BATON ROUGE, La. — The fairy-tale run with the newly minted starting quarterback came to a crashing halt for the Florida Gators in front of 92,980 Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium.
The offense was inept, the offensive line beaten down, and the mistakes costly.
So in the visitors' locker room with his No. 17 Gators (4-2, 3-1 SEC) dealing with a 17-6 loss to No. 10 LSU (6-1, 3-1), coach Will Muschamp offered this message: All is not lost.
"We still have everything sitting in front of us as far as the SEC East is concerned," Muschamp said he told the team. "That is what we need to look forward to. We are disappointed that we didn't get the win. (LSU) had a good football team, we knew that coming in."
But with that message came this caveat: If Florida is to make that run, the Gators have to get better quickly, particularly on offense.
It was a tough day all around. The Gators were 6-of-17 on third-down conversions and 1-of-2 in the red zone. Sophomore running back Matt Jones injured his knee early in the game, but freshman Kelvin Taylor provided 10 carries for 52 yards in a backup role — one of Florida's few bright spots.
Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy's positive run through his first three college games came crashing down against the Tigers. Murphy finished 15-of-27 for 115 yards and was sacked four times.
"We were a few plays from making something happen," he said. "It's definitely frustrating when you don't put points on the board, but we did some good things, too. We just have to continue to get better."
After the Gators went 60 yards on their opening drive that culminated in a 44-yard field goal by Francisco Velez, they gained just 180 yards the rest of the game. The Gators settled for Velez's 27-yard field goal with 12:11 left after having first and goal at the LSU 7-yard line.
"Defensively, we were getting off blocks, we're tackling line-of-scrimmage plays, we're getting into predictable third-down situations in rushing the passer," LSU coach Les Miles said. "When that happens, you're not going to score a lot of points against us.
On their final possession, the Gators drove to LSU's 21, but the drive ended after a false start, a 12-yard sack and a fumble that took the Gators back to the LSU 37. Florida was penalized eight times for 72 yards.
Part of the offensive struggles was UF's conservative play and the lack of a big-play threat. Even trailing late, Florida continued with short passes and short running gains, which ate up time but produced no points and played into LSU's hands.
"They were forcing us to go there (short passes) because they were pressuring us so much up front," Murphy said.
"We tried to nickel and dime them, and we had a few plays that could have broken (for big plays), but we just didn't execute."
The Gators defense didn't dominate but held an LSU offense that averages 488 yards and 45.5 points to 327 yards and just 17 points. The Tigers rushed for 175 yards — the most against the Gators this season.
"It's frustrating, but you have to credit them, too," UF defensive lineman Damian Jacobs said.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who leads the league in passing efficiency, was held to 9-of-17 for 152 yards.
"We went into the game knowing we needed to get pressure on him, and he had a lot of time to throw sometimes," Florida linebacker Michael Taylor said. "We'll have to go back and see what went wrong.
There will most likely be a lot of that for the Gators this week.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]