Maybe some day, the Gator football team will learn to take Missouri seriously. But their failure to do so yesterday proved to be the root cause of the ugliest performance of the season, the fatal blow to the team’s chances at a New Year’s Six Bowl, and the latest in a long line of quarterback controversies.
For the second time in the Tigers’ last three trips to Gainesville, Mizzou humiliated the Gators in the Swamp on homecoming weekend, this time by a 38-17 score that wasn’t as close as the final margin indicated. Drew Lock lit the Florida defense up for the second time in as many years, Missouri’s defense manhandled Florida’s offensive line, and the Gators simply displayed no interest in competing with the Tigers.
And that’s a big problem for a team that eight days ago still had its sights set on a national championship. Florida got eliminated from the SEC East race with a loss to Georgia last week in Jacksonville, and as the old adage goes, appeared to let that one loss segue into two losses.
Florida actually scored first. The Gators took advantage of a short field to set up an Evan McPherson field goal, which he banged off the right upright. As luck would have it, though, the ball struck the inside of the post at such an angle that it boinked hard to the left behind the crossbar. To hell with the incompetent SEC officials from the Kentucky game, McPherson is still perfect on the year.
The rest of the team, not so much.
Missouri responded to that field goal by immediately flying right down the field on a nine play, 76 yard touchdown drive that Larry Rountree III punctuated with a 27 yard run down the left sideline. Two drives later, the Tigers struck again when Drew Lock hit Albert Okwuegbunam for a 22 yard hookup in the end zone. And two drives after that, Damarea Crockett found the end zone on a four yard run to cap a devastating seven play, 78 yard drive to put Florida in a 21-3 hole just like that.
Meanwhile, the Gator offense couldn’t do anything to counter. Florida, “led” by Feleipe Franks, managed just one lone first down on its next four drives following McPherson’s field goal. Franks did pretty much everything wrong you could imagine aside from turning it over: he missed reads, overthrew some receivers, underthrew others, skipped some passes into the ground and just generally looked lost for the overwhelming majority of the day. It didn’t help matters that the offensive line got absolutely manhandled by an average Missouri front at best. And it really didn’t help matters that Dan Mullen and his co-offensive coordinators didn’t call their best game.
Despite the lopsided odds the Gators set against themselves with the apathy, they did manage to close the gap to within 21-10 at the end of the first half when Franks fell into the end zone from four yards out. But Lock promptly replied with two more touchdowns of its own, the first of which (a 41 yard hookup to Kam Scott) essentially ended the game, and the second of which (a four yard toss to Emmanuel Hall) sent most of the embarrassingly few Florida fans who had bothered to show up scrambling for the exits.
That was when Mullen finally made the switch fans had been clamoring for, inserting Kyle Trask into the game in place of Franks. Trask wasted no time leading Florida down the field for a touchdown, connecting with Josh Hammond to pull Florida within 35-17. Though the Tigers were obviously in an ultra-conservative, prevent type defense, it still says something about Trask that he was able to come in cold off the bench and lead a touchdown drive just like that. And for the briefest of nanoseconds, it appeared as though the Gators had a pulse when Hall seemed to fumble at the end of a 21 yard reception, which Shawn Davis returned all the way for a touchdown. But replays showed that Hall was clearly down, and Mizzou continued on its merry way for a field goal to make the score the 38-17 margin the game ended with.
It’s a convenient excuse, but it certainly does seem as though this Gator team was not ready to play yesterday. Call it complacency after beating LSU, call it a hangover after a crippling loss to Georgia, and even call it plain old indifference. The fact of the matter is that this team did not look like one that was ready to play a fellow SEC team, which for whatever reason you care to cite, is unacceptable, embarrassing and flat out disgraceful. To lose a game is one thing, but to go through the motions the way this team did is quite another, and far less understandable, thing.
Now, Florida is left to regroup for a South Carolina team headed by a guy who would love to stick it to his old program and salvage something from his new program’s initially disappointing, but suddenly resurging season. The Gators can still run the table to finish 10-3, which would mean the Gators would end the streak against FSU, and win a third tier bowl game, and given where this team stood eleven months ago that would be quite an accomplishment. So no, all is not necessarily lost- yet.
But I can promise everyone reading this with one decillion percent certainty that isn’t going to happen with another team wide performance like the one we saw yesterday against the Tigers. While yes, this team has already eclipsed last year’s win total and has clinched bowl eligibility, to be better than 4-7 is simply not the standard at Florida, even for a rebuilding year and especially not in a year in which the Gators started 6-1 and got themselves ranked in the top ten. This season looked so promising just a month ago, but is now rapidly fading toward mediocre status. We’ll have a full week to break down why, exactly, that is in even greater detail than I just did here, but for now, my main worry is that things are about to get even worse unless there’s a major attitude adjustment between now and next Saturday.
And barring that attitude adjustment, and a permanent switch at quarterback, we could be in for quite a bumpy ride the rest of the way.