On Tom Petty Day, “I Won’t Back Down” sounds echoed throughout Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. After the first chorus, Petty’s family was honored on the field.
Immediately as the second verse began, the LSU marching band blared the school’s fight song. Whether it was the Tigers’ horns or the moment’s energy, the Florida Gators found new life.
Led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson, the Gators scored two quick touchdowns to cut the Tigers’ lead to seven. A reeling Florida defense faced a fourth-and-1 to get the LSU offense off the field and give Richardson a chance to tie the game.
A strong push from the Tigers’ offensive line gave the visitors just enough, and a spirited comeback effort wasn’t to be for the Gators. The Florida Gators (4-3, 1-3 SEC) fell at home to the Louisiana State Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) 45-35 after a late fourth-quarter surge. The Gators dropped their fourth straight to the Tigers. LSU racked up a staggering 528 yards of offense and scored touchdowns on each of its first six-game drives.
Things started fast for the Gators.
On the game’s opening kickoff, freshman running back Trevor Etienne found a lane up the right side and set Florida up at its own 48-yard line. Two plays later, redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson uncorked a pass deep downfield into the waiting arms of redshirt junior receiver Justin Shorter for a 51-yard touchdown.
“That was one of the plays we worked on all week,” Richardson said.
Florida’s suspect third-down defense reared its ugly head on the ensuing LSU drive. Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels stood back in the pocket and lofted a pass down field to pick up a 40-yard gain on LSU’s first third down.
On a third-and-15 at the Florida 27-yard line, Daniels once again squeezed it into Boutte near the line to gain, but was stopped just short. LSU head coach Brian Kelly kept his offense on the field on fourth down, and the Tigers kept the drive alive.
Two plays later, Daniels found senior running back John Emery wide open for a touchdown to even the score.
Florida kept the ball on the ground for its next drive and the Tigers were helpless to stop it. Sophomore Montrell Johnson, a Louisiana native, exploded through the left side of the offensive line and raced past the LSU secondary for a 39-yard score.
The Tigers continued to move the ball against the Gators through the air. Daniels completed another pass down the field to Boutte for a 21-yard gain and LSU continued to roll inside the Florida red zone.
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From the UF 1-yard line, Daniels kept it himself and scampered it into the endzone for another Tigers’ touchdown.
The LSU defense finally held firm against the Florida offense, forcing the Gators to punt it away. However, the Tiger’s dreadful special teams unit couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
Punt returner Jack Bech muffed the punt deep in his territory and Florida long snapper Rocco Underwood pounced on the loose ball, setting up possession at the LSU 13-yard line.
Johnson punched it in for the Gators from 3 yards out and restored UF’s lead.
Florida’s defense almost showed some life on the next LSU possession, but it could not get off the field on third down. Daniels sat comfortably in the pocket before firing a strike over the middle to wide-open tight end Kole Taylor for a 26-yard conversion.
Daniels continued torching the Gators’ secondary, dropping a dime over the head of Florida cornerback Jalen Kimber to wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. for a 24-yard touchdown.
The Tigers’ defense kept Florida at bay and forced a punt after linebacker Micah Bakersville got home on a third-down blitz and sacked Richardson. Despite a booming 62-yard punt from Jeremy Crawshaw to flip the field, the Gators couldn’t slow down LSU’s offense.
Two quick hitting plays advanced LSU to the Florida 44-yard line. Daniels once again ripped the UF secondary apart, finding a wide-open Jaray Jenkins streaking down the right sideline for a 54-yard touchdown.
With all the momentum on the visitors’ side, Florida took the field looking to add one more score before the half. Richardson started rolling to his left and finding wide receiver Ricky Pearsall open for a 20-yard gain.
The Tigers clamped down, though, and the Gators couldn’t move the ball downfield. After a short completion to Johnson, Napier elected not to call a timeout, allowing most of the remaining clock to run off.
With one second left in the half, Richardson ran around trying to buy time for a Hail Mary attempt, only for his pass to flutter out of bounds well short of the end zone.
“You’re in a mayday two-minute situation where there’s a certain level of aggression that you’re going to use based off the field position,” Napier said of his clock management to close out the half.
LSU started the second half with possession and continued steamrolling the Florida defense. On the first play of the third quarter, running back Josh Williams ripped through the heart of the UF defense for a 50-yard gain, breaking several tackles along the way.
Daniels scored his second rushing touchdown of the game from nine yards out, giving the Tigers a commanding two-touchdown lead.
Richardson and the Florida offense got to work needing a touchdown to stay in reach. A 14-yard strike to Shorter started the drive, and a 29-yard catch and run for Ricky Pearsall put the Gators deep in LSU territory.
On a crucial third down, sparsely used redshirt junior Lorenzo Lingard received a pass in the flat and fought through contact to earn six yards and pick up the first down.
Facing fourth down at the LSU 14-yard line, Richardson dropped back and immediately looked for Shorter coming over the middle of the field. The pass from Richardson too far in front of his receiver and fell harmlessly to the turf and the Gators gave the football back to the Tigers.
Daniels and the LSU offense continued doing what they did all night: move the ball on the Florida defense. The Tigers faced a 3rd-and-6 near midfield, but the Gators conceded yet another long conversion and LSU moved the chains again.
The Tigers’ quarterback capped off the drive with a nine-yard rushing score — his sixth touchdown of the night — all but ending Florida’s night.
After a feud between the Florida faithful and the LSU band, the Gators took the field for the final stanza of the night. Richardson got loose and produced a moment for the ages.
The Florida signal caller found running room up the left side of the field. A crowd of Tiger defensive backs nearly brought down Richardson, but the Gainesville product only seemed to get stronger, and he quickly accelerated past the defenders for an 81-yard touchdown.
“I can’t credit it enough relative to kind of flipping the switch and being a great competitor,” Napier said. “You could see it in his eyes, he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve.”
It was the third longest touchdown run by a Gator since 1996 and the longest by a quarterback in that same time span.
The Gators’ defense finally held firm and forced LSU into its first punt of the night.
Richardson and the Florida offense continued to find a groove and marched down the field inside the LSU red zone. UF faced a must-have third down at the Tigers’ 10-yard line. Etienne found wiggle room in the middle of the defense and raced to the one-yard line.
On the following play, the Jennings, Louisiana, native punched it in to put the Gators back within one score.
With LSU on the move again, the Florida secondary — which had been picked apart all night — finally stepped up. Sophomore cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. intercepted Daniels’ pass deep down the field, seemingly giving the Gators an excellent shot to tie the game.
Only it wasn’t to be. Junior defensive tackle Gervon Dexter was flagged for roughing the passer and the pick was wiped out.
The defense had another chance to force the Tigers off the field: a fourth-and-1 at the Florida 27-yard line. LSU pounded the ball up the heart of the Gators’ defense, and it was just enough to extinguish any hope of a UF comeback.
Dexter and redshirt senior linebacker Ventrell Miller rallied and forced the Tigers into a long field goal attempt, but redshirt freshman kicker Damian Ramos nailed the 47-yard kick to put the game out of reach.
With a ten-point deficit, Richardson took the field one more time. The Florida offense failed to get anything going and turned the ball over on downs to end the night.