Missouri chomps Florida 38-17 for first defeat of ranked team under Odom

Senior receiver Emanuel Hall returned after missing four weeks with an injury and helped lead the Missouri offense.
Larry Rountree breaks free for a 27-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of Missouri's 38-17 win over No. 13 Florida on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Emanuel Hall was “knocked out” and didn’t get up for three or four seconds. Kevin Pendleton was helping a fallen referee back to his feet. Barry Odom was immediately listening for word from his eyes in the booth.

The difference between “same old” and “same old” was so slight that it took a replay review, but Missouri got the familiar result it wanted this time. Rather than disaster with a dreaded sense of escalation, it was business as usual – senior receiver Emanuel Hall making big plays.

Florida thought it caught Missouri unaware for a 60-yard freak fumble return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter Saturday night. That would have cut the deficit to 11 and ignited a radical momentum switch. Instead, it was ruled another athletic catch for Hall to help him tally a team-leading 77 receiving yards in his first game back from injury, and Missouri (5-4, 1-4 SEC) marched onward to its first SEC win of 2018, 38-17 against the No. 13 Gators.

It is Missouri’s first win against a ranked opponent in coach Barry Odom’s three-year tenure.

“I guess I have a lot of weight on my back,” Odom said. “It comes with the territory.”

The territory has been a precarious one for Odom. Under his leadership this season, Missouri has failed to deal a knockout blow on opponents numerous times, and it has come back to haunt his team more than once.

Against South Carolina, the Tigers led 17-7 and 23-14 before succumbing to a last-second, come-from-behind field goal. They were seconds away last week against No. 11 Kentucky, too, until a walk-off touchdown completed a late rally from down 14-3. Even against Purdue, Missouri lost 27-10 and 37-27 leads before winning on the final play, and a 21-0 lead nearly disappeared two weeks ago against Memphis.

The devastating loss to Kentucky is what was on players’ and coaches’ minds throughout the week of practice. It had gone from Odom’s most triumphant win at the helm to his most turbulent loss in a matter of minutes. As they prepared to rebound this week, players said they didn’t want to forget the game, but rather use it as motivation.

“That’s a game that you’ll remember forever, and I still will,” offensive lineman Paul Adams said. “But if you let it linger all week, that one loss is gonna turn into two before you know it.”

The turning point to keep that from happening was Thursday, senior quarterback Drew Lock said. He thought the team’s practice was as close to perfect as it had been in a long time. Part of that was a product of Hall being back and at full health. He hadn’t played since a week four loss to Georgia and hadn’t caught a pass since week three at Purdue.

But Lock tried to get him his first catch on his first throw, a deep ball down the left sideline to Hall. It was broken up easily, and Missouri eventually punted. Florida took a 3-0 lead, but Lock went back to Hall soon afterward for a completion on third down to preserve a drive. Sophomore running back Larry Rountree III ran for a 27-yard touchdown on the next play to give the Tigers the lead for good.

After a touchdown pass to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam not long afterward, Missouri had a 14-3 lead and was reminded again of Kentucky by that score. Then Okwuegbunam left the game with a right shoulder injury in the second quarter, and the Tigers were without one of their top threats. The tight end will be reassessed soon, but Odom had no update on him after the game.

Missouri's 21 unanswered points also included freshman Kam Scott's second career touchdown on a 41-yard play over the middle – Lock called it one of his standout moments of the night – and a Damarea Crockett touchdown run that he celebrated by mimicking Florida's "Gator chomp" arm gesture.

But Florida scored again late in the first half to keep Missouri humble and slice the lead to 21-10. The Gators were set to get the ball to start the second half, with a chance to quickly cut the deficit to one score. Even after an impressive first half, the formula seemed all too familiar at that point.

“You learn from your mistakes throughout the week at practice, but you don’t carry them into the next week,” Pendleton said. “That’s a recipe for disaster.”

To avert disaster, the defense maintained its upward trend by forcing a three-and-out to start the half. After it allowed only the game-winning touchdown to Kentucky the week before, its stoic outing against Florida to give up just 17 points reflected the turning of a new leaf. Missouri hadn’t allowed fewer than 33 points in a game the previous five weeks. Now it hasn’t allowed more than 17 in the last two.

“There’s more ownership,” senior defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. said.

The three-and-out opened the doors for Lock to guide the offense on two touchdown drives to put the game out of reach. The latter of the pair was a 5-yard pass to Hall. The first touchdown since his return, it also elevated Lock past Peyton Manning for third place all-time in career touchdowns by an SEC quarterback.

Lock completed 24 of 32 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception.

That final touchdown made it 35-10, and the Tigers weren’t looking back from that point on … except once, almost. That was the near-fumble that Florida returned for a would-be touchdown. After quarterback Feleipe Franks struggled with accuracy through the first half and more, the Gators switched quarterbacks and engineered a touchdown drive to come within 35-17. Lock found Hall for 21 yards over the middle on the ensuing series, and Hall was hit hard as he landed.

The ball popped out and was dormant for a moment. Hall was out for a couple of seconds, he later said. When he came to, he didn't understand why everyone was running in the other direction, or why the crowd was cheering.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, what happened? I definitely came down with the catch,’” Hall said.

The touchdown would've made it 35-24 and built on Florida’s renewed life. It also would’ve been the ‘it’ play if Missouri had gone on to lose. Some players said they got the familiar sinking feeling for a moment as the play unfolded, but Pendleton wasn’t one of them. The hulking offensive lineman wasn’t in position to stop the return because he had seen a referee get “trucked” earlier on the play. He was retrieving the ref’s lost shoe when he noticed the return.

But to him, Missouri had made its point by then: There would be no such turnaround this time.

“I told the guys don’t even leave the field, we were gonna get the ball back,” Pendleton said.

Missouri did, then Lock scrambled for a tough third down soon afterward to keep the drive alive. Tucker McCann would end the possession with a field goal that was more symbolic than anything, a bow on top of a redemptive and complete win.

“The message throughout by our guys, not really by me but by our guys, was believing, then when the opportunity is there go take it,” Odom said. “They went out and did it tonight. I’m proud of them.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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