COLUMBIA, Mo. – The Florida Gators are 6-0, bowl eligible and on top of the SEC East following its 21-3 win over the Missouri Tigers. Jim McElwain’s 6-0 start is the best mark a first year coach has had at Florida since Galen Hall started 6-0 in 1984.
Florida has won in blowouts, comebacks, nail biters and now in a dirty fashion on the road.
What did we learn about the Florida Gators following their sixth win of the season?
1. Best Defense in the Nation
They said it over and over again. The Florida Gators set out to be the best defense in the nation and, well, yeah, that’s what they’re doing.
The Gators defense held Missouri to 257 total yards, scored a touchdown and limited Missouri to just one third down conversion on 14 attempts. Missouri kicked a field goal on their first drive of the game before Florida’s defense clamped down forcing six three-and-outs, nine punts, a fourth down stop and two interceptions.
The Gators offense struggled after scoring two touchdowns in their first three drives, but with 14 points on the board, the defense made sure that the Missouri Tigers would never challenge to take over the game.
In two SEC road games (at Kentucky and Missouri) the defense has yet to yield a touchdown. That’s conference games and on the road. Sensational.
Outside of Michigan — who has pitched three straight shutouts — there isn’t a defense playing better football right now than the Florida Gators defense.
2. Gators keep kicking themselves
Former starter Austin Hardin didn’t make the trip to Missouri and new starter Jorge Powell missed the only field goal he attempted from 36-yards. On the season, the Gators are just 7-for-10 kicking field goals and the lack of consistency at the position could come back to bite them if it isn’t rectified.
On the other hand, punter Johnny Townsend continues to be a huge bright spot for the Gators this season. Townsend averaged 43.9 yards-per-kick against Missouri, dropped two punts inside the 20 and routinely flipped the field, giving the Florida defense plenty of grass at their backs to work with.
3. Grier, offense still young, experiencing growing pains
After the week that Will Grier put together against Ole Miss many were ready to crown him the next great quarterback at the University of Florida. While he might be, he isn’t yet and that’s fine.
Relax; Grier is still a redshirt freshman. He played in his sixth career game on Saturday night and he’s going to make mistakes. There were open receivers against Missouri that he didn’t see, some passes he would like to have back but that’s part of the process.
What you are seeing from Grier is important, he’s managing games. Grier lost a fumble against New Mexico State and threw interceptions against ECU, Kentucky and Tennessee. Grier hasn’t turned the ball over a single time in the past two games and he’s doing what is necessary of him to manage the game and get wins.
The offense isn’t setting any records right now, and they likely won’t this season, but Grier and the Gators offense are scoring more points than their defense will allow themselves to relinquish and that’s a recipe that will win you some football games.
4. Third down defense
If you’ve watched Florida on live in a stadium you’ve seen the graduate assistants jumping up and down with signs reading “$ down.”
Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has made a point to put an emphasis on getting off of the field on third downs. Coming into the game the Gators were 10th in the SEC with opponents converting on 29-of-81 (35.80) on the season.
On Saturday night, Florida turned their “money down” into “straight cash, homie” allowing Missouri to convert on just 1-of-14 (7.1%).
Part of that goes to how good the Gators were on first and second down. Missouri, on average, needed to gain 8.7 yards for a first down once they were on third down and they had to gain nine yards or more on half of those 14 third down attempts. When Florida’s defense forces you in to a third and long scenario, there’s not much any offense will be able to do against them.
5. In the Driver’s Seat
The Florida Gators flew into Missouri and emptied a stadium just like they used to do back in the ‘90s and early ‘00s.
With their 6-0 start, coupled with a Tennessee Volunteers upset over the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, the Gators are sitting atop the SEC East with a comfortable two-game cushion.
The loss today all but eliminated Missouri from booking their third ticket in three years to Atlanta. The Tigers would need to run the table and have Florida lose three conference games.
The Gators still have LSU, Georgia, South Carolina Gamecocks and Vanderbilt on the conference schedule but with the way that the Gamecocks and Commodores have looked this season, Florida’s path to Atlanta — a destination that hasn’t been reached since 2009 — is more than feasible, it’s expected.
What a ride these six weeks have been.