GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Missouri and Florida have never been considered football rivals. Maybe that changes after Saturday.
When Florida players appeared to object to a late hit on quarterback Kyle Trask on a Hail Mary pass to end the first half, members of both teams turned a shoving match into a brawl in the middle of the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Punches were thrown before teammates and coaches could defuse the situation, and even then, once the players headed to the locker room, the drama wasn’t over.
Once both teams walked off the field, Gators coach Dan Mullen continued a heated exchange with Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz and at one point had to be held back by Florida staff members. When the melee first erupted, Mullen appeared to go after Mizzou defensive coordinator Ryan Walters on the outskirts of the scrum. Once he cooled down, Mullen had a lengthy conversation with Drinkwitz, surrounded by both teams’ police security and the officiating crew.
After his team’s 41-17 loss, Drinkwitz was still unsure what started the fight. He had his eyes on the pass that fell incomplete in the end zone and missed what initiated the fight.
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“I was sort of running in and saw one of their coaches on our hash yelling at our guys," Drinkwitz said. "Then I saw more of their players join in. And our players joined in. We've got to keep our guys from joining. We've got to keep our guys on the sideline. It's an ugly scene. It’s an ugly scene for football. It’s an ugly scene for college football. And I'm not proud of it. I don't know who started it but … I mean we’ve to got to figure it out. We’ve got to get it fixed.
"It's disappointing. I’m not for that at all. I don't know why they were running over to our hash. I have no idea what even kind of they were yelling about. So we'll take a look at the film. But I'm sure we'll find out more (Sunday) when we watch the tape. Film doesn't lie.”
Drinkwitz said his halftime conversation with Mullen "wasn't exactly pleasant."
Mullen and his players were clearly upset about Trajan Jeffcoat's late hit on Trask, which came on an untimed down as Trask unloaded a pass into the end zone.
“Our guys are going to defend their quarterback,” he said. “Our guys started to do that and then unfortunately … if that's a late hit and there's pushing and shoving and it was going to be fourth down and we had to punt, that’s one thing. But when both teams are leaving the field, you have both teams running off the field at the same time. I didn't see what was going on. I didn't see the late hit.”
"We went out there trying to get our guys off the field because it was getting testy," he added. "We have a big game next week (against Georgia). It kept growing and growing. We're trying to push guys back and unfortunately you’re trying to get in the middle, get the officials in the middle trying to get them to get in the middle, get us in the middle, get their people off, our team off. But everyone's running to the locker and it kind of keep spilling down that way.
“It's an really unfortunate situation. It's not something we condone obviously. It's not something that you really want to see in the game at all.”
Mullen, diagnosed with COVID-19 several weeks ago, had his face covering pulled down as staffers restrained him on the field. Asked if he felt like he instigated the fight by charging onto the field, Mullen insisted he was trying to diffuse the situation.
After he and Drinkwitz parted ways, Mullen left for the locker room only to return to the field and wave his arms wildly to pump up the crowd.
“I'm trying to get our players off the field to make sure … we didn't have issues and have a whole bunch of guys suspended," said Mullen, who wore a Darth Vader costume to his postgame press conference. "We're already paper thin out there right now."
As a result of the fight, Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter and linebacker Antwaun Powell were both ejected from the game, along with Missouri defensive end Tre Williams. Every other player on both teams was assessed one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Several other players were spotted throwing punches, including Missouri defensive tackle Markell Utsey and linebacker Chad Bailey. The Southeastern Conference could hand down fines and/or suspensions in addition to the ejections.
Mullen credited his team along with Drinkwitz and the Tigers for a peaceful second half.
“It just shows the class of both teams being able to come out in the second half and just play football," Mullen said. "Absolutely zero that carried over in the second half.”
Depth tested for both teams
The Tigers played without three starters on offense. Tight end Daniel Parker Jr. and right tackle Larry Borom did not make the trip to Gainesville after both left last week’s game against Kentucky with undisclosed injuries. Left guard Xavier Delgado, who also left last week’s week game early, made the trip, but freshman Dylan Spencer made his first career start in his place. Two defensive players who had been out with injuries were in uniform but weren’t part of the regular rotation: tackle Darius Robinson and end/Buck linebacker Jatorian Hansford.
Javon Foster, who replaced Borom late last week, made his first career start at right tackle. Through four games, Borom had been MU’s top-rated offensive player by Pro Football Focus, with a season grade of 84.2.
Meanwhile, Florida’s defense had some serious depth issues to solve. Three of UF’s starters in the secondary missed the game: free safety Shawn Davis, strong safety Donovan Stiner and cornerback Marco Wilson. Gators kicker Evan McPherson also missed the game.
Rountree gives chase
On the verge of becoming the most prolific running back in Mizzou history, Larry Rountree III couldn’t get untracked against the Gators. Coming off consecutive 100-yard rushing games, Rountree finished with just 36 yards on 14 carries. The senior co-captain came into the game needing 54 yards to match Zack Abron for No. 2 on MU’s all-time list and the most among running backs in the program’s history. Rountree was effective in the passing game, catching a team-high six passes for 26 yards.
Game of inches
It was just a footnote by game’s end, but the Tigers might have missed a chance in the second quarter to extend one of their many drives that resulted in a punt. The offense stayed on the field for a fourth-and-1 play on its own 47-yard line and tried to draw the Gators offside for a first down. At least one defensive lineman flinched and appeared to cross into the neutral zone for what could have been a penalty, but the flag wasn’t thrown and center Mike Maietti didn't snap the ball. Instead, MU called timeout and punted.
Did the Tigers think they drew Florida offside?
“Personally, yeah, but whatever happened happened,” right guard Case Cook said, “and there’s nothing we can do about it now.”