All week long, Florida coach Will Muschamp said his players would have no problem putting their first loss of the season to Georgia behind them.
After two quarters Saturday against Missouri in The Swamp, however, it looked like the Gators were still reeling from their annual trip to Jacksonville.
The Tigers came in struggling with a 1-4 SEC record, but No. 7 Florida (8-1, 7-1 SEC) needed a two-touchdown rally in the second half to push past Missouri (4-5, 1-5) with a 14-7 win.
While the Gators scored their fourth come-from-behind victory of the season, they did it against a team that SEC East rivals Georgia and South Carolina handled by a combined score of 72-30.
QUARTERBACKS — C
Jeff Driskel’s numbers were again pedestrian Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. He completed 12 of 23 passes for just 106 yards and a touchdown against an equally underwhelming Missouri defense.
That being said, the sophomore signal caller played perhaps his smartest game of the season.
Coming off a turnover-filled loss to Georgia, Driskel’s mission was clearly to exit Florida’s final regular season SEC game without a giveaway. While he had some close calls on tipped passes, Driskel accomplished that goal by getting rid of the football and not forcing any costly throws.
For just the second time all season, Driskel escaped a game without being sacked, despite porous play by his offensive line and consistent pressure from the Tigers’ front four. With 36 rushing yards on six carries, he was also able to make plays with his legs on both designed runs and scrambles from the pocket.
While he didn’t win the game for Florida, Driskel certainly didn’t lose it either.
RUNNING BACKS — B
While his preseason rushing prediction is drifting further away with each week, senior running back Mike Gillislee has not stopped making plays for the Gators.
For the second straight week, Gillislee made a big play in the passing game by reeling in a high screen pass by Driskel and taking it 45 yards for Florida’s game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Teams around the conference have clearly figured out how to stop Florida’s power run game, but Gillislee still gained a respectable 68 yards on 16 carries. After Gillislee left the game with an undisclosed injury, backups Matt Jones and Mack Brown combined on eight carries for 30 yards.
Before Gillislee’s long touchdown catch, underutilized senior Omarius Hines also made a critical play out of the Wildcat package. Filling in for Soloman Patton (broken arm) on the package’s jet sweep play, Hines scored the Gators’ first touchdown on a 36-yard run.
RECEIVERS — C
As Driskel went, so did Florida’s receiving corps. The Gators came out firing against the Tigers with three straight passing plays to open the game, but the strategy proved quickly to be unsustainable.
Florida had its chance at a signature long passing play to hang its hat on in the fourth quarter, but a holding penalty against Jon Halapio negated Driskel’s 43-yard touchdown pass to Frankie Hammond Jr.
Instead, Trey Burton finished as UF’s leading receiver on a pair of catches for 29 yards, while tight end Jordan Reed had three receptions for 16 yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE — D
Though injuries are understandably an issue, Florida’s offensive line has helped turn out too many highlight-reel moments for SEC defenders during the last three weeks.
In successive games, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson have all had a field day against the Gators. On Saturday, Richardson finished with six tackles, including 1.5 tackles for 8 lost yards, and a forced fumble.
While each of those players have NFL futures, the offensive linemen just aren’t getting the job done to help Driskel progress as a passer and allow offensive coordinator Brent Pease to run slower developing plays.
DEFENSIVE LINE — A
No defensive unit exemplified the Gators defense’s “bend but don’t break” mentality against Missouri’s spread offense more than the defensive line.
The Tigers had the ball in Florida territory on six straight possessions in the second half but each time the Gators seemingly came up with a big sack or quarterback pressure to prevent points from being scored.
In breakout performances at defensive end, freshmen Jonathan Bullard (three quarterback hurries) and Dante Fowler (five tackles) both had sacks. Junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd held down the middle of the line with a game-high three tackles for loss, while Dominique Easley accounted four tackles and chipped in on one of Bullard’s sacks.
LINEBACKERS — A
Florida’s linebackers continued to be opportunistic against SEC passers as senior Jon Bostic hauled in one of Missouri quarterback James Franklin’s four interceptions.
While Missouri’s running backs were able to break several long runs on cutbacks, the Gators were able to adjust as the game wore on and ultimately hold the Tigers to 99 rushing yards.
When defensive coordinator Dan Quinn dialed up blitzes, Florida generated some extra pressure with Jelani Jenkins coming off the edge. Jenkins got to Franklin once for a sack and also had a quarterback hurry.
Both Jenkins and Bostic finished with seven tackles.
DEFENSIVE BACKS — A
Missed tackles were an issue on short Missouri passing routes, but overall, Florida’s secondary had another banner day.
Three Gators defensive backs hauled in Franklin interceptions, including the game-sealing pick by Josh Evans in Florida’s end zone with five seconds left to play.
Evans had a game-high 12 tackles and teamed with fellow safety Matt Elam (seven tackles) nicely in run support. Elam would also haul in an interception late in the third quarter which helped set up Gillislee’s screen pass for a touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS — C
Usually a solid, weekly “A” for the Gators, special teams play was a mixed bag against Missouri.
Florida blocked a field goal for the third time this season but also had one of its own tipped in the second quarter. Senior kicker Caleb Sturgis left the game with an ankle injury after the blocked 47-yard attempt, and his backup, Brad Phillips, missed a 24-yarder as the Gators nursed a 14-7 lead with 1:49 left in the game.
In the absence of returner Andre Debose, sophomore De’Ante Saunders was sure-handed with three punt returns for 23 yards, including a long of 16.
COACHES — C
While Florida scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half after being shut out two quarters, coaching adjustments had little to do with the Gators’ victory.
Florida needed four interceptions to score 14 total points against Missouri, and for the second consecutive week, looked uneven and unfocused in a critical SEC game. This team has the chance to play for a possible BCS berth and — if conditions permit — perhaps more. But once again, it came close to squandering that opportunity against a 4-4 Tigers squad.
The motivation tactics of team speakers the night before the game didn’t work, and Florida may need to find more leadership in the locker room if it wants to avoid another Furman-like embarrassment in the next two weeks.