Gators lose more ground in SEC race


Florida Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy (3) is sacked against Missouri during the first half at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo., Saturday, October 19, 2013. (Doug Finger/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 6:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 6:46 p.m.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — On this offensively challenged Florida football team, the one sure thing this season has been the sturdy, strong, playmaking defense. It is what has won games and kept the Gators in others.

Facts

Three things

1. Florida's SEC-leading defense collapsed against first-time starting quarterback Maty Mauk, giving up big play after big play and 500 total yards, the most by a UF defense since Michigan went for more than 500 in the 2008 Capital One Bowl.

2. Just like a week ago, the Gators could not protect quarterback Tyler Murphy, who was sacked six times, lost two fumbles and had no chance to execute the UF passing game.

3. Two true freshmen were the bright spots for the Gators. Kelvin Taylor rushed for his first touchdown and 74 yards and Johnny Townsend averaged 45.6 yards a punt in his first start.

— Robbie Andreu

On Saturday, the defense let down in a big way.

Couple that with another faltering performance by the offense and the result was a 36-17 blowout loss to No. 14 Missouri, the new team on the rise (and on top) in the SEC's East Division.

“We're just not really a good football team, certainly not today,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “That's on my shoulders. We had a hard time running the ball and we couldn't protect (the quarterback), either.

“I am pretty disappointed that we have not made more positive strides offensively at this point in the season. We regressed again this week. Defensively, we gave up too many big plays. As a whole, as a team, we did not do enough good things out there. It's on my shoulders.”

The loss was the second in two weeks and drops the No. 22 Gators to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the SEC. Missouri, meanwhile, has become the story in the East, moving to 7-0 and 3-0, and building an early two-game lead in the division race.

While it was a feel-good day for the Tigers before 67,124 at Faurot Field, it was nothing but misery for the Gators.

Quarterback Tyler Murphy was sacked six times and the offense produced only 151 total yards, the fewest by a UF team since the Gators gained only 114 against Alabama in the 1999 SEC Championship Game.

The Florida defense, which led the SEC in seven statistical categories coming into the game, was decimated by Missouri's spread offense and redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk in his first career start in place of injured James Franklin.

The Gators gave up big play after big play in both the passing game and the running game, surrendering 500 total yards, the most by a UF defense since the 2008 Capital One Bowl against Michigan.

Muschamp seemed especially disappointed in his defense, which has been such a rock for this team throughout the first half of the season.

“Too many big plays,” Muschamp said. “We need to play better defensively. We need to play the run better, take more pride in how we play on the field. It falls on me. We'll work and we'll get it done.

“The way we played some of the pass game, I can deal with. But the run game, where we had them (outnumbered in the box six men to five), we should not be giving up what we did in the run game.”

Missouri tailback Henry Josey rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown. His biggest run came in the closing minutes of the third quarter, when he broke loose for a 52-yard gain that set up a field goal that put the Tigers up 26-17.

That run, and that touchdown, stole the momentum UF had gained only moments earlier when freshman tailback Kelvin Taylor scored on a 20-yard run.

“We can't let that happen,” Muschamp said.

But those momentum-shifting plays by the Missouri offense happened all day.

One of the most devastating came early in the third quarter. Solomon Patton gave the Gators a huge lift when he returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards to make it a 13-10 game.

Missouri answered with a quick, five-play touchdown drive that was ignited by a 52-yard pass from Mauk to Jimmie Hunt.

The defense surrendered huge plays throughout the game, something that hasn't happened all season.

“Obviously, everyone is disappointed,” senior safety Jaylen Watkins said. “We've never seen the scoreboard lit up on us like that.

“It's a lot of different things. It's on everybody.”

It didn't help that starting safety Cody Riggs was ejected on the first play of the game for targeting.

While the defense staggered all day, the Florida offense continued to pretty much go nowhere. Murphy was sacked six times and lost two fumbles, and completed 15 of 29 passes for only 92 yards.

“It was pretty tough for him back there (in the pocket),” Patton said.

It was also tough in the trenches. The Gators rushed for only 59 yards, averaging 1.9 yards an attempt.

Overall, it was a team meltdown for the Gators.

“It's a down time, a time where we're all hurting,” Muschamp said. “But we're going to be fine. We're going to find something.

“We're struggling in everything we try to do (offensively). We try to spread it out and throw it and can't protect the quarterback.

“We try to grind it out and can't create enough explosive runs. We need to find some answers. Right now, we're not finding any.”

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