Four forced interceptions and two second-half touchdowns fueled the No. 7 Florida Gators to a come-from-behind 14-7 victory Saturday over the Missouri Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
The win marked Florida’s seventh Southeastern Conference victory in eight games, giving the Gators as many league victories as the team has accumulated over the last two seasons. Florida (8-1, 7-1 SEC) also held Missouri (4-5, 1-5 SEC) scoreless in the second half, assuring the Tigers finish their first SEC season with a losing league record.
The Gators were outgained 335-276 on offense and outpossessed by 7:54 over four quarters, a surprising statistic considering how dominant UF had been in time of possession this season.
After a scoreless first quarter, Florida got the opportunity to begin a possession in the red zone when junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins intercepted Mizzou quarterback James Franklin and brought the ball down to the Tigers’ 19-yard line. The Gators were unable to convert, however, losing six yards on first down, getting tagged for a delay of game penalty and having a 48-yard field goal by redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis blocked at the line of scrimmage.
Florida gave Missouri a similar opportunity just a few minutes later as senior running back Mike Gillislee was stripped and fumbled at UF’s 27-yard line. The Tigers needed six plays to get on the board as RB Kendi Lawrence scored a one-yard rushing touchdown to give his team a 7-0 lead with 6:10 remaining in the first half.
Read the rest of this Florida-Missouri game story…after the break!
The Gators were unable to score before the half but got on the board early in the third quarter. After Florida sophomore punter Kyle Christy booted a 53-yard punt and pinned Mizzou back at its own three-yard line, UF nearly scored a safety but instead forced a punt and took over at the Tigers’ 40-yard line.
Two plays later, redshirt senior tight end Omarius Hines took a hand-off over the right end of the line for a 36-yard rushing touchdown, tying the contest at 7-7 with 9:03 left in the third quarter.
Missouri did not waste much time trying to get back into the game, taking over at its own 25 and putting together an 11-play, 68-yard drive before stalling at Florida’s seven-yard line. However, Gators sophomore CB Loucheiz Purifoy blocked the Tigers’ 25-yard field goal attempt and kept points off the board.
Florida ended another impressive Mizzou drive with a turnover as junior safety Matt Elam picked off Franklin inside the UF five-yard line on an overthrow. The Tigers had moved the ball 37 yards in seven plays, but Elam brought the ball back to the Gators’ 46 to begin the next possession.
Succeeding in converting the timely turnover into points, Florida had to fight for its next touchdown. Sophomore QB Jeff Driskel first hit redshirt senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. for a 43-yard, play-action score, but redshirt junior right guard Jon Halapio was flagged for holding, which negated the touchdown. UF managed to find the end zone two plays later when Driskel hit Gillislee on a short screen pass, which he took 45 yards for the touchdown.
Missouri answered again by throwing the ball down Florida’s collective throat and had a 1st-and-10 at the UF 24. The Gators were able to stop the bleeding with consecutive sacks (one of which was negated by an intentional grounding call) and forced a punt on what ended up being a 4th-and-30.
The Tigers took over again at the UF 45 with 4:31 left, but senior Mike linebacker Jon Bostic picked off Franklin on his first-down throw, bringing the ball down to the Mizzou 41. A handful of plays later, Florida attempted a 24-yard field goal but was unable to convert as junior K Brad Phillips pushed the attempt wide right.
Missouri’s last chance came on the ensuing possession, and the Tigers almost made the most of it. Franklin completed six-of-nine passes as part of an 11-play, 59-yard drive but threw his fourth interception of the game to senior safety Josh Evans with just five seconds left on the clock.
Florida outrushed its visitors 170-99 but only registered 11 first downs compared to 23 for Missouri. The Gators got their penalty problems under control (four for 25 yards) but were also just 2-of-13 on third-down conversion attempts and 0-for-2 on red zone trips.
With its SEC schedule now complete, UF will conclude the 2012 regular season with three-straight non-conference games. Florida will host Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday in a game that will kick off at 12:21 p.m. and air live on SEC Network affiliates.
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press