Gators vow to get back on track after Mizzou


Missouri running back Henry Josey avoids a tackle attempt by Florida linebacker Neiron Ball on Oct. 19. Josey ran for 136 yards as part of the Tigers’ 500 total offensive yards.

Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 9:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 9:48 p.m.

Many strange and unexplainable things have befallen the Florida Gators this season, from Jeff Driskel’s broken leg, to the numerous non-contact ACL injuries, to the failing offense.

But maybe the hardest thing of all to explain is the disappearance of the defense two weeks ago in Missouri. The strongest, most dependable, most confident aspect of this team looked dazed and confused in an epic meltdown.

It was unexpected. It was shocking.

“Yeah it was,” junior safety Cody Riggs said. “We made a lot of mistakes. A lot of things we let happen, we shouldn’t have let happen. We’ve got to correct that. We don’t have any excuses. We just played really bad. We can’t blame it on the offense. We didn’t put them in good positions. They had bad field position pretty much the entire game. It’s up to us to give them good field position so they can score points.

“We just didn’t play well. Coaches put us in position to make plays. We didn’t make the plays we were supposed to make.”

For the defense, its bad day started on the first play of the game, and it involved Riggs.

On a 41-yard pass completion to L’Damian Washington, Riggs’ high hit on the wide receiver was ruled targeting and he was ejected from the game. On the next play, the Tigers beat the secondary for a 20-yard touchdown pass.

The tone had been set. The rout of the UF defense was on.

The Tigers went on to hit big play after big play (on the ground and through the air). When it was mercifully over, the carnage was immense: 36 points and 500 yards surrendered by a Florida defense that came into the game leading the SEC in seven statistical categories.

“It was shocking, but we can only move forward and focus on the next game, which is Georgia now and just try to keep that total yards below that,” junior cornerback Marcus Roberson said.

The Gators, now really feeling the loss of star defensive tackle Dominique Easley, gave up 205 rushing yards and surrendered an uncharacteristic big play on the ground, a 50-yard run that set up a momentum-changing touchdown in the second half.

The secondary was also burned by big plays, giving up receptions of 52, 41, 27 and 20 yards from a redshirt freshman quarterback (Maty Mauk) making his first start.

“Shocked by the performance? I don't know, I think there were obviously things we could have done much better in that game,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said Wednesday. “They hit us on some plays. We needed to bounce back quicker.

“We're going to get hit on a play here or there, especially if you're playing receivers like they've got. We've just got to line back up and go play. And I think at some point we didn't react the way we needed to on defense. That's something that hasn't happened with our group, and obviously we hope it doesn't happen again.”

Durkin said he did not see the defensive players hanging their heads during the rout — or during a bye week last week when the tape was being broken down and corrections made.

“I think our guys are resilient,” he said. “They work hard, and they're confident in what we're doing. I think you'll see it (against Georgia).

"What makes me confident it won't happen again? The way our guys practice, the way they prepare. I think we’ve got guys with great character and guys that are really good football players.

“So, their response these past two weeks and how they're practicing and preparing tells me that you move on. They know what it takes and what you need to do."

Junior linebacker Michael Taylor said the Gators will not give up another 500-yard game. In fact, he guarantees it.

“Very safe to say (that won’t happen again),” Taylor said. “That's not characteristic of us. That's not what we allow and that's a one-time thing. I can guarantee you that won't happen again."

Defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said the poor performance against Missouri has shaken the Gators’ confidence, but not broken it.

“I feel like our defense is still a great defense,” he said. “Once you lose a game or two, you kind of lose your confidence. And all we've got to do is just get our swagger back. I feel like once we get our swagger back, and get our confidence back up, we're going to be back to how we were at the beginning of the season.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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