Written off long before the season began, the 11th-ranked Gators find themselves in the driver’s season of the East Division of the Southeastern Conference after Saturday night’s 21-3 win over the Missouri Tigers in Columbia. With four SEC games remaining, the Gators are 6-0 overall, 4-0 in league play, and they’ve got a 2-game lead over Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri, the three teams that were all forecast to finish ahead of Florida.
In spoiling Missouri’s homecoming weekend, Florida got just enough offense and a dominating defensive performance. The Gators scored their only two offensive touchdowns in the first quarter, then pretty much turned the game over to the defense, which held Missouri to 257 yards, only 151 through the air and 106 rushing. Missouri managed only one first down conversion (1-14 for the game) and that came with 36 seconds remaining and the game far out of reach.
“They showed something,” head coach Jim McElwain said about Florida’s grind it out win. “It’s hard playing here. You kind of gotta generate your own juice. I thought our guys did that.”
The Gators got the only touchdown they needed after taking the opening kickoff, racking up five first downs as they drove 75 yards in 12 plays. Kelvin Taylor accounted for 35 of Florida’s yards, 21 on the ground and 14 on a dump off pass from Will Grier. Missouri contributed to the drive with a 15-yard personal foul that gave the Gators a first down at the Tigers’ 11. Taylor finished things off with a 1-yard run off the left side with 9:31 left in the quarter and Jorge Powell added the extra point that made it 7-0.
Missouri followed the Florida touchdown with its only sustained drive of the game, moving from their own 35 to the UF 6 in three plays, but all that did was wake up the UF defense. The Gators dialed up the pressure on the next three plays, sandwiching two incompletions around a 3-yard run by Russell Hansbrough that got the ball to the 3. Rather than gamble on fourth down, Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel sent in reliable Andrew Baggett, who nailed a 21-yard field goal to cut the Florida lead to 7-3.
On that opening drive, Mizzouri quarterback Drew Lock was 2-4 for 51 yards. The rest of the game he was 14-35 for 100 yards with two interceptions.
Florida added insurance later in the opening quarter with an impressive 82-yard drive, again aided by a 15-yard personal foul (grabbing the facemask) penalty against the Tigers. On the drive, Grier was 3-3 for 31 yards including a 21-yard strike to Ahmad Fulwood on a seam route to the Missouri 1 that set up Taylor’s second touchdown of the game.
Missouri mounted a scoring threat in the second quarter when the Tigers moved from their own 41 to the UF 35 behind an 8-yard pass from Lock to Nate Brown and a 12-yard completion to Ish Witter. But, that’s as far as the Tigers got. The defense held Missouri without a yard on its next three plays and Pinkel sent on Baggett, who missed a 53-yard field goal attempt.
That was Missouri’s last scoring threat of the game.
The third quarter was a defensive slugfest as both teams alternated punts until Jalen Tabor picked off Lock right in front of the Missouri bench and ran it back 40 yards for his second pick six of the season with 6:25 to go to provide the final margin.
Florida managed only five first downs in the second half, but the Gators outgained the Tigers 337-257. Grier finished the game 20-33 for 208 yards and the Gators fan the ball for 129 yards with Taylor leading the way with 99.
Florida won the turnover battle 2-0. In addition to Tabor’s pick six, Marcus Maye picked off Lock in the second quarter. Florida also sacked Lock 3 times for -21 yards in losses.
With the win, the Gators became the first SEC team to become bowl eligible. While there are still four SEC games remaining on the schedule, Florida has a 1-game win (and the tiebreaker) over Kentucky, and 2-game leads over Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri.
The Gators (6-0, 4-0 SEC) travel to Baton Rouge to face 8th-ranked and SEC West leader LSU (5-0, 4-0 SEC) next Saturday. Missouri travels to Georgia with the loser practically eliminated from any chance of winning the SEC East.
FLORIDA 7, MISSOURI 0; 9:31
The Gators took the opening kickoff and drove methodically down the field, using 12 plays to go 75 yards and taking 5:29 off the clock. Kelvin Taylor, who carried 6 times for 21 yards on the drive, got the touchdown on a 1-yard run off the left side to cap the scoring drive. On the way to the TD, the Gators converted both third downs. Will Grier was 3-4 passing, hitting Jake McGee for 12 yards, Brandon Powell for 13 and Taylor for 14.
MISSOURI 3, FLORIDA 7; 7:27
The Tigers got two big plays in the passing game – a 19-yard Drew Lock to Wesley Leftwich completion for 19 yards on the game’s first play and a 32-yard Lock completion to J’Mon Moore – before the Florida defense could settle down. Once the Tigers got to the Florida 6, the Gators got their defensive legs under them and tightened up, holding Missouri to three net yards on three plays to force a 21-yard field goal by Andrew Baggett with 7:33 left in the first quarter.
FLORIDA 14, MISSOURI 3; 1:09
On their third possession of the first quarter, the Gators drove 82 yards in eight plays, taking 3:57 off the clock for their second touchdown of the game, another 1-yard run by Taylor. Grier completed passes of 3 and 7 yards to Demarcus Robinson on the drive but the big play was a 21-yard strike to Ahmad Fullwood that gave UF a first down at the Missouri 1 to set up the touchdown. Grier picked up a first down with his legs, a 10-yard scamper when everyone was covered and Taylor delivered a 19-yard run. Missouri contributed to the drive with a 15-yard face mask penalty against Terry Beckner. Jorge Powell kicked the extra point to give the Gators a 14-3 lead.
FIRST HALF STATS
Grier was 15-22 for 154 passing yards while Demarcus Robinson (4-45) and DeAndre Goolsby (3-37) were the leading receivers. Taylor ran 15 times for 74 yards and 2 TDs.
Florida outgained the Tigers, 245-137 and had 18 first downs to Missouri’s 6. Missouri managed 95 passing yards and 42 rushing yards.
FLORIDA 21, MISSOURI 3; 6:25
In a quarter in which the defenses took over and dominated, it was Jalen Tabor who came up with the biggest play of the night when he jumped a route on the sideline and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown with 6:25 to go in the quarter. Prior to the interception, Florida’s defense held Lock to 2-9 passing in the third quarter for 9 yards and zero first downs.