With its top two quarterbacks out with injuries, Florida could only hope that Jacoby Brissett would turn into a latter day Kerwin Bell, circa 1984.
They might have even settled for something closer to Jarrett Lee, circa 2008.
Instead, the Gators got what might be expected from a true freshman who’d never taken a collegiate snap facing one of the college football’s most talented defenses.
Brissett completed 8 of 14 passes for 94 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in LSU’s 41-11 win Saturday afternoon in Tiger Stadium. Sixty-five of those yards came on a third-quarter TD pass to Andre Dubose.
“I thought he was solid … under the circumstances against a good football team defensively,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp, who had to revamp his offensive strategy after losing senior starter John Brantley and freshman backup Jeff Driskel to leg injuries in last week’s 38-10 loss to Alabama.
“He’s going to be a really good football player for us. I think we’ve got to play better around him in spots and create more situations in the run game.”
Early in the contest, Brissett’s inexperience conspired with field position to put him on an extremely short leash. Florida (4-2 overall, 2-2 in the SEC) started only one of its six first-half drives past its 25-yard line, so Brissett’s throws were extremely short. His first five passes totaled just 5 yards.
Instead, a lot of snaps went to backs Trey Burton (1 of 2, 6 yards; 5 carries, 9 yards) or Chris Rainey (13 carries, 52 yards) in what amounted to a Wildcat formation. Still, Muschamp and players said they liked what they saw from Brissett. He took roughly half the snaps, and almost all that involved obvious passing situations.
Brissett was not made available for postgame interviews.
“He looked good out there,” Rainey said. “All I (saw) out there were just penalties killing us.”
Quarterbacks pressed into service under desperate circumstances have sometimes been pleasant surprises, as was Bell, a walk-on who emerged as the Gators’ starter because of a rash of injuries 27 seasons ago and led Florida to the SEC’s best record — 9-1-1 overall, 5-0-1 on conference play. (The Gators had their SEC title vacated because of NCAA rules infractions.)
But Bell — and, for that matter, Lee in his tumultuous redshirt freshman season at LSU — had spring practice and preseason camp to get ready. Brissett had four practices. He is the first Florida freshman quarterback in history to take his first snap as a starter, and only the fifth Gators freshman ever to start in his first year.
It made, to say the least, a big difference. Florida’s playbook was reduced to a play pamphlet, if not a 3-by-5 card.
“I wouldn’t know the percentage, but obviously it was a much reduced package in what we were trying to do,” Muschamp said.
Despite their struggles, the Gators, who had just 120 first-half yards, had a significant time of possession advantage at halftime (18:21 to 11:39), when LSU led 24-3. But LSU dominated the second-half clock, keeping the ball for 24:01 in the third and fourth quarters.
Florida committed 12 penalties for 90 yards.
“Defensively, too many big plays,” Muschamp said. “Penalties killed us in the game. We’ve got to get better on the line of scrimmage. We wore out as the game wore on. No forced turnovers for us. They got two.”
“Our defense, if we get three and out, we get off the field and give the offense a chance to score,” said linebacker Lerentee McCray. “We didn’t do that. We stayed on the field too long.”
A particularly galling mistake came late in the first quarter when the right side of Florida’s punt-return team turned its back on LSU punter Brad Wing and ran downfield to block. Wing ran down the sideline 52 yards to the end zone, but was flagged for taunting the Gators at the 8-yard line, nullifying the touchdown. LSU settled for a 35-yard Drew Alleman field goal.
“We had two guys assigned to the punter who didn’t do their jobs,” Muschamp said. We’ll move on from that. That’s coaching. We had two guys who were assigned to do their job who didn’t do it. They did what they wanted to do, and those guys aren’t going to play in our program any more.”
The fact that Florida’s two-game losing streak came at the hands of the nation’s top two ranked teams was no consolation for Muschamp.
“We’re at Florida,” he said. “We expect to be able to go into these games and play well.”