GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Missouri quarterback James Franklin was back in the starting lineup at Florida. Unfortunately for the Tigers, he hardly looked like his usual self.
Franklin threw a career-high four interceptions, including one on the team's final play, and the Tigers lost 14-7 to the eighth-ranked Gators on Saturday.
Franklin burned Florida with a few scrambles, but he clearly had less mobility than before spraining his left knee Oct. 6 against Vanderbilt. Franklin missed the following game against Alabama and came off the bench last week against Kentucky.
He completed 24 of 51 passes for 236 yards against the Gators (8-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference), overthrowing open receivers much of the day.
"We just couldn't get any completions," Franklin said in a whisper. "I know (teammates) are trying to have my back, but we can't turn the ball over four times."
It certainly didn't help that right tackle Justin Britt left the game in the second quarter with a serious knee injury. Coach Gary Pinkel said preliminary indications suggest Britt tore an anterior cruciate ligament.
"With the offensive line issues we have, it's absolutely staggering and it affects absolutely every single thing that we do," Pinkel said.
Florida finished with four sacks.
Turnovers and mistakes were much more costly for Missouri, which needs to win two of its remaining games — at Tennessee, against Syracuse and at Texas A&M — to become bowl eligible.
The Tigers (4-5, 1-5) led 7-0 after Kendial Lawrence's 1-yard run late in the second quarter. They could have gone ahead 10-7, but Andrew Baggett's 25-yard field-goal attempt was blocked. Regardless, the team bounced back and was driving late in the third quarter when Franklin badly overthrew T.J. Moe down the middle. Matt Elam intercepted the pass and returned it to midfield.
The Gators capitalized on the error, too.
Jeff Driskel lofted a pass to running back Mike Gillislee in the right flat, and with two blockers out front, Gillislee made one cut and went 45 yards untouched for his eighth score of the season.
The defense did the rest, stopping Missouri on six consecutive drives that ended in Florida territory.
"We had all these plays in the red zone where we just didn't convert on them," Pinkel said. "(Florida) is one of the best defenses in the nation and we've been struggling so much, and even with Justin out, we're still battling. That was one of the best we've moved the ball this year, for sure.
"Hopefully we build on it."
The Tigers had hoped to build off their first SEC victory last week against Kentucky.
Missouri's defense did its part, limiting Florida to 276 yards and 2 of 13 on third down. But big plays doomed the Tigers on the road. In addition to Gillislee's catch and run, Florida tight end Omarius Hines took an end around for a 36-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
"We gave up too many big plays," Missouri linebacker Will Ebner said. "We put this loss on our back because we allowed them to score more points than our offense scored. We're never going to blame someone else. You've got to have each other's back. We shut them out the first half, why couldn't we do it in the second half?"
Josh Evans sealed the victory, intercepting Franklin's fourth-down pass in the end zone with 5 seconds remaining. The Tigers drove to the 21-yard line, but had to try to make something happen as the clock wound down.
"It was really frustrating out there today because the defense was getting a lot of stops on them and playing really well," Lawrence said. "We just couldn't put points on the board. We just wanted to move the ball today, keep the ball as much as we could and put points on the scoreboard. It just didn't work as well as we wanted today. ... We just need to execute more offense in games like this."