Look only at the numbers allowed by the Florida defense on Saturday, and it might give the impression that the Gators won. The defense dominated Missouri, giving the Tigers just 119 yards of offense and only 20 yards of passing.
Some of that had to do with the situation in the game. Even Florida coach Will Muschamp pointed out that Missouri noticed it didn’t have to do much on offense, allowing the Tigers to become conservative with the ball, but the Gators still played well on defense.
The Florida defense allowed just 13 of Missouri’s 42 total points. The defense allowed one touchdown, and that drive started at the Florida 19-yard line after Treon Harris fumbled the ball and Missouri recovered.
Of the two field goals Missouri made, one came on an 18-play, 55-yard drive before ending on a 25-yard field goal. The other drive started at the Florida five-yard line after a pass from Jeff Driskel was intercepted. The other 29 points Missouri scored came on special teams or defensive touchdowns.
“It was surreal. It was hard to believe,” Florida safety Keanu Neal said. “It’s frustrating, but as a defense, we always tell ourselves to control the controllables. What happened on the offensive side, we can’t control. Whenever we get a sudden change, we get excited and just play football.”
There were plenty of those sudden changes on Saturday, and the defense did its best to limit Missouri’s opportunities. Muschamp and the defensive staff call it “putting the fire out,” and the bad news for the defense is that they’ve had plenty of opportunities to do just that in recent years.
Last season, frustrations continued to build as the losses piled up and the offense struggled to move the ball. It bled into the defensive side, and the defense didn’t play as well, knowing it would only have a limited amount of points from its offense to work with.
The goal now is to avoid that happening again this fall. The frustration was easy to see on Neal’s face when he was one of two Florida players that would talk to the media after Saturday’s loss, but he’s confident this year’s team won’t turn to finger pointing or the “woe is me” attitude that infected the team last year.
“I feel like we’re more close-knit this year,” Neal said. “We’re a lot closer. We definitely care about each other, we definitely love each other. That’s what’s different from last year, we’re a lot closer, a lot more close-knit. That’s going to carry up further than football that’s for sure.
“We’ve got to come together. This is the time to come together and get tighter, stronger within ourselves.”
The hope is that the bye week will give the Gators extra time to iron out some of the problems on both sides of the ball before facing Georgia in Jacksonville on November 1.
“We’ve got a chance to focus on Florida and not really worry about a team we’re playing,” Neal said.