Gators have work cut out for them


Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp reacts to a play against Missouri during the second half at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo., Saturday, October 19, 2013. (Doug Finger/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 6:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 6:35 p.m.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The play came in the third quarter with Florida still in the game. On a day when there were tons of big plays, it was a small one, but it illustrated where this football team is heading.

Quarterback Tyler Murphy threw a short pass to receiver Quinton Dunbar. On his only catch of the day, he fell down for a 2-yard loss with nobody near him.

If anything can go wrong for these Gators, it has. That includes an injury list that seems to grow like summer weeds on a Gainesville median. It’s no coincidence that both Florida and Georgia are seeing once-promising seasons unraveling as injuries continue to mount.

“We’re all searching for answers right now,” defensive back Jaylen Watkins said.

Good luck, because I’m not sure they are there to be found. I told Gator fans in the summer that I liked this roster, but this roster today looks nothing like the one they sported coming out of spring.

Florida was missing seven starters Saturday and lost another 15 seconds into the game when safety Cody Riggs was called for targeting.

On top of that, Murphy didn’t throw the ball during practice last week until Thursday and it showed.

“Any time you miss practice it’s going to hurt you,” said Murphy, who was nursing a sore shoulder hurt in the LSU game.

But while the injuries certainly have contributed to back-to-back losses, nobody is going to feel sorry for the Gators and that includes the Florida fans. Some of them made the first-ever trip here while the rest simply threw things at their televisions and kicked their ottomans across the room.

It’s a frustrating time for Florida fans, and nobody is more frustrated than the head coach of this dumpster fire. Nobody likes getting outscored by the other team’s placekicker, but that’s what happened on a cool, sunny day in Missouri.

“(I told the team) circle the wagons. Right now the arrows are flying,” Will Muschamp said. “I’m going to fight my ass off, that’s what I’m going to do.”

But Dominique Easley isn’t walking through that door and neither are any offensive linemen who can block anybody. Murphy spent a lot of the day running for his life and was still sacked six times, two resulting in turnovers.

Once considered the strength of this team, it has become a liability. Florida tried to move players around, mostly to relieve Tyler Moore of his duties. Moore is a guard who simply can’t play right tackle, but is trying to anyway. Left tackle is a whole different problem.

“We’re very inconsistent up front,” guard Jon Halapio said. “I didn’t see this happening. It’s very frustrating. Back-to-back losses and we had a big part in it.”

Not that there wasn’t plenty of blame to go around. Florida’s once-proud defense was embarrassed, as Missouri racked up 500 yards. They were gashed and gutted, and it was their inability to stop the run that particularly irked Muschamp.

But the fingers will still be pointed at an offense that has scored one offensive touchdown since the Arkansas game. That came from Kelvin Taylor, who had 53 rushing yards on one series and then carried the ball one more time the rest of the game.

We can all complain about the lack of downfield passes, but who would volunteer to stand in there and throw them behind this offensive line?

“I want to spread it out like everyone else does,” Muschamp said. “But we can’t block anybody.”

Can’t block, can’t tackle, can’t cover (295 passing yards for back-up quarterback Maty Mauk, a redshirt freshman), can’t convert third downs (3-of-15). Does that pretty much cover everything?

All this said, I think Missouri is the best team Florida has played. They roll out a plethora of excellent receivers and running backs and may have the best defensive line in the country.

“We’ve got a lot of playmakers,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “And we’re playing at an all-time level up front on the defensive line.”

The Tigers had momentum on their side after a big win at Georgia and a home crowd that had never before welcomed a Florida team to Columbia.

Today, those fans must be wondering what the big deal is about the Gators.

Of course, they have other things to think about, like the potentially seismic shift that occurred in the SEC East. We joked in the press box that Missouri might have clinched it Saturday with Georgia and South Carolina both losing.

But the Tigers are someone else’s problem. Somehow, Florida has to solve its own.

“We’re not a very good football team,” Muschamp said several times after the game.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree with him.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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