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The Shoe, the Kick and the Fog: How LSU Stunned No. 6 Florida

A short-handed Tigers team came to The Swamp as a big underdog. It left with one of the most shocking results of the 2020 season after a bizarre, game-defining sequence of events.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A shoe. A shoe. He threw a shoe!

LSUFlorida encapsulated this bizarre, absurd, unfathomable year in college football quite nicely. Try to keep up.

The depleted and downtrodden 23-point underdog Tigers won a game over the No. 6-ranked team in the nation, 37–34, but only after (A) a Florida defender kept the game-winning drive alive by throwing an LSU player’s cleat 20 yards down the field; (B) LSU’s kicker, Cade York, made a 57-yard field goal through fog so dense he lost sight of the football; and (C) the Gators' kicker missed a game-tying kick of his own as time expired, and because no one could see the ball through the fog, both benches celebrated and the small crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium belted out a roar, followed quickly by a groan.

The shoe. The kick. The fog.

Florida kicker Evan McPherson reacts after missing the game-tying field goal attempt.

Lost in it all was The Upset—one of the most shocking results of the season given the circumstances. The College Football Playoff has one fewer contender, and the SEC championship game next week, Florida vs. Alabama, is now poised to be nothing but a tuneup for the Tide. And some around college football thought the SEC  should go the way of the ACC, and eliminate the last regular-season games of their championship participants.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why you play the games.

And in this one, David beat Goliath. I know, I know.

It’s not often you have a David vs. Goliath situation when LSU and Florida meet. They are both Goliath programs, with bountiful resources, rich histories and rabid fan bases.

But this felt different. For the first time in what felt like years, these two programs met with one oh-so far beneath the other.

The reigning national champions were a shell of their trophy-toting, 2019 selves. They’d lost virtually every significant starter from that championship team, two coordinators and a host of other support staff members critical to the title run. This year, a half-dozen more players opted-out, including their top two wideouts and their stud nose tackle. They’d lost another 10 or so players to the transfer portal.

Their best defensive player, cornerback Derek Stingley, was a late scratch, and their starting linebacker didn’t make the trip. They were giving a true freshman quarterback his first start, and they were playing with 54 scholarship players (including three walk-ons who had earned scholarships).

In a few words, this year has been a disaster in Baton Rouge. Under NCAA investigation for a misdeed under former coach Les Miles, the Tigers self-imposed recruiting sanctions, scholarship reductions and, just this past week, a bowl ban. A sexual assault scandal lurches over the athletic department, too.

Their defense under new coordinator Bo Pelini, has been, statistically, the worst defense in LSU football history. They’d lost games to Missouri, Auburn and Mississippi State and were bludgeoned last week by Alabama.

Players were abandoning the USS Orgeron, it seemed. There was a buzz already of significant staff changes. Some even questioned whether, a year after the national title, the school should pull the plug on the coach that led them there, pay his big buyout and start all over.

That’s why the Tigers felt like the David and the Gators, led by their guru head coach and Heisman candidate quarterback, felt like the Goliath.

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“Blocking out the noise was key this week,” said Orgeron, who earlier this week defended his program in a five-minute spot that aired Saturday morning on ESPN's College GameDay.

“There was a want-to about winning tonight.”

The Tigers' defense, lambasted all season, frazzled Florida QB Kyle Trask all game. Though he threw for 474 yards, Trask also threw a pick-6, lost a fumble that resulted in three more LSU points and was flagged for an intentional grounding that backed the Gators up in a critical late-game drive in the red zone (instead of a touchdown, the drive resulted in a field goal).

LSU got 10 points from Trask, 21 from its offense and six from York, a sophomore from Texas who was left squinting into a second-half weather event in Gainesville that, in the words of Les Miles, could be appropriately referred to as … a stiff dew.

So stiff that by late in the fourth quarter, from the press box, the field had nearly disappeared. Forget about seeing the football, we could barely make out the players—or the shoe.

LSU tight end Kole Taylor’s shoe—a Nike Vapor Edge Pro 360, Size 14—at some point flew into the air to extend what would be LSU’s game-winning march. Stopped on third down, the Tigers would have punted back to the Gators. That is until Florida junior defensive back Marco Wilson was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for hurling said shoe down the field. And if you wanted to know just how far he threw it, the officials gladly offered an exact number.

The flag, head official James Carter told the stadium, was for “throwing the LSU player's shoe 20 yards down the field.”

The shoe quickly made an imprint on social media. LSU’s lead sports information director tweeted a photo of it and so did the team’s equipment staff.

Max Johnson, LSU’s rookie starter and the son of former NFL QB Brad Johnson, offered a deadpan description: “Our tight end Kole’s shoe came off and the defender threw it.”

In a jovial post-game mood, Orgeron joked that Greg Stringfellow, LSU’s equipment manager, must have loosened said shoe in order to have it slip off easily, be thrown into the air by a defender and continue LSU’s march to improbable victory.

“We needed a break and we got a break,” Orgeron said.

In a less jovial mood was Florida coach Dan Mullen.

“I mean I guess that’s a penalty. I have no idea what happened. I didn’t see it,” he said.

A few plays after the shoe-throwing debacle, York lined up for that 57-yarder, picking a spot between goal posts he could barely see and booting the ball for his fifth 50-yard or longer field goal of the season. It’s the first to disappear from view.

“I couldn’t see the ball flying the whole way. It went down the middle, right?” he playfully asked reporters.

And so this was the story of The Shoe, The Kick and The Fog. It might be forgotten about years from now, a game with little on the line (wasn’t the Tide going to beat the Gators next week anyhow?). It was just another weird, wacky thing to unfold in a season like no other.

When history looks back on the 2020 college football season, it probably won’t look back on a shoe. But if it does, we know that Taylor’s Nike Vapor Edge Pro 360, Size 14, is that shoe.

An LSU staff member delivered Taylor a message after the game.

“We are going to put your cleat,” he told him, “in the hall of fame.”