Two weeks ago, fans looked forward and hoped Saturday’s game against Missouri would be Florida’s chance to finish an unbeaten conference schedule.
Unfortunately, a loss to Georgia derailed those hopes. It also seemed to influence the play of the Gators, particularly in the first half.
After not scoring an offensive touchdown against Georgia, the Gators went into halftime with zero points against a Missouri defense that has been far from stellar this season.
However, as it has a number of times this season, Florida recovered from an ugly first half to win the game. The Gators scored two long touchdowns to win 14-7, finishing its conference slate with seven wins.
This team is just the 12th in program history to win seven games in the Southeastern Conference. At 8-1 this could be one of the most successful teams in program history.
From watching today, those words don’t seem like they could possibly be true, but they are. It was ugly, but Florida got it done.
Here are the five keys to the win.
5. Kyle Christy
Sure, he shanked one. And yes, it was ugly.
However, he also pinned Missouri deep in its own territory twice in the first half.
When scoring is as limited as it has been for the Gators of late, those are plays that can not go unmentioned. If Missouri were to get better field position and tack on a few extra points, this one may have been much different.
Christy may not have been as good as he has been this season, but he lent a helping hand.
Missouri was able to get into Florida’s side of the field in each of its final six drives. Each of its final six!
In that time, the Gators allowed exactly zero points. Zero.
Gators coach Will Muschamp was not pleased with his team’s overall performance after the game, but he had to enjoy seeing his guys step up when they needed to the most.
On one drive, Missouri made it to Florida’s 24-yard line and was still forced to punt. James Franklin was sacked on second and third down, eventually moving Missouri out of field goal range.
The Gators bent, but they did not break. Florida Never Breaks, so they say.
3. Hitting the big one
… or big three.
The Gators hit three big plays in the game, two of which actually counted.
Jeff Driskel found Frankie Hammond Jr. wide open for a 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, but a holding penalty on Jon Halapio brought the play back.
Two plays later, Mike Gillislee caught a short screen and took it 45 yards for a touchdown. That one actually counted and gave the Gators the lead.
In the third quarter, Omarius Hines put Florida on the board with a 36-yard rushing touchdown.
The Gators were not able to sustain many drives on Saturday, but big plays were enough for them to win.
2. The defensive line
Missouri turned the ball over at costly times (keep reading, we will get there).
Franklin threw four interceptions on the day and never seemed too comfortable. Largely, that was because of Florida’s defensive front.
Led by freshmen Jon Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr. (combined 2.5 sacks), the Gators sacked Franklin four times in the game. They also collected 10 tackles or a loss of 55 yards.
For much of the season, the Gators had been unsuccessful at creating pressure when rushing four guys. They were forced to blitz extra guys to create pressure.
However, Saturday, Franklin was often able to elude the blitz and create running lanes for himself (64 rushing yards). As a result, the Gators were forced to only rush four guys and spy Franklin for much of the game.
Thanks to the efforts of the guys up front, the Gators were still able to get pressure and force mistakes by Franklin.
Again, Florida’s offense struggled mightily. Jeff Driskel passed for just 106 yards and it looked at times like the Gators might not score in the game.
However, they were never out of it because of their defense and its ability to take the ball away from Missouri’s offense.
Coming into the game, James Franklin seemed to be a guy who would be able to limit turnovers. That certainly was not the case.
Franklin threw four interceptions, including one in the end zone at the end of the fourth quarter with Missouri attempting to tie the game.
Josh Evans, Matt Elam, Jon Bostic and Jaylen Watkins each had one interception. None were particularly impressive.
Bostic has a pass thrown directly into his chest. Elam awaited an overthrown ball. So did Elam. Watkins jumped a route.
Franklin certainly did his team no favors, but the Gators were in the right spots at the right time. As a result, they were able to hold on for the win.