BATON ROUGE, La. -- Their best pass was thrown by their punter.
Their best punt was kicked by their quarterback.
Those were the most bewildering examples of a day gone bad for No. 17 Florida, which will likely tumble toward the bottom of the Top 25 — if not out of it entirely — after dropping a 17-6 decision to No. 10 LSU on Saturday.
But they were far from the only ones.
The Gators couldn’t find the end zone in Death Valley, coming up empty against an SEC opponent that is better known for scoring points than preventing them, and it could spell continued trouble for UF down the road.
“There’s no question it’s a huge concern as we move forward,” glumly acknowledged UF coach Will Muschamp, whose Gators began the day ranked 13th in the SEC — ahead of only Kentucky — in scoring.
On a sweltering afternoon in which he failed to put the offense in gear, quarterback Tyler Murphy put to rest any thought, at least for now, that he was a secret weapon unleashed following a season-ending injury to the oft-maligned Jeff Driskel.
“I never thought of myself as the miracle guy,” Murphy conceded after passing for only 115 yards. “I was just the backup who had to step up and do what the backup’s supposed to do, and that is to give the offense a chance.”
Murphy didn’t do that against LSU.
Then again, the Tigers’ defensive front didn’t allow him time to think, never mind sufficient time to locate an open receiver for a downfield throw of significance. Murphy was sacked four times, had two passes batted down by linemen, and was flushed out of the pocket time and time again when the Gators had no choice but to pass.
“We were under duress as far as pressure was concerned,” Muschamp said.
As a result, Murphy said the Gators resorted to a “nickel and dime” game, but never hit the jackpot. They didn’t reach the red zone until the fourth quarter. Trailing 14-3, Florida advanced the ball as far as the LSU 7 where they faced first-and-goal.
But two unimaginative running plays netted minus-2 yards, and Murphy was hurried into an incompletion that forced the Gators to settle for a field goal.
Murphy’s longest pass went for 20 yards, but didn’t occur until the final drive when the outcome was all-but-settled with LSU holding a 17-6 lead. It could be argued that it was punter Kyle Christy who produced the pass of the day for the Gators when he found Neiron Ball for a 14-yard completion on a fake punt.
It could also be said that, when it came to punting, Murphy did a better job of it than Christy, the All-American who continues to struggle. Murphy pooched a 36-yard punt to the LSU 1 in the second quarter while Christy sailed a pair into the LSU end zone when Muschamp was hoping for a softer touch.
One way or the other, it’s never a good sign when your quarterback is providing better results with his leg than he is with his arm. And such was the case Saturday for Florida.
The Gators, as billed, were strong defensively.
It was the 21st consecutive time that the Gators held an SEC opponent to fewer than 20 points. But they weren’t even the best defense on the field Saturday. Though young and relatively inexperienced, LSU’s defense more than held its own against the Gators more highly touted D.
The Tigers controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
LSU running back Jeremy Hill rang up 121 yards on the ground and averaged more than six yards per carry. And on defense, the Tigers spent much of the afternoon chasing Murphy around in the backfield when they weren’t hauling him to the ground.
“We’ve got to protect better,” Muschamp said. “They did a nice job of pressuring us. We had too many times where we had too many guys in his face.”
The Gators couldn’t get their running game going, either, and their top rusher, Matt Jones, watched most of the game from the sidelines — in his street clothes — after being knocked out early with an undisclosed injury.
It was yet another troubling sign for a Gators offense that has danger looming on the schedule. Next up for UF is unbeaten Missouri, which knocked off Georgia on Saturday. The Gators also have Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State left on the schedule.
“We move the ball, but we gave up too many negative plays, and that’s concerning,” Muschamp said. “We gave up more negative plays today than we have probably all season combined. We didn’t create enough explosive [plays] down the field, and a lot of that was we couldn’t get rid of the football.”