The Shoe Game

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Florida cornerback Marco Wilson throws LSU tight end Kole Taylor’s cleat after making tackle. Photo by Brad McClenny.

On Saturday, December 12, the LSU Tigers traveled to Gainesville, Florida to take on their rival, the sixth ranked Florida Gators. It was senior night for Florida, but their next game, against Alabama for the SEC Championship, should provide enough motivation to get through LSU unscathed, or so one might think. The 8-1 Gators were heavy favorites over the measly 3-5 Tigers, and rightfully so. Florida’s offensive attack has been dominant all year with quarterback, Kyle Trask, leading the nation in passing yards and touchdowns. Meanwhile, LSU has had a disaster of a season. Myles Brennan, the Tigers’ opening day starting quarterback has not touched the field since week 3 and the offense has since been inconsistent to say the least. Freshman QBs TJ Finely and Max Johnson had been splitting the workload in Brennan’s absence. Though he had played a substantial amount, Johnson would make his first career start on against the Gators. Not to mention the Tiger defense, which has been a wreck all season, ranking 121st out of 127. You would have to be a fool to predict what would happen in the coming hours.

During the pregame warmups, Florida’s star tight end, Kyle Pitts, was scratched from the lineup as he had been nursing an injury that he suffered in practice earlier this week. That would be the first blow of the night for the Gators.

To begin the game, Florida looked like they were bound to outclass the LSU defense on senior night in The Swamp. Trask led the Gator offense right down the field, but LSU held tough, earning a goal line stop on the one yard line. The momentum had begun to shift in LSU’s direction.

Johnson was backed up in his own end zone on his first drive, forcing some conservative play calling from Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger. The Tigers’ were forced to punt after just three plays.

The Gators would capitalize off of the quick LSU possession, marching 57 yards in just five plays, resulting in Kyle Trask’s first rushing touchdown of the season. It did not seem like it, but this would be the highlight of the first half for Florida.

LSU QB Max Johnson throws a pass vs Florida. Photo by Brad McClenny.

The next ten minutes of game time would be dominated by LSU, beginning with a gorgeous touchdown pass from Johnson to wide receiver Jaray Jenkins. The next Gator possession would result in a 68 yard interception returned for a touchdown by freshman cornerback Elias Ricks, followed by another, wild interception by fellow freshman cornerback Jay Ward just minutes after. Trask had thrown just three interceptions all season, yet he had tossed two against a depleted LSU secondary through one quarter.
Johnson would add another touchdown pass before halftime and seemed to be in full control of the Tiger offense. Trask would throw a touchdown of his own, but just before the half, LSU stripped the ball away from him and would recover it deep in Gator territory. Kicker, Cade York, would hit a 39 yard field goal as time expired, and LSU headed into the break with a 24-17 lead against the mighty Gators, looking to shock the college football world.

Coming out of the half, LSU would get the ball and look to send a message to Florida and extend their lead. Though they pounded the Gator defense with a good running attack, led by running back Ty Davis-Price, the Tigers were stopped in the red zone. York would add his second field goal of the game, making it 27-17.

The story of the second half would be LSU’s ability to answer when it seemed like Florida was about to pull away. Trask led the Gators on a 14-0 run, reclaiming the lead with three minutes to go in the third. Just as Florida looked poised to take complete control of the game, Johnson led the Tigers right down the field on an efficient, nine play, 84 yard touchdown drive, capping it off with his third touchdown pass, this time to fellow freshman Tre Bradford. During that same drive, a fog had settled into the stadium, giving the game an eerie feeling, foreshadowing what was to come for the Gators.

After two straight punts for both offenses, Florida was finally able to get some traction, which led to a 31 yard field goal by Evan McPherson to tie the game. Johnson would have just under three minutes to get into field goal range.

After the first two plays, it looked bleak for the Tiger offense. They would be faced with third and ten, and without a conversion, Florida would have plenty of time to march down the field to get a score of their own. As LSU Head Coach, Ed Orgeron, would say in his post game press conference, the Tigers needed a break.

Johnson would dump a short pass off to freshman tight end, Kole Taylor, who would be stopped well short of first down yardage. Upon making the tackle, Florida cornerback, Marco Wilson, ripped off Taylor’s cleat. Instead of giving the cleat back, or even just dropping it, Wilson threw it 20 yards downfield, close to the LSU sideline. Flags came flying in. The cleat toss would be ruled a 15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, the play would result in an automatic first down. Marco Wilson had inexplicably given LSU that break.

Cade York makes a game winning, 57 yard field goal vs Florida. Photo by Gus Stark.

Johnson would eventually lead LSU to the Florida 40 yard line. With 27 seconds remaining, York would attempt a 57 yard field goal. It would be a career long for the LSU kicker, in fact it would be the longest in school history. He lined it up, the snap and hold were perfect, and it went right down the middle. York had nailed a 57 yard field goal, through thick fog, giving the Tigers a 37-34 lead with 23 seconds remaining.

The game was not over, however. Trask would lead the Gators into LSU territory, reaching the Tiger 34 yard line with two ticks left on the clock. McPherson would try to send the game into overtime with a 51 yard field goal. The snap and hold were good, but a good rush off the edge by LSU may have gotten to McPherson, who pulled the kick just to the left. It was no good.A depleted, beaten down, freshman-led LSU team had pulled off the most stunning upset of the college football season in unbelievable fashion. All it took was a cleat toss and an astronomical field goal, but regardless, a win is a win. This will surely go down as the highlight of the season for the Tigers in what has, arguably, been their worst year in over two decades.

For Florida, this was a crushing loss. Just a week before the SEC Championship against Alabama, had Florida beaten LSU, a win over the Crimson Tide would have likely put them in the College Football Playoff. Due to their poor showing against LSU, they, ironically, threw that opportunity away.

This LSU-Florida series is a storied one, with many ranked matchups, game winning drives, and fierce competition between elite athletes. While this was not a traditional LSU-Florida matchup on paper, it lived up to its usual expectations. This 2020 installment will be remembered as yet another storied chapter in the series, filled with backs and forths, clutch plays, and yet another exciting finish, but will be forever immortalized as “The Shoe Game.”

 

*all stats and figures courtesy of ESPN.com