Missouri defense unable to overcome offense's struggles

The Tigers held Florida to 56 rushing yards and allowed two touchdowns.
Defensive lineman Markell Utsey grabs Florida quarterback Emory Jones during Missouri's 23-6 loss to the Gators on Nov. 16. Photo by Andrew Moore

With under seven minutes left in the second quarter and his team up by three points, Florida running back Dameon Pierce took the handoff from quarterback Kyle Trask and had nowhere to go.

Missouri defensive tackle Jordan Elliott closed off any gap to stop Pierce for no gain. The crowd of almost 60 thousand at Faurot Field roared as the Tiger defense ran off the field. Florida was forced to punt, and the offense received the ball after the crucial stop.

On the field for just over two minutes, the Missouri offense ran three plays, two of which went for zero or negative yards, and punted the ball back to Florida. After just a short break, the defense had to get back to work.

The process became a familiar one for Missouri as the offense put up single-digit points for the third straight week and another solid defensive performance was wasted as the Tigers’ losing streak grew to four games.

“We’re there for our offense,” safety Khalil Oliver said. “If they’re struggling, we’ve got them. If we’re struggling, they’ve got us. We’re not concerned if they’re doing bad. We’re just ready to go out there, and we need to do our job to get them the ball.”

Throughout the game, Missouri’s defensive steadiness was followed up by its offensive inability. Florida converted on just three of 14 third downs; Missouri was almost as bad at 5-18. The Tigers held Florida to just 56 yards on the ground, a number they couldn’t match, running for just 52.

“With that type of stuff, we actually enjoy that,” defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside said. “We want to be the reason why everything’s going good, so it makes us want to grind harder, push us, take us an extra step forward.”

Elliott was also unconcerned with the offense’s struggles.

“It’s just one of those things where you gotta do what you gotta do,” he said. “Put your hardhat on and go to work.”

Missouri’s strong defensive performance started at the line. Whiteside sacked Trask for a loss of eight to stifle Florida’s first drive of the game after two first downs. Whiteside picked up his second on the next series. Elliott and redshirt junior defensive end Tre Williams also chipped in one apiece.

“We had things we can improve on, so we’re gonna try to build on that for this next week,” Elliott said. “But other than that, today was a great job for the whole unit.”

While the defense did enough to stop Florida on a mostly consistent basis, it wasn’t able to take the ball away even though it had opportunities. Sophomore linebacker Nick Bolton saw a ball bounce off his hands with no one standing between him and the end zone. Oliver thought he had an interception in the third quarter, but the play was ruled a catch, with Oliver and Florida receiver Kyle Pitts seeming to each have hands on the ball as they went to the ground.

“That was crazy, man,” Elliott said. “In my opinion it was a pick.”

As many opportunities as the defense had to take the ball away, the zero turnovers it was able to produce is one of the biggest differences between recent games and its five-game winning streak, when it forced 11 turnovers.

“As a defense, you always want to get off the field, so it’s not as much of a frustration, but to get the takeaways, it helps the team tremendously,” cornerback Christian Holmes said. “We came together as a unit, and preached and preached about getting takeaways, so when I look at myself in the mirror, I didn’t get a takeaway today. That looks bad on the team.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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