BATON ROUGE, La. -- Florida coach Jim McElwain knew his team didn’t play up to their expectations at that point, but the Gators didn’t back down in the second half. They came out of halftime and fought their way back into the game.
For a team that faced multiple distractions this week and was forced to play its backup quarterback, the Gators showed resolve to tie the game before ultimately falling to LSU 35-28.
“I think it showed me a lot when we were down 14, and there were some guys that kind of maybe waned off a little bit at halftime because I think that they knew they probably didn’t do their job,” McElwain said. “But I was excited to see how each side picked each other up and guys responded to Treon.
“They came prepared and we played hard against a really good football team. There could have been a lot of reasons for everybody (to say), ‘oh these guys will fall apart,’ but no, we didn’t. And I didn’t expect we would.”
After the Gators jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, the Tigers outscored them 28-7 in the second quarter. The backbreaker came with 15 seconds remaining in the first half. The Tigers were facing a third-and-nine situation from the 50-yard line, trying to pick up enough yards to get into field goal range and steal three points before halftime.
Instead, they stole seven.
Harris found Malachi Dupre open at the six-yard line, and he sprinted towards the corner of the end zone to cause an eruption from the fans at Tiger Stadium and give LSU a 28-14 lead. The gut punch could have caused the Gators to fold the tents, pat themselves on the back for already building a lead in the SEC East and turn attention to the bye week. Not many would have blamed them after the distractions that came this week after losing their starting quarterback to a suspension and seeing a defensive back suspended after he was arrested.
But McElwain’s roster, full of youth and inexperience, didn’t back down from No. 6 LSU or the 102,321 in attendance. They picked themselves up and fought back into the game.
“I like the fight that the team stayed with,” Florida senior tight end Jake McGee said. “We had a choice to make at halftime; they took the momentum back, but it was good to see guys never really (quit). It’s something we’ve had all year, improve each game, a no-quit attitude. We really played all out to the end. Everybody thinks we can win every game that we’re in if we keep going with what’s going on.”
The second half started with the LSU offense having three straight three-and-outs. The final one ended with punter Jamie Keehn hitting a 48-yard punt that was returned 72 yards by Florida freshman Antonio Callaway to tie the game at 28.
The Tigers would win the game on a fake field goal that served as a 16-yard touchdown rush by kicker Trent Domingue, The surprising end didn’t take away from Florida’s second-half comeback, and the Florida staff will use it as a positive with the team during this week’s bye.
“I think this will tell a lot about this Gator football team,” McElwain said. “It really will. As you go through life, you get tests, man. Things don’t always happen the way you want them. The measure is how you deal with it. Everybody in this room can learn from that. We just get an opportunity to go back to work and get ourselves a little bit better. And that’s what the Gators are going to do.”