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Takeaways From the Florida Gators' Damaging Loss to LSU

Takeaways and observations from a potentially tenure-defining loss for Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators.

One of if not the Gators' worst loss since Dan Mullen took over as head coach, No. 20 Florida was upset in Death Valley in a 49-42 defeat to the unranked LSU Tigers on Saturday afternoon.

Other than a revelation at the quarterback position, there isn't much for Florida fans to be happy with after the Gators' third loss of the season - through seven games. UF's chances of making the SEC Championship, the College Football Playoff, and even a New Year's Six bowl game are basically nonexistent now, leaving fans and media alike looking toward the future of the program.

Still, the Gators have at least five games to play in 2021, so we can assess this loss from a present and long-term perspective.

You can find AllGators' takeaways from the game below.

Anthony Richardson gave the Gators an improbable chance

Down 15 in a roaring Tiger Stadium, Dan Mullen turned from redshirt junior Emory Jones to redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson at quarterback and asked him to do the unimaginable: Pull off a second-half comeback without ever starting a game.

No thanks to Florida's defense, Richardson came up just short.

After replacing Jones, Richardson completed 10-of-18 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns, adding a team-leading 37 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground. He threw an interception on UF's final offensive play of the game, his second of the day after earning some first-half snaps.

Despite the final turnover, Richardson was the reason that Florida ever stood a chance in this game. UF scored on four consecutive possessions after Richardson took over at quarterback, tying the game on two separate occasions but quickly forfeiting those leads as the Gators' struggled to make stops defensively.

Jones, in this writer's opinion, has played much better than some Florida fans have given him credit for this year - up until the LSU game. However, while Jones usually wasn't the reason the Gators lost or struggled to win games, he was never the reason UF would win games.

Richardson couldn't pull it off on Saturday, but he provided Florida with a chance to win the game, something that Jones hasn't been able to do. If he starts from here on out and keeps making explosive plays happen, Richardson will be the reason the Gators win games in the future.

UF's defense was torn to shreds, particularly in the running game

There's no other way to put it: Florida was embarrassed defensively against the Tigers, and that particularly applies to the run game.

LSU ranked second-to-last in the SEC in rushing yards per game with 83.2 on average entering Saturday's game, and nearly quadrupled that count with 321 against the Gators. Running back Tyrion Davis-Price put up a career day with 287 yards and three touchdowns on 36 attempts, topping his previous season-high of 147 yards and two scores against Kentucky a week ago.

Due to the threat of the run, LSU turned to play-action in the passing game and found quite a bit of success. Sophomore quarterback Max Johnson threw three touchdowns against the Gators, and each of them came after a fake handoff.

It was an uncharacteristic performance by Florida's defense compared to the rest of the season, but it amplified concerns regarding the job Todd Grantham is doing as defensive coordinator. Remember, UF is coming off of its worst year defensively under Mullen and in recent memory, and the showing in Baton Rouge reignited the criticism that has been levied toward Grantham since the beginning of 2020.

Justin Shorter has a career day

There weren't many positives to pull away from the loss, but Justin Shorter's breakthrough performance certainty was one.

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Shorter, who transferred to Florida before the 2020 season from Penn State, has been a dependable blocker and possession receiver for UF over his 18 games in orange and blue. However, besides a 94-yard showing against Vanderbilt last year, Shorter had yet to emerge as a big-play threat and consistent pass-catching weapon within the offense.

That perception changed on Saturday, beginning with back-to-back grabs at the end of the first half for a combined 66 yards and a touchdown catch on a Hail Mary pass from Jones, making it a one-possession ball game.

After Richardson entered the game and manufactured the Gators' attempt at a comeback, Shorter compiled another handful of receptions, a second touchdown, and a clutch 18-yard catch on 3rd and 12 in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with six receptions for 113 yards and two scores.

The Gators' wide receiver corps has been hit-or-miss throughout the year without a true No. 1 wideout to take over games. One game's worth of production isn't enough to trust Shorter in that role, but his clutch plays played a big part in UF's offensive success against LSU and could foreshadow increased utilization down the stretch of the 2021 season.

Florida's offensive line has done a 180°

Through the Tennessee game, Florida's offensive line was one of its top-performing units, playing a crucial part in the Gators' rushing game success and allowing only one quarterback sack.

In the three games since, the unit has regressed significantly. Injuries have been a factor, but a drop-off has been noticeable even when the starting five is intact, as Florida has failed to post over 200 rushing yards in three consecutive games after starting the year with four in a row. Protection has been spotty as well, forcing Jones and Richardson off of their spots and eliminating potential yards gained in the passing game.

The team posted a season-low of 138 rushing yards against LSU, averaging a measly 3.9 yards per carry. The unit struggled to create much push and as a result, UF couldn't consistently run power concepts up the middle with success.

Left tackle Richard Gouraige, one of the team's most experienced linemen, notably gave up two sacks to LSU edge rusher B.J. Ojulari on Saturday. Gouraige suffered an undisclosed injury against Kentucky but returned to finish the game, and in those snaps as well as against LSU (he didn't play against Vanderbilt), it's apparent that he's not playing his best football.

Left guard Ethan White, arguably the unit's top pass protector, checked out of the game with a lower-body injury in the first half.

Florida has a bye week to heal across the line before facing Georgia. The unit will need to be at full health and to play its best in order for the Gators' to stand a chance against the Bulldogs' defense.

Kentucky was a bad loss; LSU could be a tenure-defining loss for Dan Mullen

Questions regarding the trajectory of Florida's football program under Dan Mullen surfaced aplenty following the loss to Kentucky. And if the questions weren't loud then, they are now.

UF has now lost six of its last eight games against Power 5 opponents, dating back to December 2020 when Florida lost to - you guessed it - LSU, in the infamous "Shoe Game." The Gators have only picked up Power 5 victories over Tennessee and Vanderbilt since.

Mullen dismissed trajectory concerns after losing to the Wildcats, pointing to the Gators' 2020 SEC Championship appearance (remember, they lost that game) and sharing his belief that every season is unique. 

But Mullen knows better: Florida has not amounted to national relevance under his watch - instead, in year four of his head coaching tenure, the program is clearly trending in the wrong direction with three losses in seven games. The 2021 season is officially lost and the team has not shown much promise - aside from Richardson at quarterback - for the future.

Losing to a crumbling LSU program, especially the way Florida did, is perfect evidence of those concerns. 

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