GAINESVILLE — With how shaky the No. 6 Gators have looked in spurts over the past few weeks, Florida fans might have been wondering when the other shoe would drop on their dream season. It finally did Saturday night against LSU.
It landed 20 yards downfield.
And when defensive back Marco Wilson chucked that Tigers cleat after a third-down stop, he did more than throw away a nice Nike. He threw away whatever hopes the Gators had of making the College Football Playoff when his personal foul led to LSU’s 57-yard field goal with 23 seconds left that gave UF a 37-34 home loss.
The cleatastrophe had social media buzzing, but the Gators (8-2) have more problems than one bone-headed blunder. UF’s fatal flaws had been brewing for weeks.
“This game tonight’s on the offense,” coach Dan Mullen said.
Starting with the elite unit’s persistent weak link — an offensive line that allowed star quarterback Kyle Trask to get sacked twice and hurried six other times in the first half alone. Trask lost a fumble on one of those sacks to let LSU (4-5) steal a field goal just before the break.
Some of the blame falls on Trask and his playmakers. After throwing only three interceptions in his first nine games, Trask threw two in the first half, including one that Eli Ricks returned 68 yards for a score.
Trask’s other interception reflects a second lingering issue; the Gators aren’t quite clicking in the red zone.
UF scored only four touchdowns in eight trips inside the LSU 20. Two of the others ended in a goal-line stand and a Trask interception that pin-balled its way to a kneeling Jay Ward.
“We had so many yards,” Track said. “We just weren’t getting touchdowns.”
Some of the issues can be traced to the absence of superstar tight end Kyle Pitts (who didn’t practice all week but is expected to return from injury to play ‘Bama). One of his replacements, Keon Zipperer, dropped a would-be touchdown. Other targets had fewer opportunities because the defense didn’t have to focus on Pitts.
But UF’s red-zone efficiency was slipping before this weekend. The Gators had scored touchdowns on only 8 of their past 13 chances. UF has no chance against No. 1 Alabama in next week’s SEC championship if it’s settling for field goals.
Especially with this defense.
UF allowed a true freshman quarterback (Max Johnson) to outplay a Heisman Trophy frontrunner in his first career start. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, given Johnson’s pedigree; his dad, Brad, quarterbacked the Bucs to their only Super Bowl title.
The more likely explanation is that UF’s defense remains a major liability. Johnson’s second touchdown pass came when a cornerback blitzed and no safety was there to back him up. His third came three plays after Kayshon Boutte toasted Brad Stewart through the fog for 41 yards.
Then there was the shoe.
In the closing minutes of a 34-34 game, UF stuffed Kole Taylor 6 yards short on third down. Taylor lost his left shoe (size 14) on the play. Wilson picked it up and tossed it downfield for some reason.
“All I seen was the flag,” UF linebacker Amari Burney said, “and then I seen the shoe flying.”
The flag from the flying shoe meant a 15-yard penalty and an automatic LSU first down. Six plays later, LSU made another big play with a shoe when Cade York sailed his 57-yard kick through the fog and the uprights.
The Gators had a chance to tie it, but Evan McPherson’s 51-yard field goal slipped wide left. Now they’ll limp into next week’s bout with ‘Bama fresh off a shoo-in choice for the weirdest loss of the Mullen era. Trask said the Gators will keep plugging away.
“It’s just one foot in front of the other,” Trask said.
Hopefully with everyone’s shoes on this time.