Florida defense stymies Mizzou in bounce-back win
Gainesville, FL – Six times Missouri crossed midfield in the second half only to be turned away by a staunch Florida defense.
The Gators, meanwhile, found the end zone twice after halftime on a pair of big plays and came away with a 14-7 victory over the Tigers in the Swamp.
Omarius Hines scored the tying touchdown on a 36-yard run in the third quarter and Mike Gillislee took a pass 45 yards to the end zone for the go-ahead score in the fourth, as the eighth-ranked Gators (8-1, 7-1 SEC) wrapped up their conference schedule with a bounce-back win after last week's loss to Georgia.
Florida, which closes its season with home games against Louisiana and Jacksonville State before traveling to Tallahassee for the annual grudge match against Florida State, can still win the SEC East and play in the conference championship game if Georgia suffers another league loss.
"I took this job fully understanding the expectation is to go to Atlanta and win a championship," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. "We made strides and we are not where we want to be, but we won the close games this year."
Missouri (4-5, 1-5) was coming off its first-ever SEC win last week against Kentucky and lost for the third time in four games. James Franklin threw for 236 yards and was intercepted four times in defeat, while Kendial Lawrence scored the only Tiger touchdown in the second quarter.
Trailing 7-0 early in the second half, Florida pinned Missouri inside its own five with a punt and appeared to have a safety when Lawrence was tackled in the end zone. Officials ruled forward progress to the 1-yard line, however, but the Gators quickly forced a punt and scored two plays after the kick to tie it when Hines broke off his long touchdown run.
Missouri followed with a march inside the Florida 10, but it soon stalled and the Gators came up with a blocked field goal to keep it even. The Tigers then drove to the Florida 27 with their next possession, but Franklin overthrew an open receiver near the goal line and Matt Elam returned the interception 42 yards to the Florida 46.
The Gators immediately had a long touchdown pass wiped out by a holding penalty, but struck again just a few moments later when Gillislee took a screen pass and wove through the Missouri defense to the end zone for a 14-7 lead just under 90 seconds into the fourth.
Florida's defense, though, had to come up big the rest of the way while the Gator offense continued to sputter.
Missouri drove to the Florida 24 on its next series, but went backward from there as an incomplete pass was followed by an intentional grounding penalty and a sack to force a punt. The Tigers again crossed midfield with their next possession, but punted after a third-down pass fell harmlessly incomplete.
After a punt return gave Missouri the ball at the Florida 45, Franklin was picked off by Jonathan Bostic on the first play. The 24-yard return gave the Gators a chance to put the game away, but backup kicker Brad Phillips missed badly on a 24-yard field goal try with 1:49 remaining.
The Tigers quickly moved from their own 20 into the Florida end of the field with under a minute left and faced fourth down from the 21 with 11 seconds to play. Franklin went for the end zone and found Florida's Josh Evans waiting for the Gators' fourth interception of the day to seal it.
"We can't turn the ball over four times," Franklin said.
It wasn't an offensive showcase.
Franklin completed 24-of-51 passes in defeat, while Lawrence finished with just 34 yards on 18 carries. The Tigers did outgain the Gators, 335-276.
Gillislee ran for only 68 yards for Florida, which managed a mere 11 first downs. Jeff Driskel threw for only 106 yards on 12-of-23 efficiency in the victory.
After a scoreless first quarter, during which each team crossed midfield once, the Gators picked up the first turnover of the game when Jaylen Watkins picked off an overthrown Franklin pass and returned the interception 16 yards to the Missouri 19. The Tigers, though, forced Florida backward and Caleb Sturgis had a 47-yard field goal attempt blocked.
Missouri recovered a Gillislee fumble inside Florida territory a few minutes later and converted the turnover into a 7-0 lead when Lawrence scored from a yard away with 6:10 left in the first half.
This marked the second meeting between the teams. Missouri won the first, 20-18, in the Sugar Bowl after the 1965 season ... Florida hadn't allowed a touchdown in three home conference games before Lawrence scored ... Florida has 15 interceptions in nine games, nearly doubling its total of eight from the 2011 season ... Missouri visits Tennessee next Saturday.