When Jim McElwain and the Florida coaching staff watch the tape of the Gators’ 35-28 loss to 6th-ranked LSU in Tiger Stadium, they will be shaking their head about two plays – a 50-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Harris to Malachi Dupre with 15 seconds left in the first half and a 16-yard touchdown by kicker Trent Domingue on a fake field goal in the fourth quarter that provided the winning margin. Those weren’t the only big plays, but they stand out the most because 8th-ranked Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC) still had a chance to win until the game’s final play.
“I’m proud of this football team and we’ve got a good football team, no doubt about it,” McElwain said. “Let’s give them credit. That’s a pretty good team we just played. They pulled one out of their sleeve and got us.”
The Harris to Dupre pass sent the Tigers into the halftime locker with a two-touchdown lead (28-14). That’s important because the Florida defense pretty much stiffed the Tigers the entire second half. With the exception of the 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with the fake field goal touchdown, the Florida defense held LSU to four 3-and-outs and just one second half first down.
Even after giving up the TD on the fake field goal with 10:40 to go, the Gators had two shots at tying the game. Following the field goal, Florida put together a drive that included an 18-yard Treon Harris to Brandon Powell pass and a 38-yard Harris to Demarcus Robinson connection, but a 15-yard personal foul penalty for hands to the face against David Sharpe and an intentional grounding call for a 12-yard loss took their toll as Florida was forced punt.
The Gators also had the final shots at the end zone on their last drive of the game. When Treon Harris launched a 41-yard completion to Antonio Callaway, the Gators had the ball at their own 49 with no time outs and less than 40 seconds remaining but Harris threw four straight incompletions, the last one as time expired, handing the Gators their first loss of the season and leaving LSU (6-0, 4-0 SEC) the only unbeaten team still standing in the SEC.
Florida came into the game after a week of distractions that saw starting quarterback Will Grier suspended for a year for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug and backup corner Deiondre Porter suspended indefinitely after he was arrested for allegedly firing a weapon at his girlfriend. The Grier suspension forced Treon Harris back into the starting lineup and the sophomore performed admirably in his first serious action since the second game of the season. Harris completed 17-32 passes for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Florida drew first blood in the game on a Harris to Jake McGee pass in the first quarter following a muffed punt by LSU’s Tre’Davious White.
Florida held the Tigers scoreless in the first quarter, but LSU struck for three straight scores in the second quarter to take a 21-7 lead. Following a 6-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette, Florida drove 80 yards in four plays as Harris completed a 48-yard pass to Callaway and followed that up with a 19-yard touchdown pass to McGee with 1:34 left in the half.
That’s when LSU scored the TD on the 50-yard Brandon Harris to Malachi Dupre pass. The pass hung up in the air and should have been knocked down or picked off but Marcus Maye slipped down at the UF 5 and Dupre made the easy catch, spun and scored with 15 seconds to go.
Florida’s defense gave up more than 300 first half yards, but the third quarter was a different story. After forcing the first second half 3-and-out, the Gators drove 10 plays for 66 yards for the TD that cut the LSU lead to 28-21. On the drive, Harris completed a 30-yard pass to DeAndre Goolsby and freshman Jordan Scarlett ran for 11 yards on fourth down to set up Kelvin Taylor’s 2-yard touchdown run with 8:30 remaining.
Two 3-and-outs later, Callaway returned an LSU punt 72 yards for a touchdown with 1:04 remaining in the third quarter. When Austin Hardin kicked the extra point, the Gators had come back from a 14-point deficit second half deficit for the second time this season.
But LSU had an answer, putting together its only sustained drive of the second half. Other than the fake field goal, the critical play was a 14-yard Brandon Harris to Travin Dural pass on third down that gave the Tigers a first down at the Florida 31. Fournette carried for 18 yards on the next two plays, but LSU pulled him from the game and that killed the momentum. Three plays went nowhere and that brought on the field goal unit for the fake that delivered the game-winning score.
Typically, when a defense gives up a 180-yard rushing day to a running back, it’s a bad day, but Florida had a terrific effort against Fournette. His longest gain was for 25 yards but he was stuffed for losses five times and held to 0-2 yards on five other occasions.
The Gators have an open date next week to get ready for Georgia in Jacksonville on October 31. Florida remains the team to beat in the SEC East. Georgia beat Missouri, 9-6, Saturday night to cut one game into Florida’s division lead. Because the Bulldogs have two losses, Florida can clinch the SEC East title by knocking off Georgia in two weeks.
FLORIDA 7, LSU 0; 10:13
A special teams blunder by LSU’s Tre’Davious White set up Florida’s first touchdown, a 4-yard Treon Harris to Jake McGee pass on fourth-and-1 gamble. LSU gave up a first down then forced a punt on Florida’s first possession, but White let Johnny Townsend’s kick bounce and the ball caromed off White’s hands with Nick Washington recovering for the Gators at the LSU 13. Harris made a gamble worth taking on third down when he scrambled to the LSU 4. Rather than go for the field goal, Jim McElwain elected to go for it on fourth down and the Gators made it 10-11 in fourth down situations. Jorge Powell’s extra point gave the Gators a 7-0 lead.
LSU 7, FLORIDA 7; 12:23
LSU tied the game on an 11-play, 88-yard scoring march that Leonard Fournette finished off with a 2-yard run out of the wildcat formation on second and goal. The Tigers avoided a disaster on the second play of the drive when Vernon Hargreaves III stripped Fournette at the LSU 33. It appeared that Bryan Cox Jr. recovered at the LSU 31, but the replay booth ruled Cox was out of bounds when he got the under control. Brandon Harris completed four passes on the drive, three to Travin Dural for 49 yards. A 15-yard Harris to Dural connection gave the Tigers a first down at the UF 17 and from there Fournette took over. He carried the next three plays to get the Tigers on the scoreboard with 12:23 remaining. Trent Domingue’s extra point tied the game at 7-7.
LSU 14, FLORIDA 7; 5:00
Fournette accounted for 49 of the 67 yards LSU needed to score the go-ahead touchdown. On three carries, Fournette gained 34 yards with 25 coming on one play. He caught a 15-yard middle screen to get the ball inside the Florida 15. The touchdown came on a 9-yard Brandon Harris pass to Malachi Dupre, who beat Quincy Wilson in the corner of the end zone. Domingue capped the 9-play drive with the extra point that made it a 14-7 game.
LSU 21, FLORIDA 7; 2:24
The Tigers resorted to a bit of trickery to set up their third touchdown of the second quarter. After the LSU defense forced a 3-and-out, the Tigers took over on their own 42. Following offsetting penalties on first down, LSU sucked the Florida defense in with a flea-flicker. Fournette took a handoff and after two quick steps to the middle of the line, turned and flipped it back to Harris, who threw deep to Dupre for a 52-yard gain to the Florida 6. On the next play, Fournette powered into the end zone for his second touchdown of the night to complete the 2-play, 58-yard scoring drive. Domingue made it 21-7 with the extra point.
FLORIDA 14, LSU 21; 1:34
The Gators answered the Fournette touchdown with a 4-play, 80-yard scoring drive that was all about Treon Harris, who carried twice for 13 yards and completed two passes for 67 yards. On 2nd-and-9 from the Florida 33, Harris escaped a sack by rolling to his left. Squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage, Harris launched a deep pass to Antonio Callaway, who tipped the ball to himself for the catch that completed a 48-yard play to the LSU 19. On the next play, Harris found a wide open Jake McGee for a 19-yard touchdown when the LSU safety didn’t rotate over in the zone. Austin Hardin came on for the injured Jorge Powell to kick the extra point that completed the touchdown drive with 1:34 left in the half.
LSU 28, FLORIDA 14; 0:15
Brandon Harris threw his second touchdown pass of the game to Malachi Dupre as the Tigers doubled up the Gators before the half. The 5-play, 75-yard scoring drive saw a 14-yard run by Fournette that got him to the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this season. On the touchdown pass, Harris escaped the pass rush by Jordan Sherit with a stiff arm. Rolling to the right, he found Dupre, who had gotten behind Marcus Maye for the touchdown with 15 seconds left in the half.
FLORIDA 21, LSU 28; 8:03
That fourth down magic worked again for the Gators on their first drive of the second half. A 30-yard Harris to DeAndre Goolsby pass had gotten the Gators deep into LSU territory at the 23, but on the next play, Harris was sacked for an 8-yard loss. Harris scrambled for 17 yards on second down, but Kelvin Taylor was stuffed at the 16 to set up another crucial fourth down play. This time, freshman Jordan Scarlett got the call around the left end for a 13-yard gain to the LSU 3. Two plays later, Taylor followed an exceptional block by Bryan Cox Jr. into the end zone for his eighth rushing touchdown of the season with 8:03 remaining in the quarter. Austin Hardin’s extra point brought the Gators back within a touchdown.
FLORIDA 28, LSU 28; 1:04
After the Florida defense forced its third straight 3-and-out, Antonio Callaway returned Jamie Keehne’s punt 72 yards for a touchdown, stunning the Tiger Stadium crowd. Callaway took the long, but low line drive punt at the 28, nearly stumbled to the ground but regained his balance at the 35. Breaking to his left, Callaway got to the sideline at midfield and then outran the LSU coverage the rest of the way. Austin Hardin came on to tie the game with the extra point.
LSU 35, FLORIDA 28, 10:40
The Mad Hatter struck again to put LSU back in front. After driving to the Florida 16 in 10 plays, the Florida defense stiffened to force a field goal attempt, but just as he did to pull out the 2010 game against the Gators, Les Miles called for a fake field goal. Holder Brad Kragthorpe took the snap then threw a perfect lateral to kicker Trent Domingue, who made a juggling catch, turned upfield and ran untouched into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 10:40 to go in the game. Domingue kicked the extra point for a 7-point LSU lead.