The LSU Tigers pulled off the improbable upset of the Gators in one of the most unlikely victories in recent college football memory.
It’s one for the ages. The Tigers found a way to get it done. In an incredible evening of football inside the Swamp, a young quarterback and a really depleted group of cornerbacks come out with the victory, 37-34. Here are some important areas to look at, beginning with the quarterback.
Max Johnson Made Plays Expected of a Veteran
You do not pull off upsets in Gainesville without some good to excellent quarterback play. That’s exactly what happened for LSU Saturday night, from the first half through the end of the game.
Despite a really difficult task of making his first college start at Florida, Max Johnson really came out and looked comfortable. Running to the perimeter and making throws, taking off with the football gaining yards on the edge of the defense and hitting slants. Those are items to take away from the first half of Johnson playing quarterback for the Tigers.
Even after the first half when the Gators could make adjustments, Johnson looked very comfortable. This is a young man that’s good at running, but more importantly, he displayed a deft touch on slants and shorter passes that allowed the LSU wide receivers a chance to make plays. That’s all anyone can ask, for now.
He’s still not a polished player. That’s expected. When his first and second reads do not look like options, he quickly looks down at the rush or gets happy feet. That pocket presence will come with time. Still, kudos to the young Johnson, son of former Florida State Seminole and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl champion quarterback Brad Johnson.
Despite his youth, he looked somewhat like his father with his smooth delivery and his ability to provide touch, especially with the touchdown pass to Jaray Jenkins. Incredible touch during that pass over the outstretched arms of a Florida defensive back. That’s a veteran throw.
For the first half, Johnson was 12-of-19 for 122 yards and two touchdowns, including the big touchdown to Kayshon Boutte that totaled 34 yards. In the second half, Johnson struggled with some zone blitzes, but he also led LSU to that great drive that resulted in a touchdown to Tre Bradford. The bomb to Boutte, once again, the key play.
The second half saw Johnson throw for 117 yards and completed nine of 17 passes. For the evening, the southpaw threw three touchdown passes. Johnson also ran for 52 yards, and that includes sack yardage. That’s just an incredible first start for a college football career.
Is there any doubt that Johnson possesses the charisma and the presence to be an elite SEC signal caller?
Next Great LSU Wide Receiver?
It’s early, but it’s also apparent that freshman Kayshon Boutte is a very talented player. He kept winning with slant routes and also hit the big touchdown late in the second quarter. His quickness, soft hands, and natural route running skills stood out.
This is not your typical freshman wide receiver. While LSU lost several good wide receivers from last season, there’s much to like about Boutte as he appears to be the future go-to wide receiver for the Tigers.
A 41-yard reception, a 34-yard touchdown reception, and those key slant passes that kept the chains moving. Those were all valuable moments for Boutte and LSU against Florida. He’s going to be a handful for every team that faces him moving forward.
For the night, Boutte hauled in five receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown. He’s a great outside target to go along with several other talented young skill position players. There are ample reasons to be excited about the cornerbacks, too.
Young Defensive Backs Rise to the Occasion
With Derek Stingley, Jr. out of the lineup and Cordale Flott ejected during the first quarter for targeting, the young Tigers needed to step up. They played well, considering they went up against the best passing offense in the country.
Eli Ricks (while healthy), Jay Ward, and Dwight McGlothern all came up big. Two interceptions in the first half and held Florida to a mere 17 points despite some big passing plays that led to 239 yards passing.
There were times the young cornerbacks manned up, and then there were some cat and mouse games with zone schemes that originally looked like man defense. Well done by the LSU coaching staff and the LSU defensive backs. That’s a commendable performance all around.
Most importantly, the LSU defensive backs made plays in the fourth quarter. Several times they literally manned up with Florida’s best wide receivers and kept Florida out of the end zone.
Moving forward, this group will all be back, plus Stingley, Jr. and Flott. That’s an incredible depth chart at cornerback for the Tigers come 2021. In fact, it’s probably the deepest in the nation along with the best pure cornerback in the nation in Stingley, Jr.
Blitz Package and Defensive Line Getting Home
Especially late in the game when LSU had its back against the wall, the pass rush really did a nice job. They forced Trask into an intentional grounding, as well as making him run before bringing him down for a short gain and forcing a field goal that tied the game at 34. Those are the types of situational pass rushing LSU is famous for, and it’s good to see again.
It’s been a long time coming, but LSU absolutely looks like a defense that’s bought into the scheme by defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. Zone-fire blitz pressures, stunts and linebackers shooting gaps have kept Trask and the Gators off balance many times during the game. It’s a huge difference from just three games ago. There’s more to like, too.
The defensive line provided good moments without extra rushers as well, including a fourth and goal stop at the one with Neil Farrell and Jaquelin Roy stuffing the interior Florida offensive line. Ali Gaye did a good job off the edge applying pressure, as did BJ Ojulari. This is a group that’s playing better even when there are not blitzes. Overall, LSU’s defense began to trend upwards against Florida.
When a defensive group buys in, good things happen. Hats off to all the Tigers for executing the game plan and playing fast. LSU’s talent at all three levels of the defense combined with a great game plan allowed for a lot of missed reads by Trask as well.
That’s a big part of the blitz packages. Keep that in mind; it’s not always about actual sacks. Two interceptions and sack-fumble are the bigger statistics.
LSU took advantage of the Florida mistakes and scored, including the late second quarter field goal when LSU gained possession with only 10 seconds remaining in the first half. That’s how a team stays in a SEC road game that nobody thought they would win.
Punts that continually kept Florida backed up in its own end, and often inside its own 20-yard line. That’s tough sledding even with a Heisman contender at quarterback. Finally, take advantage of stupid mistakes, and that’s what the Tigers did.
The already famous 15-yard penalty for throwing a shoe will live in infamy for Florida defensive back Marco Wilson. Those 15 yards sparked LSU’s final drive that ended with the 57-yard field goal to give the Tigers their 37-34 victory.
It’s been a long year, but this victory was ever so sweet.