HOOVER, Ala. — The turning point of Florida’s 2013 season, for me, was the Gators first trip out to Columbia, Missouri.
Florida was coming off of their second loss of the season at the hands of LSU but they had everything in front of them still. All of their goals were still attainable. Cody Riggs talked about being at Florida for four years and never getting to Atlanta for the SEC Championship. Sure, the loss to LSU was disappointing but the Gators had a chance to redeem themselves on the road against Missouri.
“I’ve been here four years and I still haven’t gone to Atlanta. So that’s still in front of us. That’s the main goal. You get to Atlanta and good things happen,” the former Florida safety said. “We always bounce back. [LSU] was a rough game for us, but we’ll bounce back. I know our defense will step up and our offense will step up.”
It sounded good and the setup was perfect for Florida. Missouri would start a quarterback in Maty Mauk who was a relative unknown. The freshman was making his start ever and had only attempted six passes prior to the Florida game.
He didn’t lack confidence.
“Going into that week,” Mauk recalled this week at SEC Media Days. “The quarterback gets their opportunity to talk to the wide receivers and stuff and I told them just go out here pretend that nothing ever happened and just believe in me and give me this chance.”
Mauk fired a pass on the very first play of the game 41-yards down the field to L’Damian Washington. The pass should have been intercepted — probably — but instead turned into a 56-yard gain when Riggs — who had most of his family with him at the game — was called for targeting and ejected.
Mauk then hit Bud Sasser on a corner route, beating Brian Poole for a touchdown. Two plays. 22 seconds. 7-0 Tigers.
“He always joked around saying that, ‘I’m not a good practice player, I’ll learn my stuff and get it down but when I get in the game I’ll be a playmaker,’” Evan Boehm said of his quarterback. “I was like what does he even mean by that? You practice like you play, that’s what I’ve always been taught.
“Then all of a sudden I go out there and we score in 20 seconds with two throws and I finally figured out what Maty was talking about, that’s pretty cool.”
Mauk used that first series to bury the Gators. Not just that day, but it was the catalyst moment that began the big ball of losses rolling.
“I mean we scored in 22 seconds,” Mauk said. “After that drive — really the whole first half — but after that drive I just felt my confidence go up and everything else go down. The game really slowed down. I felt like I wasn’t just managing the game, I felt like we were gonna put points on the board.”
Missouri went on to score 36 points — the second most Florida would give up all season. They hurt Tyler Murphy in the game and Florida’s backup quarterback was never the same.
We didn’t know it at the time but Missouri effectively ended Florida’s season in October.
Florida will play host to Missouri this season. It will be homecoming and the game will once again be played a week following a matchup with LSU.
The Gators will look to change the result and return the favor in 2014.