The question entering Saturday night’s game was whether the No. 11 Florida Gators could overcome the added pressure and attention and pull out a victory in what was billed as a trap game against the Missouri Tigers on the road. By the time the final whistle sounded at Memorial Stadium, Florida’s 21-3 victory over Mizzou made it clear that the Gators are very much for real.
Florida (6-0, 4-0 SEC) remains undefeated and atop the SEC East after taking down the division’s back-to-back defending champion. It is headed for what will likely be a top-10 match-up next Saturday at LSU.
Before that goes down though, let OnlyGators.com breaks down seven of the most important takeaways from the Gators’ victory.
Top of the East: With Georgia falling to Tennessee and Florida already holding victories over the Vols, Mizzou and Kentucky, the SEC East is officially UF’s to lose.
The Gators may not have looked like world beaters on Saturday, but they handled the reigning division champs and proved that their defense is for real. Florida still has LSU, UGA, Vanderbilt and South Carolina left to play, but if it can get through the month of October with one or no losses, UF could be headed to Atlanta.
“Heck of a win for us,” head coach Jim McElwain said after the game. “It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, so go ahead and pick it apart, but we’re going to enjoy it. Sometimes in this business, you got to kind of win like that.”
He added: “It’s been a pretty long stretch here, and it’s been a pretty emotional stretch just how we’ve been playing. we needed to win a game like that. We didn’t play great. In fact, we played not very good offensively, obviously, and yet our defense stepped up when they needed to and gave us a kick-start.”
Under pressure: The numbers were not huge with the Gators only picking up a single sack on the evening, but Florida’s pressure of Mizzou freshman quarterback Drew Lock was apparent. One week after Lock appeared to be capable, he went 16 of 39 for 151 yards with two interceptions.
“They’re tuned in. They’re locked in. They’re challenging each other. They’re challenging the offense. It’s fun to watch. And I got to tell you, man, they play the game fast. They’re definitely one heck of a unit,” McElwain said of the defense.
“We did a really good job of showing it and taking it away. It was one of the things we wanted to do going in was show something and get to something else to give [Lock] a different look. It’s hard on young quarterbacks when you’re giving a bunch of different looks, believe me. And yet, I thought he played pretty good and he’s going to be a heck of an SEC quarterback.”
Unfortunately for the Gators, much of this was balanced by the constant pressure from the Tigers’ defensive front. Mizzou picked up four sacks on the evening and bothered Florida redshirt freshman QB Will Grier throughout the night. As such, Grier finished just 20 of 33 for 208 yards without a touchdown toss.
“I thought he got spooked. I thought he saw some ghosts. I didn’t think he played very good, but he played great because he didn’t throw it to their color jersey. And that’s important,” McElwain explained. “He’s a redshirt freshman learning how to play the game. I thought the first couple drives he was on target, on task. And then something spooked him, and I don’t know what it was. … I’m going to stress it again: He’s taking care of the football and that is really, really good.”
Like his daddy: Junior running back Kelvin Taylor could not be stopped in the first half, scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter and pushing his season total to seven scores – one more than he registered during the entire 2014 season. Taylor rumbled for 99 yards on 28 touches with a long of 19, continuing his impressive 2015 campaign. (He actually had the third 100-yard game of his career wiped out with a carry for lost yardage late in the fourth quarter.)
So money: How good were the Gators on the so-called “money down?” Try perfect. Florida held Mizzou to 1-for-14 on third-down conversion attempts and even foiled a fourth-down try early in the final quarter. As such, UF dominated time of possession 37:53-22:07.
DBU, indeed: As if the defensive pressure and top-notch play on third down was not enough, the Gators’ secondary also picked off two passes on the evening with sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor returning an interception 40 yards for a touchdown in the second half, his second pick-six of the season. Redshirt junior safety Marcus Maye was all over the field for Florida, delivering big hits, clutch tackles and UF’s other interception of the evening.
Just punt it: With the Gators’ offense not completely on-point Saturday, redshirt sophomore punter Johnny Townsend was called on often to flip the field and help out Florida’s defense. And that he did. Townsend only averaged 43.9 yards per attempt, but he made a couple of short boots (two inside the 20) and had two others that sailed more than 50 yards.
While the Gators’ kicking game struggled (badly-missed 36-yard field goal by redshirt junior Jorge Powell, fake on a 41-yard attempt that Powell would’ve been unlikely to make), Townsend shined and helped out his team in the third phase of the game.
“I probably shouldn’t have called the fake. I wanted more points. So I’m the guilty one there,” McElwain admitted.
Going bowling: UF is bowl eligible after six games for the first time since 2012 and second time since 2009. Over the last
Florida #Gators bowl eligible (6 wins) after X games …
— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) October 11, 2015