baton Rouge.
If LSU plays the next four games like it has in the last three, the Tigers might be closer to 5-5 than 9-1 and making plans for a trip to Shreveport, Memphis or Nashville instead of a BCS bowl. Right the ship this week, though, and all of the Tigers' season goals are still in play.
"We'll make corrections and see where we're at," Miles said.
While LSU’s offense continues to be inept, Florida wore down the normally stout Tiger defense in the second half. The Gators strung together first downs on a pair of touchdown drives, keeping LSU on the field.
LSU continues to deal with injuries on its offensive line – on Saturday, guard Josh Williford left twice and did not return, while center P.J. Lonergan left briefly as well - and that’s part of the reason that Zach Mettenberger is struggling. Mettenberger completed 11 of 25 passes for 158 yards and an interception.
On the game’s first drive, Mettenberger looked good, moving the ball around to all of his skill-position sets and taking the Tigers down for an early 31-yard Drew Alleman field goal.
The only other score the Tigers would get came after Barkevious Mingo recovered a Gator fumble deep in Florida territory. Despite having first-and-goal, Mettenberger and the Tiger offense went nowhere in three plays and had to settle for a 21-yard Alleman field goal and a 6-0 halftime lead.
That’s when the Gators took over.
After seven first-half possessions that resulted in four punts, two lost fumbles and the end of the half, Florida got things going on its second possession of the third quarter – an eight-play, 85-yard drive that ended with Mike Gillislee’s 12-yard touchdown run over the right side. Gillislee finished with 146 yards on 34 carries and two TDs.
On LSU’s next possession, Metttenberger hit a wide-open Odell Beckham Jr. down the right sideline for 56 yards to the Gator 23, but Florida cornerback Mike Elam ran him down and ripped out the football. It took an overturned call on the field, but the fumble killed any momentum the Tigers had recaptured.
Florida responded by going 77 yards on 11 plays, all on the ground, capped by another 12-yard touchdown run by Gillislee. It was still a one-score game, but it seemed like a lot more.
At the end of the day, the numbers looked very similar to the BCS National Championship loss to Alabama. Florida had 22 first downs to LSU’s 8. The Gators had 176 yards rushing, the Tigers 42. Florida had 70 offensive snaps, LSU 50.
Save for the fumble by Beckham, LSU’s deepest second-half penetration was the Florida 49-yard line.
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