A great performance? No. A pretty win? No. A big win? Yes.
Are the Gators 6-0, and suddenly and inexplicably in such tremendous position to win the SEC East that they can lose any one of their next four games- and any two as long as one of them isn’t to Georgia- and are guaranteed to represent the SEC East in Atlanta as long as they win the others? Yes.
Florida’s defense suffocated Missouri for a full 60 minutes, made enough plays when they had to and the offense did just enough to secure a 21-3 win on the road at “The Zou” on Missouri’s homecoming weekend. The victory serves as a bit of payback for the Tigers’ 42-13 blowout in Gainesville during Florida’s homecoming last weekend, but more importantly, puts the Gators two full games ahead of both Missouri and Georgia in the SEC East (and really three ahead of Missouri, since Florida now owns the tiebreaker). Raise your hand if you saw that coming.
The Gators grabbed an early 7-0 lead on a 1 yard touchdown run by Kelvin Taylor, but then the Gators’ usually stout defense gave up a long drive right back. Keeping with their trend of “bend but don’t break,” though, Florida’s defense buckled down in the red zone and forced an Andrew Baggett field goal. That stand looked even bigger when the Gators went flying right down the field again on their next drive, which was also capped by a 1 yard run from Taylor. Florida led 14-3 at that point, which was enough.
Actually, it was more than enough.
Missouri finished with 257 yards of total offense, but 62 of them came on their first drive of the game. So do the math; Missouri generated just 198 yards on their next 14 drives, and never even got inside the Florida 25 the rest of the night. Part of this was because QB Drew Lock, making his second career start for Mizzou in the absence of Maty Mauk, was silenced after that first drive. Lock finished with 151 passing yards, and more than a third of them (51) came on that first drive. The Gators started to pressure him after that, sacking him three times and knocking him down two other times, and when Missouri tried to run to take the pressure off him, Florida’s defense stopped that, too. And most of that yardage came late in the game, facing a double digit deficit, meaning the Gators were happy to let Mizzou try to beat them four yards at a time while chewing up large chunks of clock.
To make things worse for Missouri, the Tigers were 0-13 on third downs until they finally converted one with less than a minute to go in the game. Of course, much of this had to do with the bundle of negative plays forced by the Florida defense to set up third and forever situations, but that’s still a testament to how awful the Tigers were offensively- and at the same time, how good the Gators were defensively.
These stats and facts does quite a nice job making Missouri look bad (which they were), but despite all of it- all of it- the Tigers were still very much in the game because the Gators’ offense experienced similar struggles. Then Jalen Tabor did this:
— #InAllKindsOfWeather (@AllKindsWeather) October 11, 2015
Good night, Mizzou. Happy homecoming.
Florida’s still got a litany of things to work on, for sure. The defense played well enough, and the offensive line didn’t do badly, but as Jim McElwain pointed out, the Gators didn’t come out and really play with a lot of energy. The route running from the wide receivers didn’t look that crisp, so there were few times when they really got open. The Gators’ defense got run over on the first Missouri drive; they’ll play better teams with better offenses that won’t just be one-drive wonders, so getting off to a better start defensively is something that would certainly be nice to see. Will Grier had a solid night, but he made me cover my eyes in horror when he tried to hurdle a defender at the end of a big run. Like… just go down. No need to risk injury on such a routine play. And kicker Jorge Powell missed the field goal because the holder put the ball down with the laces facing him, which is just a “slap yourself in the face when you see it on film” kind of mistake- but one that could really hurt should it happen again in a more meaningful situation.
Yet despite all that, Florida came on the road and avoided a huge potential trap game. They knocked off the two time defending SEC East Champs on their homecoming night. They’re now in such complete command of the SEC East that they can lose a whole array of different games and even pairs of games yet will still control their own destiny just one year removed from 7-5 and just two from 4-8.
Basically, they came in and showed up Missouri, the clear team to beat in the SEC East. I was extremely nervous about this game, but Florida simply walked into Faurot Field and silenced the homecoming crowd that history suggests was just itching to do a stadium wide Gator Chomp. They shut down Missouri’s offense in every way imaginable, and won the game by three scores without even playing well.
And as the season progresses and the games get even tougher, having been able to pull out such a decisive victory on a night when they didn’t play well at all will go a long way.