GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sloppy tackling, dropped passes and one untimely turnover swamped the Missouri Tigers Saturday night at Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. And that was just the second quarter.
It was an onslaught of mistakes the Tigers couldn’t overcome against a team that hadn’t played a game in three weeks.
Their roster ransacked by COVID-19 in recent weeks, would the No. 10 Gators be rested or rusty? Answer: Dominant.
A halftime brawl might have been the most fight the Tigers showed in the 41-17 defeat.
“It’s hard enough to get wins in this league as it is,” offensive guard Case Cook said. “It’s not going to make it easier with us beating ourselves with stupid penalties and crap like that. When we get out of our own way we’ll be successful.”
That didn’t happen Saturday.
After impressive victories over Louisiana State and Kentucky, Eli Drinkwitz’s team came to this Halloween matchup disguised as a Southeastern Conference East Division contender. They left with their worst loss of his debut season.
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In Florida’s first game since Oct. 10, quarterback Kyle Trask resumed his Heisman Trophy candidacy with 345 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Tigers (2-3) had no answers for his array of playmakers, especially slippery wideout Kadarius Toney, who caught two touchdowns and ran for another.
The Gators racked up 514 yards of offense, the most the Tigers have allowed all season. Mizzou managed just 248 yards, their fewest of 2020.
“I’ve got to do better,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s my job to call plays we can execute. It’s my job put us in a situation to be successful offensively. I didn’t do that tonight. Bottom line, that’s on me. We’ve got to work hard to get it fixed.”
The Florida defense, missing three starters in the secondary, swarmed Drinkwitz’s offense all night and became the first team this season to make young quarterback Connor Bazelak look more like a redshirt freshman than a poised veteran. When the Gators weren’t pressuring Bazelak off the edge, they were watching his receivers drop catchable passes for would-be first downs. Bazelak, who completed 26 of 40 passes for 208 yards, had been a magician on third downs the last two games but struggled to move the chains Saturday. MU converted just 3 of 15 third downs.
“We’ve got to do better,” Drinkwitz said. “It wasn’t good enough by anybody.”
The most damning drop came on Mizzou’s first play from scrimmage of the second quarter. The Tigers had just taken a 7-6 lead on Jarvis Ware’s interception return for a touchdown, and with a chance to add to that lead, Bazelak uncorked a perfect deep ball for Jalen Knox behind the Florida secondary. But the pass bounced off his hands, spoiling what could have gone for a 73-yard touchdown. Instead, the Tigers punted — and never recovered.
“We left a lot of stuff out there,” Cook said. “A lot of yards, a lot of plays.”
Missing three starters, two along the offensive line, Mizzou didn’t score its first offensive touchdown until 3:18 was left in a game that was all but over.
After Trask’s costly turnover, the Gators (3-1) took the lead for good when Toney turned a screen pass into an 18-yard touchdown. A series later, Mizzou gave the ball right back on a botched exchange between Bazelak and Tyler Badie on a handoff deep in MU territory. Drinkwitz said Bazelak was clearly trying to pull the ball away from Badie to keep it himself, but Badie’s jump-cut in the backfield complicated the exchange.
Florida recovered on MU’s 30-yard line and needed only one play to capitalize, another Trask touchdown pass to Toney, good for a 20-7 lead.
From there, things got ugly. Just before halftime, Trajan Jeffcoat’s late hit on Trask on an untimed down instigated a lengthy brawl between the two teams, leading to three ejections and a heated exchange between the teams’ head coaches.
After the game, Drinkwitz was still unsure what started the melee. He called the situation “an ugly scene for college football.” The second half unfolded without any further incidents, and Drinkwitz and Mullen had what appeared to be a civil talk at midfield after the game. But Drinkwitz still couldn’t understand why Florida coaches and players pressed toward Mizzou’s sideline as the fight erupted.
“I’m sure we’ll find out more (Sunday) when we watch the tape,” he said. “Film doesn’t lie.”
When play resumed in the second half, Florida picked up where it left off with touchdowns on three of its next four possessions. The Tigers had no answers, netting just 1 yard on six plays over their next two series. Mizzou mustered a field goal and a Larry Rountree III touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but by then, all the damage was done.
Mizzou committed nine penalties and two turnovers, and no matter where the fault lies with the halftime ruckus, the Tigers rarely looked ready for this stage against a division heavyweight.
“We just lost our composure,” Drinkwitz said. “Lost our composure and tried to get everybody settled down and obviously we didn’t do that.”