COLUMBIA, Mo. — They have no running game. They have injury issues and a tendency to get off to sluggish starts. They commit dumb penalties and struggle on third down at times.
Yes, the Florida Gators are flawed. They have some obvious warts that many in college football like to keep pointing out.
But, you know what? They’re 9-2 and one of the SEC’s best success stories in 2019.
The Gators made it to that nine-win mark Saturday with the kind of grind-it-out, stay patient performance that this team has become known for this season. This time, UF overcame a slow start and multiple negative plays on offense in the first half to persevere for a 23-6 win over Missouri, snapping the Tigers’ five-game home winning streak.
Florida (6-2 in the SEC) is now one win away from a 10-win season and possible berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Its chance at the SEC East title disappeared later Saturday when Georgia defeated Auburn, 21-14.
It was never easy Saturday, and it certainly wasn’t always pretty, but the Gators found a way to walk away with another team dub.
“You guys know me, (winning) is really the only (stat) that matters,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “You win the game, you’re happy, you go fix your problems. You don’t win the game, you’re not happy and you go fix your problems. That’s kind of how it works.
“I don’t know what all the problems are right now that I’ve got to fix, but I’m really happy. Overall, great win, defense did a great job. You’re playing a team here at Missouri that’s averaging over 40 points a game at home. A team that’s blown out everybody they’ve played at home.
“To come in and hold them to six points was a fantastic effort by our defense. Thought we played really, really hard defensively. Offensively, I thought we played well. We hurt ourselves, and they made plays though, the negative yardage plays really hurt us.”
As they have done often this season, the Gators vowed coming into the game that they would get off to a fast start and take the lead and control of the game early.
But once again, that did not happen. The defense dominated, but the offense failed to sustain drives and find the end zone in the first half. The four sacks of Kyle Trask were a major reason the Gators only led 6-3 at halftime.
But the Gators stayed patient and focused and did take over the game in the third quarter, building a 20-6 lead. The two TDs came on two big pass plays — a 34-yarder from Trask to Josh Hammond and a 15-yarder from Trask to running back Lamical Perine
UF then put the game away with a 22-yard field goal by Evan McPherson with 10:37 left in the fourth quarter. McPherson was a perfect three-for-three on the day, hitting from 47 and 39 yards in the first half.
“We have had a couple of games like this where it’s a little slow start this season,” Trask said. “I think it’s taught our guys just to stick with it. That’s why we’re never panicking, especially in a situation like this when it’s so low-scoring at halftime. Seems like there’s not a lot of positive going on because the scoreboard is so low.
“I’m just really proud of our guys sticking with the game plan. Eventually we got it rolling. Obviously, you want to start a little faster, but it’s good to see us stick with the game plan and eventually getting it going and never panic.”
Trask, again without the support of a consistent running game (the Gators rushed for just 56 yards), completed 23 of 35 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns.
Before the offense started finishing drives in the second half, the game was in the hands of the UF defense. And that’s a good, comforting thing. The Gators shut down the Missouri running game and surrendered only 256 yards of total offense. Over the past two games, UF has given up just a combined six points.
“It was a slow start,” said senior defensive end Jon Greenard, who was dominant Saturday, producing five tackles for losses. “We never want to do that, but things happen in football. That just means that the defense has got to come out there more and keep stopping them. If they don’t score, we win. That’s what happened. Defense did our job.
“The offense, as long as we keep giving them the ball they’re going to make something happen. We’ve got too many athletes on that side for it not to happen. We trust in them, they trust in us and it just all plays together.”
So, there you have it. Another team win. Another typical Florida performance. And a ninth win for a team that somehow keeps overcoming its deficiencies.
“You’ve just got to believe in yourself and believe in the guys around you,” said senior wide receiver Van Jefferson, who caught six passes for 82 yards. “Everybody just came together and it was like, ‘Let’s get it done.’ It wasn’t pretty in the first half, but they’re not always pretty. We got the W, that’s all that matters.”
Missouri drops to 5-5, 2-4 in the SEC.
“Didn’t do enough pass game or run game,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “Converting on third downs, we came up short. Lot of questions. We’ve got answers, but we’ve got to go execute.”
Who: Florida State (6-5) vs. No. 11 Florida (9-2)
When: TBD, Nov. 30
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850