It’s a humble brag, well maybe not so humble, but my job last week was to travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to watch football.
Sorry, I had to pinch myself to make sure this was real life.
This would be my second trip to America’s boot but my first time in Baton Rouge and my first experience with the place known simply as Death Valley. It was a beautiful day for football down on the Bayou, although it didn’t end well for Gator Nation, there was a lot to learn from the experience and from the game.
Here are five things that stood out to me last Saturday:
1. Attendance issues are not just a Florida problem.
I had harsh words for University of Florida students who showed up late and left early against Arkansas. Florida has had attendance issues for the past three seasons and had their 137-consecutive home sellout streak snapped in 2011 in the home opener against Florida Atlantic.
While the LSU student section was filled to the brim last Saturday, there were huge pockets in the North end zone bleachers that remained empty throughout the game.
In case you were wondering, LSU still has lower bowl tickets for sale for the ARK game. And you thought the UF game attendance was bad…
— Pod Katt (@valleyshook) October 15, 2013
And this was Florida-LSU! This is a huge rivalry game that holds major SEC implications each season.
I guess HDTV and air conditioning wins out but that just makes me sad.
2. Dominique Easley is sorely missed.
The Florida defense ate at the table that Dominique Easley set and you can see it in both the run and pass defense.
Florida was giving up 55.3 yards-per game on the ground with Easley in the lineup. That was against the No. 31 (Toledo), No. 28 (Miami) and No. 30 (Tennessee) ranked rushing teams in the country. Since Easley went down with a torn ACL Florida is giving up an average of 111.3 rushing yards per game. That is against the No. 84 (Kentucky), No. 24 (Arkansas) and No. 43 (LSU) ranked rushing offenses in the country.
In the second game without Easley, the Gators gave up their first 100-yard game to a team and last week were gashed by the Tigers and gave up their first 100-yard game to a single running back when Jeremy Hill ended his day with 121 rushing yards.
There is no answer to not having Easley, but Florida needs to find ways to effectively scheme with the players that they do have and stop the run.
3. Special teams are holding the Gators back.
There are the obvious parts to this: the absence of Caleb Sturgis is felt and the disappearance of the 2012 version of Kyle Christy has been a head scratcher and a major setback for the team.
Last season against LSU Christy averaged 49.14 yards-per-punt. He has punts of 51, 61, 44, 41, 57, 53 and 37 yards. Christy pinned the Tigers inside their own 10-yard line three times and drastically flipped the field on all of his punts. This allowed the defense to hunker down and Florida slowly but surely won the field position battle.
But the issues are not just with kickers. As a team the are averaging 2.4 fewer yards per punt return and haven’t come close to taking a punt or kick back for a touchdown.
Florida has returned a kickoff for a touchdown every season since 2009 but are still waiting for that kind of game-changing play this season.
4. Florida is in the same class as LSU
Florida got punched in the mouth, we can all agree on that. However, that LSU team isn’t light-years ahead of Florida and if given another chance Florida could beat that LSU team.
While the Tigers were able to run for more yards than any other team has been able to against Florida, the 175-yards day was the third worst rushing day that LSU has had this season. Furthermore, Florida was able to hold LSU to just 152 passing yards and held Zach Mettenberger to just 8.9 yards-per-completion (his lowest total since the season opener). LSU was averaging 291.5 passing yards coming into the game and the gators held them 139.5 yards under that average.
The Gators didn’t execute against LSU and that is what did them in at the end of the day.
5. Great game day atmosphere and experience.
I arrived at the stadium early because I wanted to take in the tailgating scene. LSU fans started tailgating as early as 2 a.m and were just hitting their stride when I arrived at Tiger Stadium. People were friendly and they are certainly a passionate bunch — much like Gator fans.
The game wasn’t sold out and it wasn’t the same atmosphere as a night game (so I was told by many people) but Death Valley got loud when they needed to and they were into the game for all four quarters. The food in Louisiana was outstanding and the press box spread was second to none.
It’s a trip that I would recommend to any Gator fan the next time Florida ventures down to Death Valley to take on the Bayou Bengals.