Florida's defense met its maker in Columbia.
Mizzou demonstrated complete control over both Florida and the SEC East on Saturday, courtesy of a 36-17 victory. While UF's offense continued to show its protection woes (see: Tyler Murphy getting sacked six times), the usually reliable defense certainly didn't help the Orange and Blue's case, either.
Led by redshirt freshman Maty Mauk at quarterback, the Tigers snapped UF's streak of 13-straight SEC games of allowing 20 points or fewer. Mizzou finished the contest with 500 yards of offense, the highest Florida has allowed in SEC play in six years. Saturday was full of big offensive plays for the Tigers, gifted by the Gators defense.
Things looked bleak for Florida's D even before kickoff, as the unit was already depleted by injuries.
Starting defensive lineman Damien Jacobs was left behind in Gainesville due to a head injury stemming from last week's loss to LSU. Though linebacker Ronald Powell made the trip to Missouri, he didn't dress out, as he was sidelined with an ankle injury. Not to mention, defensive tackle Dominique Easley already said farewell to his collegiate career, officially undergoing surgery on his ACL Thursday.
Things went from bad to worse less than 30 seconds into play when safety Cody Riggs was ejected for targeting MU receiver L'Damian Washington. The rest of the day continued to be painful on both sides of the ball for Florida.
GatorZone's Scott Carter cited a disturbing stat for the unit in his postgame article:
The Gators' defense had allowed only one play of 40 yards or more through the season's first six games. Missouri had three plays that long in Saturday's win, starting with Mauk's completion to Washington on the first play of the game.
So who's to blame?
Head coach Will Muschamp sits at the top of the pyramid—historically (and frustratingly) the easiest person to pin the problem to.
Even after the game, Muschamp blamed himself.
“We’re just not a good football team—certainly not today—and it falls on my shoulders,” Muschamp said. “We’re inept offensively. We have a hard time running it and certainly can’t protect very well.”
However, by the same token, Florida's successes on defense over the past few years should be credited to him. Florida entered Saturday at No. 1 in the SEC in total defense, yards per play, rushing defense, passing defense, pass efficiency defense, third down conversions and is tied for No. 1 in first downs allowed.
Moving on down the pyramid to the players' performances against Mizzou. The fact that the Tigers had to replace QB James Franklin with a redshirt freshman making his first collegiate start against the Gators left Florida the favorite. By all accounts, the defense should have feasted on the inexperienced Mauk. Instead, Florida's defense weighed themselves down.
Safety Jabari Gorman (who took Riggs' place) dropped an easy interception in the first quarter after teammate Dante Fowler pulled the QB hurry on Mauk. In the second quarter, nickel Brian Poole missed another opportunity for the Gators, getting tackled on his interception. His pick should've resulted in a touchdown.
For all the missed opportunities and Mizzou's big plays, it is important to remember that the Tigers' offense has been impressive all season. Mizzou entered the game at No. 2 in the SEC in scoring offense and rushing offense. MU was predicted to be UF's biggest test yet, and it proved to be too much for the Gators to handle. The end result should be viewed as embarrassing, just not shocking.
With the blessing of a bye week before the Georgia game, Florida needs to target the problems on defense—it is their best chance at any kind of success for the remainder of the season.
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