J.D. Moore heard the roar.
Did his LSU Tigers just win on the final play of the game on fourth-and-goal? Did running back Derrius Guice really just barrel into the end zone from a yard out to beat Florida?
The Tigers' starting fullback raised his head to see a blue-and-orange — not purple-and-gold — celebration.
“I really just dove in there and looked up, and all of the Florida fans were going nuts,” Moore said. “That’s when I knew.”
It came down to this — 3 feet for a win — and LSU fumbled it away, a fitting end to a 16-10 loss to the Gators on a windswept, chilly Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Guice, stretching out the football after initially darting the wrong way, lost control. The ball dropped to the grass. Whistles blew and the Gators roared, storming the field to celebrate their SEC East title.
"It's tough," interim coach Ed Orgeron said. "It's a tough loss, especially the way we lost."
For the Tigers, what the result means is much more important than how it happened.
A two-touchdown favorite, No. 16 LSU (6-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) squandered a chance at a potential Sugar Bowl bid, and its interim coach may have cost himself a shot at the full-time gig.
“Shot ourselves in the foot,” Orgeron said.
It was an appropriate ending.
LSU faced goal-to-go situations on five drives, and the Tigers managed just 10 points.
“Big mistakes near the goal line,” quarterback Danny Etling said. “That’s what cost us.”
And now, here they are — a preseason top-five team strapped with four losses and needing a quick turnaround. LSU travels to No. 23 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3) on Thanksgiving night.
“Me personally, I don’t need any motivation,” guard Will Clapp said. “Quite honestly, I’m still mad. I want to go back out there and play another game — finish what we started.”
The Tigers couldn’t finish this one. They outgained Florida 423-270, had nine more first downs and converted half (7 of 14) of their third downs. They struggled in the red zone, failing to pound the ball against what center Ethan Pocic called a stacked box and without a fully healthy Leonard Fournette.
LSU was inside Florida’s 8-yard line five times and scored twice: a field goal and its game-opening touchdown. Guice fumbled on first-and-goal early in the game, and holder Josh Growden couldn't handle the snap on a field-goal attempt in the third quarter.
In addition to all of that, Donte Jackson lost a fumble during a fourth-quarter kickoff return. That turnover came right after the Gators took the lead 13-10 on their most productive offensive possession: a 15-play, 70-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Florida's Eddy Pineiro booted a 34-yard field goal with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left to break a 10-10 tie, and he added another after Jackson's fumble to make it 16-10.
Florida’s only touchdown came on a 98-yard strike from quarterback Austin Appleby to receiver Tyrie Cleveland. He jetted down the sideline, beating Jackson’s one-on-one coverage to give the Gators a 10-7 lead in the third quarter. It was the longest play from scrimmage in Tiger Stadium history.
The result sparked some fiery comments from the opponents' locker room.
This heated cross-divisional rivalry picked up steam last month, when Hurricane Matthew’s projected path postponed the teams' meeting set for Oct. 8 in Gainesville. LSU’s administration pushed against attempts from the SEC office and Florida officials to reschedule the game for this date in Gainesville. It would have given LSU three straight SEC road games.
Reports of Leonard Fournette being inactive were greatly exaggerated.
The Gators ultimately agreed to relocate the game to Baton Rouge, an unusual move made amid terse negotiations among the three sides. Some LSU fans and players claimed the Gators were “scared” to play back in October.
“It just shocks me that someone would question the Gators,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said Saturday. “The way I look at it, (LSU) got what they deserve.”
These squads couldn’t wait to battle. A scuffle broke out during pregame warmups, lasting about 90 seconds. Coaches and players were finally separated as a partially full Tiger Stadium roared.
The fracas resulted in a change of heart for Fournette, who was not dressed out during warmups and was not expected to play because of a lingering left ankle injury. "SEC Nation," the SEC Network pregame show that aired live Saturday from Baton Rouge, reported shortly after the scuffle that Fournette asked Orgeron if he could dress out.
“He just came to me before the game in the dressing room and said, ‘Coach, I want to play,’ ” Orgeron said.
He ran for 40 yards on 12 carries and did not play in the fourth quarter.
With Fournette on the sideline, this one came down to gaining 7 yards on four plays, and LSU got 6 of them.
The Tigers marched 74 yards on their last-minute drive — including Etling converting a fourth-and-10 near midfield with a 30-yard pass to D.J. Chark — but the Tigers couldn’t get it in the end zone against a Florida defense that was missing its top three tacklers.
On first-and-goal from the 7, Guice ran for 2 yards to the 5, and he pushed for 4 yards to the 1 on second down. Moore gained nothing on third-and-goal to set up that final play — a “short toss,” Orgeron called it.
“Just the back went the wrong way,” he said. “The back went the wrong way. Although he made a good effort, just wasn’t executed right.”
Guice was not made available to reporters after the game, but fellow players confirmed Orgeron's explanation: He was supposed to run left. The sophomore running back started right and then cut back toward the center of the line, leaping over a pile and stretching the ball out.
Fumble. Game over.
“For me, I was kind of a decoy,” said Moore, the fullback on the play.
“We can’t put the result of the game on one play. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone on this team. Yeah, he was supposed to go the other way, but at the end of the day, it comes down to everybody on this team.”
Said Clapp: “I know I fired off the ball and cut the inside linebacker. When I looked up, the game was over.”