A few hundred miles to the north, Tennessee ran out of luck.
And when Florida was finally finished showing Missouri what a real homecoming beatdown was like, they once again had the path to Atlanta in their own hands.
Despite an off day from Luke Del Rio in his return and a team wide inability to finish off drives in the red zone, Florida’s defense more than helped out in a 40-14 blitzkrieg of Missouri. The beatdown was eerily reminiscent of the 42-13 Missouri rout of Florida in Gainesville two years ago, when the Tigers used their defense and special teams to rack up the points.
This time, though, it was Florida putting on the show, and showing Missouri to the door for the second straight year.
Florida looked pretty bad early, though. Yes, there was a deep bomb to Tyrie Cleveland that got the crowd more than a little excited, but that was followed up by a Mark Thompson fumble that went out of bounds and then a rare missed field goal by Eddy Pineiro. The Gators would continually cross midfield only to stall once they reached Mizzou territory. They finally got close enough for Pineiro to hit a couple of field goals (one of which was a rocket from 53 yards out) to make it 6-0 with a few minutes left in the first half.
And then the party started.
For the second year in a row, Teez Tabor jumped in front of a Drew Lock pass and took it back for six. As Pineiro’s extra point went through to make it 13-0, it looked as though Florida had found its spark.
But they hadn’t, and that’s because Quincy Wilson wasn’t about to let Tabor hog the spotlight. Two minutes later, Wilson hopped a sideline route and picked off Lock- and he took it to the house.
In the meantime, Missouri’s offense was absolutely hopeless. Their first problem was that nobody could contain Florida’s nasty front seven. Nobody had an answer for Cece Jefferson off the snap, or Jarrad Davis or Alex Anzalone a second or two off the snap. And when Davis went down, freshman David Reese stepped in nicely and recorded six tackles. The Gators didn’t even sack Lock, but they pressured him enough to make him jittery and force some bad decisions. Combine an inability to give Lock time to throw with an inability to run- and of course the Gators’ lockdown secondary- and you get an offensive output that was so bad it didn’t pick up a first down until there were two minutes left in the first half.
When the Tigers finally did score, it was too late. There was the slightest, faintest glimmer of hope for Mizzou when nose tackle Joshua Augusta pushed across the goal line to cut the lead to 20-7, but Del Rio responded with a 20 yard touchdown pass to Cleveland- his first as a Gator- and then Jordan Scarlett put the game away with a 33 yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
But Florida hadn’t finished making its point. In order for the Gators to truly mirror Missouri’s win on homecoming two years ago, they needed a touchdown on special teams. And they got it after Missouri scored a worthless touchdown with just over a minute to go, because Antonio Callaway then took the ensuing kick back for six more. All that was missing was a punt return touchdown- with one, Florida would have responded with perfect congruence.
As it stands, we’ll take it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough. There are bigger things to worry about now.
Florida’s win and Tennessee’s loss mean that the Gators now own complete control of the SEC East. The Gators’ schedule does get significantly harder, though: the annual neutral site game with Georgia is followed up by a trip to #17 Arkansas, a home date with South Carolina and for some reason a road trip to our whiny friends in LSU to conclude the conference slate. But at the very least, the Gators are in a position to play themselves back into the SEC Championship Game if they win out, and that’s really all you can ask for after losing to Tennessee. Florida’s defense is playing at a very high level right now, and if the offense can start converting red zone trips into seven points, they’ll be very hard to beat.