BATON ROUGE, La. — In a wild night at Tiger Stadium, No. 8 Florida didn't get its first loss of the season because it was run over by LSU's Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
It didn't fall to the sixth-ranked Tigers (6-0, 4-0 SEC) because of one of the best games of LSU quarterback Brandon Harris' career, or because of the regression of an inexperienced offensive line against a dominant defense.
LSU handed the Gators (6-1, 4-1) their first defeat of the Jim McElwain era because UF had no answer for the latest trick play LSU coach Les Miles pulled out of his trademark white hat.
A bobbled lateral on a fake field goal with 10:40 left turned into a 16-yard touchdown and the winning score in UF's 35-28 loss Saturday, in front of a deafening crowd of 102,321.
"It's kind of a badge of honor," McElwain said. "They think they've got to fake one to beat us."
If that game-deciding play wasn't a surprise because of Miles' riverboat tendencies, which earned him the nickname "Mad Hatter," it was an unfitting conclusion given UF's prior special-teams success.
LSU muffed UF's first punt at its own 18. The ball bounced back 5 yards, where backup safety Nick Washington recovered it. Four plays later, quarterback Treon Harris lobbed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake McGee on fourth down for the game's first score.
After inheriting the starting job Monday when UF announced Will Grier's year-long suspension for failing an NCAA drug test, Harris seemed comfortable early. He ran well and completed nine of his first 11 passes in his first start since the season opener.
"It's a tough test, for the first transition game," said McGee, who added a second touchdown catch. "It's one of the loudest places you can play on the road, and I thought it was something he handled well."
But LSU's defensive front dominated, and LSU star running back Leonard Fournette needed only two quarters to register his eight consecutive 100-yard game.
Fournette lined up at quarterback and dashed 2 yards for the first touchdown and powered 6 yards, breaking through tackle attempts by two Gators, for another. He finished with 181 yards on 31 carries.
"Face it — that's the best player in college football," McElwain said.
Even when Fournette didn't score himself, the standout sophomore had a hand in it.
The Gators' attempts to slow him down opened passing lanes for quarterback Brandon Harris. His 189 first-half yards were more than he threw for in four of his first five games. Harris wound up 13-of-19 for 202 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. LSU had as many pass plays of at least 50 yards in the first half than it had in its first five games of the season.
Late in the second quarter, Harris handed the ball to Fournette, who pitched it back to Harris. The flea flicker ended with a 50-yard bomb to wide receiver Malachi Dupre and gave the Tigers a 28-14 halftime lead. LSU's 28 points in the second quarter were the most UF had allowed in one quarter in 13 years.
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"They got us on the flea flicker," safety Marcus Maye said, "and it was something we should have been prepared for."
As Fournette fueled an LSU offense that racked up 423 yards, the Gators' run game accomplished little, aside from Kelvin Taylor's 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. UF gained only 55 yards on 31 carries, and it needed another big special-teams play to tie the game.
Freshman Antonio Callaway nearly stumbled as he caught a punt but ended up with a 72-yard touchdown return to tie the score at 28, becoming the first true freshman in school history to score on a punt return during an SEC game.
With less than 11 minutes left, the Tigers lined kicker Trent Domingue up for a 33-yard field goal. Instead of letting Domingue try to stay perfect with his eight field goal in as many attempts, LSU went for more.
Holder Brad Kragthorpe took the snap and fired a lateral to Domingue, who bobbled the backup quarterback's toss three times.
"My heart was fluttering with each bobble," Miles said.
Domingue finally corralled it and sped past star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III for a 16-yard touchdown and the lead. McElwain gave the Tigers credit for the gutsy call and good-enough execution.
"I saw that they made a hell of a play," McElwain said.
And UF failed to respond. Harris missed on nine of his 14 passes after that and was sacked twice, giving the Gators two weeks to stew over the loss before facing Georgia on Oct. 31.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.