Breaking down Florida’s painful loss to LSU

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A spark at the quarterback position wasn’t enough to avoid an ugly loss against the LSU Tigers on Saturday. After a pick-six from Emory Jones, the Gators found themselves down 15 points in the third quarter. But in came Anthony Richardson, and he led Florida back to tie the game.

Richardson had some special moments in this game, but his performance was ultimately overshadowed by a complete clunker from the defense. It couldn’t stop LSU in the final quarter, and the Tigers survived in a shootout, 49-42.

Coach Dan Mullen is now just 2-6 in his last eight games against Power Five teams, and Saturday’s loss was the fourth against an unranked team in his four-year tenure.

We knew Florida’s chances at competing for the SEC East were slim to none after the Kentucky loss, but now, with the team sitting at 4-3 (2-3 SEC), an 8-4 finish feels like the best-case scenario. Here are five takeaways from the loss to LSU.

It’s time for a change at defensive coordinator

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Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham could be spared most of the blame for the loss to Kentucky two weeks ago. After all, his unit wasn’t the problem in that one, as it only allowed 13 points.

That’s not the case this time around, though. Florida’s defense was abysmal, especially against the run. LSU has one of the worst run games in college football, but the Gators made it look elite. Tyron Davis-Price ran for 287 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries, part of a 321-yard rushing day for the Tigers.

The secondary was less of a problem with Kaiir Elam back in the lineup, but it still allowed an efficient day from quarterback Max Johnson, who was 14 of 24 for 133 yards and three touchdowns. UF’s defense regressed to 2020 levels on Saturday, and it cost the Gators their third loss of the season.

Mullen chose to keep Grantham around this season despite his group being the limiting factor last year. With pressure to turn things around mounting, it’s unlikely he’ll have the latitude to give his longtime coaching partner another chance.

The answer at quarterback is clear

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

At least, it should be. Richardson was far from flawless after replacing Jones, but it was clear that he gave the offense a spark when he entered. He threw for 167 yards and three touchdowns on 10 of 19 passing, and he led the team in rushing with 37 yards and a score on the ground. He did have two picks, one earlier in the game before he took over as the primary quarterback and one on the team’s final drive of the game when it was looking to tie it.

In spite of the mistakes, though, Richardson finally had the chance to see extended, meaningful action, and he scored touchdowns on his first four drives. He can run this offense more effectively than Jones right now, and with this season officially lost, there’s no reason not to play the guy who has the chance to develop into a truly special player.

The run game was a huge disappointment

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Florida entered this game with the nation’s best non-service academy rushing attack. While it totaled 138 yards on the ground against LSU, the efficiency just wasn’t there. It averaged less than four yards per carry as a team, and Richardson led the team in rushing.

The most effective back was Dameon Pierce, who had 24 yards on five carries and added another score to his eight total rushing touchdowns on the season. But for a team that was running all over everyone, a Tigers defense that ranked in the bottom half of the FBS against the run held it largely in check.

The Gators have had the luxury of not needing a lot of passing success so far this season. But that wasn’t the case on Saturday as it threw the ball 40 times, and it’s clear that this passing game isn’t ready to shoulder that kind of responsibility right now. That’s a problem for a coach in his fourth year who is known for quarterback development. UF needs to get the run game right if it has any chance at competing against Georgia next week.

Turnovers are killing this team

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, turnovers proved to be incredibly costly for the Gators on Saturday. They threw four interceptions against an LSU team that hadn’t forced a turnover in its last two games, and they couldn’t force any in the process.

For the fourth time in seven games, Florida lost the turnover battles on Saturday. To make matters worse, it still hasn’t even won the turnover battle in a game, though it has tied against Florida Atlantic, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

This is a two-pronged problem. The UF offense is far too turnover-prone, but at the same time, its defense isn’t forcing takeaways. It has just four interceptions and two fumble recoveries on the year, and that just won’t cut it in the SEC.

The Gators have been playing with a very slim margin for error this season, and that’s a major reason why they sit at 4-3.

Justin Shorter could benefit from a quarterback change

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

With Florida’s inconsistency in the passing game, it hasn’t been the breakout season that many expected from Justin Shorter, a former five-star recruit and Penn State transfer. He moved into a starting role this season after the departures of Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes, but his impact has been limited.

That wasn’t the case against LSU, though. He had a career game, totaling 113 yards on six catches with two touchdowns, including a Hail Mary from Jones as time expired in the first half, which gave him 42 of his yards.

Shorter was targeted 10 times on Saturday, but what’s interesting is the fact that five of those targets came from Richardson. Shorter is a big target at 6-foot-5-inches, and he has good ball skills. Getting him more involved in the offense would help considerably moving forward, and with Richardson likely to see an increase in reps (and win the starting job outright), Shorter could have a big second half to the season. Especially if Richardson continues to develop.

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