The Gators’ defense has made a habit this season of picking apart Southeastern Conference passers.
Through eight SEC tests, opposing signal callers have tossed an average of 1.8 interceptions per game against No. 6 Florida with only Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers lasting a full four quarters unscathed.
Last Saturday in The Swamp, Missouri junior quarterback James Franklin found out he was no exception in the Gators’ final regular season SEC game.
Coming off a nearly month-long battle with a knee injury and working behind a patchwork offensive line, Franklin threw four interceptions to four different defenders in the Tigers’ 14-7 loss. Florida’s defense enters this week with a league leading 14 picks in SEC play, breaking a tie in the category with Alabama, which has intercepted 10 passes.
“We had opportunities,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “James threw a few picks — the first two picks were just from throwing and a few just sailed on him, and that’s just a guy that has not practiced consistently enough over the last two months.”
Pinkel added his quarterback’s only poor decision came in the fourth quarter, when Franklin hit linebacker Jon Bostic between the numbers for his third thrown interception.
While Franklin’s timing may have been off — he last started Oct. 6 against Vanderbilt — his turnover-riddled performance on 47 percent passing against Florida’s defense was anything but unusual.
The one constant the Gators have relied on with a shaky passing game and inconsistent rushing numbers on offense has been their ability to force turnovers.
Florida went 3-1 in its brutal October stretch of games against No. 7 LSU, No. 8 South Carolina, Vanderbilt and No. 5 Georgia by forcing six interceptions and holding passers to an average completion percentage of 46.8 percent.
“We just couldn’t get any completions, and that’s about it,” said Franklin, who entered Saturday’s game connecting on 61.7 percent of his passes with just two interceptions. “I know [my teammates] are trying to have my back, but we can’t turn the ball over four times.”
Franklin and Missouri’s offense were in UF territory on each of their final six possessions but came away without points each time. Half of those drives ended with a pick, including on the Tigers’ final possession when UF safety Josh Evans intercepted a pass in the end zone to seal the win.
For Missouri offensive lineman Elvis Fisher, playing against Florida’s defense comes down to finishing. However, the Gators have allowed just two fourth quarter touchdowns all year.
“We put in good plays but good teams are going to get you a couple times,” Fisher said. “You have to capitalize on times that they don’t get you. They capitalized, and we threw a couple picks. I thought we played a pretty good game, but they are a good team though. We can’t give up any more mistakes against a good team.”