GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida finished its SEC schedule with a 7-1 record, a significant improvement over last season’s 3-5 mark, by beating Missouri on Saturday at Florida Field. The Gators weren’t pretty on offense but made two big plays to score both touchdowns.
Here are the good and bad from the 14-7 victory:
Defense never wilted: It’s clear after nine games that Florida’s offense just can’t be counted on to mount more than one or two sustained drives, which puts a lot of pressure on the defense. Yet the group not only has been able to handle that burden, but it thrives on being put in that situation. Week after week the defense delivers, too. The Gators intercepted Missouri QB James Franklin four times and kept the Tigers from getting points despite finishing their last six drives in Florida territory. UF sacked Franklin four times, forced him into two intentional grounding penalties, and had 10 tackles for loss.
Ground game returns: The Gators ran for 170 yards, which was the exact amount the Gators totaled in their last two games combined. RB Mike Gillislee ran for 68 yards on 16 carries while QB Jeff Driskel ran for 31 on six carries. Most of the damage came in the second half, when the Gators ran for 116 yards, including RB Omarius Hines’ 36-yard touchdown out of the wildcat formation. Florida has shown a commitment to running the ball in every game, regardless of how much success the Gators were having. Keeping at it against the Tigers paid off.
Guys stepped up: UF was without LT Xavier Nixon (knee), LB Lerentee McCray (ankle) and WR/KR Andre Debose (knee) and K Caleb Sturgis was limited (ankle). During the game, LG James Wilson (knee), S Matt Elam (groin) and RG Jon Halapio (undisclosed) also went down. But the Gators were able overcome those absences, especially on defense , where DEs Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard compensated in the pass rush with 2.5 sacks and S Jabari Gorman filled in for Elam on the final drive. It’s a testament to the improved depth on the roster. Last season’s team would not have been able to overcome those injuries.
Pass protection: This continues to be an issue, though it’s not all on the offensive line. The backs and tight ends are missing assignments on protections every week. The line is struggling, though, especially at the tackles. Although against Missouri it seemed that more of the issues were in the middle, which was partly due to the Wilson injury and the fact that C Jonotthan Harrison is still battling a right arm injury. Driskel wasn’t sacked, but he was forced out of the pocket and had to rush several throws.
Third-down issues reappear: The Gators had struggled on third down through the first three games of the season (11-for-41) but had been pretty good in four of the next five games. But they were pretty bad against Missouri, going just 2-for-13. UF converted its first third-down opportunity and missed six of its next seven in the first half. The Gators went 0-for-5 on third down in the second half. Driskel was 3-for-8 for 18 yards on third down. He converted just once.
TD wiped out … again: For the second time in three weeks, the Gators had a long touchdown pass wiped out by a penalty. Driskel hit WR Frankie Hammond – who was as wide open as any Florida receiver has ever been -- for a 43-yard touchdown, but the play was called back because of a holding penalty on Halapio. That would have been the go-ahead score. Luckily for the Gators, they were able to overcome the penalty two plays later when Gillislee took a screen pass 45 yards for a TD and a 14-7 lead. That makes up for what happened against South Carolina, when he was penalized for a chop block to wipe out Hines’ one-handed 41-yard touchdown catch against South Carolina.