GAINESVILLE, Fla. — All those questions and concerns about LSU turned out to be justified.
The fourth-ranked Tigers were unable to overcome their offensive struggles this time, losing 14-6 at No. 10 Florida on Saturday.
LSU finished with 42 yards rushing and 200 yards total against the Gators. The Tigers absorbed four sacks, turned the ball over three times and were shut out in the second half.
"There's no excuses," quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. "We've got to execute better offensively."
The Tigers (5-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) didn't think they could play any worse than they did the last two weeks against Auburn and Towson. They fumbled seven times in those games and lost five. Mettenberger lost all three of his fumbles, including one near the goal line against Auburn that cost his team a touchdown. His other two led to opponent touchdowns.
Nonetheless, LSU pulled out both games, edging Auburn 12-10 and coming from behind to beat Towson 38-22. But the turnovers, sacks, dropped passes, penalties and Mettenberger's indecision in the pocket became all the talk surrounding the program.
The offense surely will be under fire again this week.
"I think we understand the things we didn't do," coach Les Miles said. "They are very definable. It's exactly how we have been coaching it. We just made mistakes."
Mettenberger completed 11 of 25 passes for 161 yards, with an interception. The Tigers were 1 of 13 on third down and finished with just eight first downs – three by penalty.
"I think our football team is sick – sick with knowledge that they could have played better," Miles said.
Mike Gillislee ran for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns for the Gators (5-0, 4-0). Led by Gillislee and a dominant defense, Florida's grind-it-out victory avenged a 41-11 loss in Baton Rouge last season, handed the Tigers their first regular-season loss in 19 games and gave coach Will Muschamp a signature win in his second season.
Florida credited new strength coach Jeff Dillman and the team's continually improving offensive line – the same one Muschamp called soft late last season – for the victory. Gillislee got props, too.
"I'll take Gilly over anybody," Muschamp said. "I tell him that all the time and I mean that. I felt that way in spring and going into fall camp. ... He's a Will Muschamp guy. He don't ever say anything, he just does his job, lines up, runs the ball. If you ask him to block, he's going to block. If you ask him to catch the ball, he's going to catch the ball. He just is a really, really, really good football player."
It was Gillislee's third 100-yard game of the season, and it came against one of the league's most feared fronts. Highly touted defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery were neutralized much of the day. Linebacker Kevin Minter had a career day, finishing with 20 tackles despite missing a few plays while dealing with leg cramps.
Minter had two of LSU's five sacks in the first half, helping the Tigers hold Florida to 47 yards at the break.
But the Gators looked completely different after intermission. They went to a heavy package featuring two extra offensive linemen to run the ball – they call it "God's play" – and it worked to perfection.
Florida scored on consecutive drives by running on 17 of 18 plays. Gillislee ended both of them with 12-yard touchdown runs, one in the third quarter and another early in the fourth.
"They were definitely more physical than last year," Mingo said.
The Gators ran the ball on their final 25 snaps, gashing the Tigers between the tackles.
"Them boys was huffing and puffing," Easley said. "I was looking in people's eyes and they were scared. That's what we wanted. We wanted to take somebody's will. We like to take people's will, not just win the game. Make them remember this night."
Maybe the play of the game came between those game-changing, run-oriented drives. Elam stripped Odell Beckham Jr. following a 56-yard reception on third down.
Initially, the officials ruled Beckham was down when the ball came out. Replays, though, clearly showed the ball coming out before his knee hit the ground. The play was reversed, and Florida seized the momentum.
"At that point in the game, we should have already had more points on the board," Mettenberger said.