Five Takeaways: Florida’s offense overwhelms Missouri in The Swamp

After two consecutive Missouri wins, Florida gives the Tigers a reality check in a 41-17 win.
Florida and Missouri get set to kick off at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium before the Tigers' 41-17 loss in Gainesville, Fla. on Oct. 31, 2020.

For a half, unranked Missouri hung around with top-ten ranked Florida.

With two minutes until halftime, the Tigers led the Gators 7-6. While the home team was comfortably able to move the ball down the field, Missouri’s defense consistently held in the red zone and allowed just a pair of field goals.

But Florida's high-powered offense eventually overwhelmed the Tigers in every sense of the word. The Gators rattled off 28 consecutive points as a closely-contested Southeastern Conference showdown devolved into one-way traffic.

“It just wasn’t good enough,” Missouri running back Larry Rountree III said after the 41-17 defeat. “We didn’t play to the best of our abilities tonight.”

The game offered a reminder that Missouri is not ready for the next step

The Tigers traveled to Gainesville, Fla. with high aspirations. Riding high after back-to-back wins against LSU and Kentucky, they were playing a Florida team that hadn’t seen the field since a 38-41 loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 10.

When Missouri went to The Swamp back in 2018, it pulled off a wild 38-17 win against a Florida team ranked in the top 10 –– which also happened to be the last time a visiting team won at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. For as impressive as the Tigers previous two wins were, a victory in Gainesville would be the statement result of the season for coach Eli Drinkwitz’ team.

But over the course of 60 minutes, Missouri showed that it was still not entirely ready to take that next step into the upper echelon of the SEC East.

There were multiple first half drops, including one that would have been a touchdown. Florida’s slippery skill players put Missouri’s defense on skates. Kicker Harrison Mevis missed a 31-yard field goal early on while a fumble on third-and-one allowed the Gators to score twice in under a minute. Ultimately, the Tigers couldn’t overcome mistakes in key situations.

“[Florida] was giving us fits up front,” Drinkwitz said. “We just weren’t able to convert third downs. Obviously, we had the fumble right before half and we dropped a touchdown to start the second quarter which would have put us up 14-6. You got to take advantage of those situations on the road.”

The Tigers did not take advantage of those moments when the game hung in the balance and Florida made them pay. Missouri took multiple steps forward over the past few weeks, but couldn’t take another one against the Gators. Such is life in the SEC, where too many unforced errors will doom any team.

“We just made a couple mistakes that they capitalized on and they made plays,” Rountree III said. “I would say coming out we just looked flat and I think that played a big part.”

Tigers’ defense struggles to contain Florida skill players

With quarterback Kyle Trask, tight end Kyle Pitts and receiver Kadarius Toney, the Gators fielded one of the most talented offenses that Missouri will have to face all season.

The Gators flexed their offense early and often. Trask found Pitts underneath, up the seam and over his shoulder deep down the field. The Missouri defense did well to hold the All-American tight end to just 81 yards, but each reception went for an average of 16.2 yards.

Instead, it was Toney that changed the game. The senior finished with 83 yards and three touchdowns, both through the air and on the ground.

“[Toney] is a good athlete,” Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton said. “We’ve just got to tackle, gotta wrap-up better, gotta gang tackle a lot of different things. A lot of times we were leaving our feet. We’ve got to run through our tackles. They are good athletes in space and so we just got to do our best to bring the ball carrier down when we have the opportunity to.”

No team is going to miss zero tackles against a player as elusive as Toney, but on his first touchdown, Missouri had four chances to bring him down and whiffed on all of them.

Trask will get his yards –– he finished with 345 yards and four touchdowns –– but when a team can’t bring Florida’s skill players to the ground, the Gators will make them pay. That is exactly what happened to Missouri on Saturday night.

Missouri’s defense finally gets its big takeaway

With 13:07 remaining in the first half, Bolton burst into the backfield and threw up his left arm, deflecting Trask’s pass in the process.

The ball fell yards short of its intended target, right into the arms of Missouri cornerback Jarvis Ware, who took the ball and rumbled 59 yards to the house for the Tigers’ first touchdown of the night.

After five games, the Missouri defense forced its first interception, and it was an interception returned for a touchdown that gave the visitors a 7-6 lead.

“I mentioned earlier in the week that we needed to find a way to generate more explosive plays and splash plays to give our offense good field position and get some points on the board for the defense,” Bolton said. “It was huge for us to get a turnover early in the game, it set us up for later on. But again, we just didn’t execute enough down the stretch to win this ball game.”

While the interception didn’t impact the outcome in Florida, turnovers tend to build and boost a defensive unit's confidence. Maybe, just maybe, the big play –– and getting to wear the illustrious black and gold turnover robe –– could be the spark that gets the Tiger’s defense churning.

Drinkwitz shoulders the blame after defeat

Against LSU and Kentucky, Drinkwitz flexed his coaching muscle.

He schemed a flea flicker that went for a touchdown. Shovel passes to the tight ends caught opponents off guard. Well-timed handoffs to receiver Jalen Knox resulted in lengthy gains. For the most part, everything worked out.

But when things don’t go according to plan, Drinkwitz is often the first to criticize himself. After losses against Alabama and Tennessee, he told reporters after the game that he had to “coach better.” Following the win against Kentucky, he admitted that despite what analytics said, he should have kicked the ball on fourth-and-one late in the first half.

After the game against Florida, he once again shouldered the blame.

Missouri’s coach tried to run a trick play that ended with receiver Keke Chism making a throw. There was nobody open and the Tigers lost 15 yards. The shovel passes didn’t work and the pre-snap “window dressing” had limited effects.

“I got to do better,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s my job to call plays that we can execute. It’s my job to put us in a situation to be successful offensively and I didn’t do that tonight.”

Upcoming bye gives banged-up offensive line time much-needed time to heal

Missouri now enters its bye week, and it couldn't come at a better time for a banged-up offensive line unit.

Already a position without much depth, the Tigers entered The Swamp without two of its starters.

Right tackle Larry Borom Jr. didn’t travel with the team after injuring himself against Kentucky. Left guard Xavier Delgado traveled with the team to Florida, but was never healthy enough to play. Left tackle Zeke Powell started against the Gators, but picked up a knock and did not return for the second half.

While the offensive line has played valiantly at times this season, it seemed as if quarterback Connor Bazelak consistently ran out of time in the pocket against a heavy-blitzing Florida defense.

“When you’re mixing and moving around pieces, it’s always difficult,” Missouri lineman Case Cook said. “It takes a bit to get comfortable with the guy you’re playing next to, but I thought the guys came in, stepped up and did a good job.”

The unit now has a week to rest up and get healthy before it faces its biggest challenge of the season against a ferocious Georgia defense.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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