Image Credit: UAA
Playing at home after an unexpected week off, the Florida Gators once again wiped the floor with an inferior opponent in the Missouri Tigers. But just because the 40-14 score was lopsided doesn’t mean the Gators played a good game.
Florida’s victory left a lot to be desired and plenty of questions unanswered. And with another bye week coming, it proved the Gators need all the time off they can get.
Here are four things we learned on Saturday.
1. Defense finds its form: After getting roasted in the second half at Tennessee and failing to do anything that impressive two weeks ago, the Gators’ defense was swarming and dominant on Saturday against the Tigers. The stat lines were greatly distorted due to Florida putting in second- and scout-team players late in the game, which allowed Mizzou to post some yards and points, but the secondary held starting quarterback Drew Lock to 4-of-18 passing for 39 yards with two interceptions — both of which were returned for touchdowns by junior cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson. The Gators amassed a two-to-one time of possession in the game due in large part to holding the Tigers to six straight three-and-outs in the first half. At one point, following the pick sixes, Florida had more yards (117) and points (12) on defense than Mizzou did on offense. It was the first time since 1994 that the Gators returned two interceptions for touchdowns in an SEC game and the first time since 2011 that Florida achieved that feat in any game.
“They did an unbelievable job shutting them down. Defensive scores, you always got a chance to be successful. All great teams score on defense. There’s no doubt about it. That was really good. Just to see how they were feeding off everything on the sideline was outstanding,” said head coach Jim McElwain of the defensive effort. Though the defensive line did not get sacks in the contest, it achieved constant pressure that forced Lock off his spot and led to errant throws.
2. Do you see what happens? It’s quite unfortunate that an upper leg injury forced sophomore running back Jordan Cronkrite from the game. But by removing one head of Florida’s ridiculous four-man rushing committee, it became even more apparent that McElwain needs to pare this group down. Each getting 10+ carries, sophomore Jordan Scarlett (101 yards, touchdown), freshman Lamichal Perine (106 yards) and junior Mark Thompson (65 yards) were able to establish a rhythm and truly dominate the game. It would probably be even better to get down to two guys (Scarlett, Perine), but Thompson certainly made a case for himself despite fumbling out of bounds early in the game.
Scarlett also fumbled — at the 1-yard line, mind you — and drew the ire of McElwain, who apparently ripped him after the game (if you take what he said publicly to reporters and extrapolate that to the privacy of a locker room). “I get to run Jordan Scarlett’s [ball security] drill on Tuesday, and I’m excited about that. I’m sure he’s looking forward to it, too,” the coach quipped. Overall, McElwain plans to get the running backs “the ball in space a little more,” which is something Florida will work on during the bye.
3. Abundance of playmakers: Though the Gators are still struggling to get them the ball due to a variety of reasons, it’s apparent that McElwain has retooled the offense with some talented, game-breaking talent. Aside from the aforementioned running backs, sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway and junior WR Brandon Powell, freshman Tyrie Cleveland looked every bit the perfect complement for Callaway, notching a career-high 79 yards with the first touchdown on Saturday. We’ll talk about Cleveland more in a separate story, which should tell you all you need to know about his potential impact on this team. Now if Florida could only get …
4. Some consistency from the offense desperately needed: We’ll also get into the massive struggles of redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio (18 for 38, 236 yards, touchdown, three interceptions) separately — I mean, the guy did almost toss seven picks in one game — but he’s far from the only issue on that side of the ball. Of the team’s 11 total penalties on Saturday, eight were false starts. Eight. Three by junior offensive lineman David Sharpe and two by Callaway, a wideout. It was so bad that McElwain got animated coming up with a non-explanation after the game.
“Having eight false start penalties. Wow. Someone’s going to ask me, ‘What was it?’ OK, so I’m going to answer you [and] this will be the last I talk about. [Raises his voice] I don’t know, but we’ll get it fixed, alright? That’s what off weeks are for,” he exclaimed. “We were a little off our rhythm on our cadence. I will say this: I thought early a couple of those had a lot to do with their No. 91; our guys were trying to jump that a little bit. … Credit him for those. That’s what a great player does, just their presence [causes you to make mistakes].”
The problem with those penalties and Del Rio’s inaccuracy is that those miscues stalled what would have otherwise been successful drives. The Gators most often make mistakes when it costs them the most — on third down and in the red zone. That puts Florida behind the chances and turns first downs into punts, and potential touchdowns into field goals. And that is how teams lose close football games.
“You saw us: We did some really good things and then you shoot yourself in the foot and it’s hard to limp back. You can’t let [the bad] affect the rest of it,” McElwain said. “… The mentality of winning the next play they just have not kind of established yet. It’s been so long that it’s, ‘Oh, now what’s going to happen,’ instead of, ‘No, I’m going to go make something happen.’ That’s where we need to continue to grow. But I like the parts we’re getting in here. I think we’re getting some explosive parts, and I’m excited about the direction we’re headed.”
Other notes: McElwain admitted that Florida could have run the ball more late but said he used the large lead to “work on some things in the passing game” … redshirt sophomore kicker Eddy Pineiro, who missed from 32 but made from 53 and 24, forgot he had to kickoff after making the long field goal … Perine will continue running the wildcat package for the Gators, which McElwain thinks can be dangerous because the rusher can also throw the ball … Florida opened the game by driving inside Mizzou’s territory five straight times while the visitors could not get past their own 33 … Del Rio’s three interceptions came over the course of seven pass attempts … the Gators will go all-out in recruiting this week after having a big Florida-LSU weekend washed out by Hurricane Matthew …
Athletic director Jeremy Foley, who watched his final game inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as an active member of the team, received the game ball from McElwain and the players. “This was Jeremy Foley’s last game in The Swamp. When you think about all the things he’s accomplished and done for this university, the town of Gainesville, the state of Florida, man, it’s pretty special. To give him the game ball and see the guys stand up and give him a standing ovation — and have him break them down when it was all over — you know, guys, that’s what it’s all about,” the coach said. “To give him a win the last time he’ll be in charge, but don’t think I’m not going to be calling him now. Well, you know what, if he does [pick up], he’s stupid; he should be on vacation, right?”