For too long there has been a monkey on the Florida Gators back, and its name was Missouri. Finally, after two straight years of losses and five losses overall since 2012, the No. 11 Florida Gators (9-2, 6-2) defeated the Missouri Tigers 23-6. It was Missouri’s first loss at home this season.
The win keeps the Gators hopes alive for a SEC Championship appearance, albeit dependent on Georgia losing to Auburn this afternoon and Texas A&M next week.
“Overall great win, defense did a great job. You’re looking, playing a team here at Missouri that’s averaging over 40 points a game at home. A team that’s blown out everybody they’ve played at home. To come in and hold them to six points I think was fantastic effort by our defense. Thought we played really, really hard defensively,” said head coach
For the seniors, like receiver Josh Hammond (2-45yds-1TD), this win has been a long time coming.
“It’s good. I haven’t beaten them since my freshman year, so it felt good to finally come out with a win against them. It’s been a long time since we beat the Tigers.”
Given the time—noon ET, 11am CT—the away game and the cold weather, it was expected the Gators would start a little slow. Instead they started with whiplash; a fast get off on each offensive drive only for the brakes to be slammed on for an even quicker stop.
Florida and quarterback Kyle Trask (23-35, 282 yards, 2TDs) went to the cold air right away with a 20-yard sideline completion to Van Jefferson. Trask would find the senior again on the drive for 19-yards to keep the chains moving. Then the Gators patchwork offensive line was beat for the first time on the day by Kobie Whiteside. The defensive lineman sacked Trask for a loss eight yards.
Whiteside would do the same the next drive, just one play after a Kadarius Toney jet sweep picked up 25 yards.
Thus was much the case for the offense the entire first half and well into the 3rd quarter. An Emory Jones package saw the redshirt freshman pick up 25 yards with his legs (on two plays) but a Toney sweep and miscommunication between Trask and Lamical Perine stalled the drive again.
The unflappable Trask though kept his offense centered and let the game come to them.
“We made the game plan for a reason. Eventually, it should start working. A little slow start, but obviously if we stick with it it should be good for us.”
Said Mullen, “Offensively you can see we were moving the ball. It was kind of, big forward, big forward, big forward, big loss, drive killer, had to punt. So it wasn’t like we aren’t moving the ball at all, we were moving it probably in both directions, forward and backwards in chunks. So it was one of those things that it wasn’t like, ‘oh, oh what do we do? We got to change everything at half time.’ We just had to clean up to some little things and we did that in the second half."
The offense was able to take their time and get to the second half largely because of the near knockout performance from the defense just a week after their SEC shutout. They came out with quick punches that put some detrimental bruises on the Tigers.
“It was a slow start, we never want to do that but things happen in football. But that just means that the defense has got to come out there more and keep stopping them,” pointed out BUCK Jon Greenard.
“If they don't score, we win. That's what happened. Defense did our job, offense, like I said, as long as we keep giving them the ball they're going to make something happen. We've got too many athletes on that side for it not to happen. We trust in them, they trust in us and it just all plays together."
Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant was returning after being injured at Kentucky and missing last week against Georgia (both losses for the Tigers). He went 25-39, 204 yards, one interceptions with no touchdowns but flashed the elusiveness and Houdini ability that made him such a hot commodity on the transfer portal last offseason. Several times he bounced off Gator defenders like he was in a pinball machine, scrambling for those extra blades of grass.
The Gators defense though put up walls when needed and sacked Bryant three times, with two coming from Jon Greenard, who called it “a really good day at the office.”
The Gators BUCK played against Bryant when Greenard was at Louisville and Bryant was slinging it for Clemson. That means Greenard knew coming in what it would take to bring him down.
"I played him back at Louisville with Clemson, and I knew what type of player he was then. He's basically a running back that can throw. He's built pretty strong and he's very strong in his lower body. So getting him down on the ground is going to be very difficult but I said if we keep sending guys at home and get guys on him we'll be victorious in what we want to do."
Todd Grantham’s defense held the Tigers to 5-18 on 3rd down, with four coming in 4th quarter garbage minutes. The defense gave up three chunk plays to Missouri but kept the Tigers out of the endzone all day while holding them to 256 total yards.
With both defenses having dominated the first half, the Gators came into the second half with only a 6-3 lead. But much like the 3rd quarter explosion that happened last week against Vanderbilt, the Gators found the right matchups on their first drive of the quarter and took advantage.
“You just gotta believe in yourself and believe in the guys around you,” commented receiver Van Jefferson (6-82yards).
“Everybody just came together and was like, let’s get it done. It wasn’t pretty the first half but they’re not always pretty. We got the W. that’s all that matters.”
The Gators offensive line was suspect at times on Saturday but as has been the case much of the season, when needed they really stepped up in pass protection. Trask had time to stand back in the pocket and launch one deep down the sideline towards the endzone. Josh Hammond, on his first target of the day, turned his body around in the shadows and tracked the long ball. He pulled it in and fell into the endzone for the first touchdown from either team on the day.
“Beautiful catch, beautiful catch. Josh’s catch, you know amazing,” said Mullen.
For Trask, the 34-yard pass was about trusting his receiver.
“It was a little bit of a split-second decision, but obviously, it’s always one-on-one. I tried to put it where only he could get it and he made a great play on it.”
After Missouri crossed midfield for only the second time on the day, the Gators defense held the Tigers to a field goal. On the ensuing drive, Florida was the beneficiary of some fortuitous officiating. Tight end Kyle Pitts came down with a 25-yard pass alongside Missouri defensive back Khalil Oliver. Both guys appeared to have possession when they hit the ground. Those 50/50 catches are given to the offense which is why, despite Oliver coming up with the ball like an interceptions, Pitts was given the reception on the field. It then went under review, but there was not enough evident to overturn the call on the field and the Gators kept moving towards the redzone.
Three plays later, out of a staggered formation that had the running back Lamical Perine out wide, Trask found the senior in the endzone. Perine brought his toe down in time to get the call and the Gators were up two scores. On a day when the rushing game only picked up 56 yards (79 gained), the play calling like the throw to Perine only reinforces what Trask has always believed.
“Coach Mullen, to me, is one of the most brilliant minds in the game of college football. He’s done a great job. He’s always going to play to our strengths. Obviously, if one things not working, you can’t just stick with that. He’s done a great job making stuff that’s going to make us play more efficiently and get guys in good matchups and let our athletes make plays on the ball.”
Now the Gators, who admit they’re watching the Auburn-Georgia game on the plane ride home while praying for another shot at Atlanta, will return to Gainesville for a rare third bye week. Then, with the SEC slate wrapped up, they face FSU the week of Thanksgiving.
But as Josh Hammond pointed out, getting past this Missouri block, finally atoning for the last two years, means this win will be sweeter for just a bit longer.
"It felt good to come back here after what happened two years ago. We came here and got blown out with coaches getting fired. It felt good to come here and end on the right note.”