Instant Analysis: Brandon Harris helps LSU pass tough SEC test vs. Florida
1. Les Miles’s gamble paid off
With his team in peril, Les Miles reached into his bag of tricks. The score was tied at 28 early in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers faced a fourth-and-13 at the Florida 16. Miles sent out the field goal team, but with the Gators dominating the second half to that point, a three-point lead didn’t feel safe. So Miles gambled.
He called for a fake in which holder Brad Kragthorpe tossed the ball to kicker Trent Domingue. Domingue took the ball and raced around the left side of the line. Florida’s defense was completely fooled except for linebacker Jarrad Davis, who was completely blocked. Domingue ran the ball into the end zone, giving the Tigers a far more comfortable cushion than a field goal would have.
That special teams brilliance made up for two LSU special teams miscues that nearly cost the Tigers the game. Florida’s first touchdown came four plays after the Gators recovered a punt muffed by LSU’s Tre’Davious White at the LSU 13-yard line. In the third quarter, Florida tied the score at 28 after Antonio Callaway returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown.
2. LSU’s offense is not one-dimensional
LSU is not a one-man offense, and that should scare the daylights out of the Tigers’ upcoming opponents. Quarterback Brandon Harris hadn’t been asked to do much until Saturday night, but Florida’s defense has good enough athletes at cornerback that the Gators could afford to load the box more than most to stop Leonard Fournette. Florida slowed Fournette—well, 5.8 yards a carry is below the season average of 8.6 Fournette had entering Saturday—but the Tigers responded by unleashing Harris.
The sophomore completed 13 of 19 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. He showed off perfect touch on a 9-yard fade to Malachi Dupre for a second-quarter touchdown. Later in the second quarter, Harris looked trapped 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage by Florida’s Jordan Sherit. Harris escaped and uncorked a pass to Dupre, who caught it and strolled into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown.
The knock on LSU was that eventually a defense—cough, cough Alabama’s—would come along that can make Fournette look human. But the fact that Harris entered Saturday without a single interception indicates Tigers coaches hadn’t asked Harris to do too much. And why would they with Fournette dominating? But now defenses know they must choose. Do they load the box and try to stop Fournette and risk Harris picking them apart? Or do they play LSU straight up and risk Fournette running for 300 yards?
3. Florida should be OK with Treon Harris under center
Florida quarterback Treon Harris didn’t pull off any late-game miracles like Will Grier did, but he looked like a more-than-adequate replacement. Harris had to replace Grier when Grier was suspended this week for testing positive for a performance enhancer on an NCAA drug test. Harris, a sophomore from Miami, acquitted himself well, completing 17 of 32 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns.
Treon Harris couldn’t do much to change the fact that Florida’s offensive line couldn’t open holes in the run game, though his mobility did help him escape a few would-be sacks. The Gators averaged 1.8 yards a carry on the ground. Against most of the teams remaining on Florida’s schedule, the Gators’ scoring output probably would have been enough. But with Brandon Harris and Fournette dominating Florida’s defense, Treon Harris would have needed to put up Marcus Mariota numbers through the air and on the ground.
The Gators shouldn’t be too discouraged, though. They have a bye week before facing Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., on Oct. 31. If Florida wins that game, the Gators would need to beat only Vanderbilt or South Carolina to clinch the SEC East title. The Tigers, meanwhile, will face pass-happy Western Kentucky next week before a bye ahead of a Nov. 7 trip to Alabama that could help decide the SEC West.