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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kyle Trask and No. 6 Florida look nowhere near ready for top-ranked Alabama.
Max Johnson threw three touchdown passes in his first college start, Cade York kicked a 57-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining and reigning national champion LSU stunned the Gators 37-34 on a cool and foggy Saturday night in the Swamp.
York drilled his kick through the dense fog and the uprights after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Florida senior Marco Wilson, who threw an opponent’s shoe. Wilson tossed it after a third-down stop that would have forced LSU to punt. Instead, the Tigers got a first down and then moved into York’s range.
The Gators (8-2) had a final shot, and Trask got them in position to tie. But Evan McPherson was wide left from 51 yards on the final play. LSU (4-5) celebrated wildly all over the field.
“We had an easier one than they did. We just missed it,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said.
Johnson had a lot to do with the outcome. The son of former Super Bowl champion Brad Johnson repeatedly torched Florida’s beleaguered defense. He threw for 239 yards, nearly half of them (108) to Kayshon Boutte, and ran for 52 more.
“Boy, his confidence was incredible,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “I think Max is going to be a championship quarterback. … Also proud of our young football team.”
Johnson got a hug and a kiss on top of his head from his father, who walked down to the first row and leaned over the wall to reach his son. Teammates were still dancing and screaming all around.
“So proud, man,” Orgeron said. “They fought. They gave everything. We said last night, ‘We’re going to give everything we possibly can for the LSU Tigers.’ I’m so proud of this team, the players and the coaching staff.”
Florida didn’t help itself with three turnovers in the first half that led to 10 points and a 24-17 deficit at the break.
“You can’t win doing what we did tonight, no matter what’s going on and who you’re playing,” Mullen said. “Minus-three turnover ratio, we don’t score touchdowns in the red zone, we can’t make key stops when we need to defensively and we lose the special teams part of the game.”
Trask accounted for four touchdowns and three turnovers, first putting his teammates in a hole and then helping them climb out of it. But he was unable to rally the Gators when it mattered.
Trask ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more, including his record-setting 40th of the season. He passed 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel for the most in a single season in school history.
For most of the game, though, Trask looked nothing like the Heisman Trophy front-runner. The Gators looked even less like a team capable of upsetting the Crimson Tide next week in Atlanta in the Southeastern Conference title game with a College Football Playoff spot at stake.
Barely able to field a team because of injuries, opt-outs and COVID-19 testing and contract tracing, the Tigers forced Trask into a fumble and two interceptions in the first half — including one of the wackiest picks ever — that morphed what was supposed to be a tune-up into a meltdown.
The Gators had offensive lulls, defensive lapses and little to no edge on Senior Night.
Trask and his fellow seniors helped Florida make a successful transition from coach Jim McElwain’s underwhelming tenure to coach Dan Mullen’s championship-centered regime. But winning a league or national title seem like a pipe dream after Saturday’s debacle against the Tigers.
The Gators were 23-point favorites at kickoff. But LSU covering the spread was never in doubt after the opening 30 minutes and a 24-17 lead at the break.
Trask’s turnovers were the difference. He fumbled trying to scramble with 10 seconds to play in the half, essentially handing LSU a field goal. He also had an interception returned for a touchdown.
The third one didn’t lead to points for LSU points, but it surely cost the Gators some. Florida had first-and-10 at the LSU 15-yard line when Trask tried to connect with Kadarius Toney near the sideline.
Toney tipped the ball with his right hand. It ricocheted off Dwight McGlothern’s facemask right before he stepped out of bounds. And then Jay Ward was aware enough to get his hands back inbounds and catch the ball while on his knees.
It contributed to Florida’s worst quarter, worst half and worst loss of the season.