COLUMBIA, Mo. — Back in the Steve Spurrier coaching era (yes, that seems like a long, long time ago now), opposing teams discovered how hopeless it was kicking field goals against a Florida team that was scoring touchdowns.
The Gators now know that feeling.
While the Missouri offense was flying up and down the field Saturday, ending drives with touchdowns, the struggling Gators were settling for Eddy Pineiro field goals until the late TD pass from Feleipe Franks to Lamical Perine. The result was predictable — a blowout loss.
“When we get in the red zone we can’t keep getting field goals, we’ve got to get (touchdowns),” interim UF coach Randy Shannon said after Missouri’s 45-16 win. “In that opportunity we left 21 points on the table. We got it down to the red zone. Miscues, things like that usually disrupt your momentum in the red zone.”
The Gators drove the ball and had two good shots at touchdowns in the second quarter.
But Shannon elected not to go for a fourth-and-one on the 21-yard line, sending in Pineiro for a 38-yard field goal. Later in the quarter, the Gators settled for a 36-yard field goal following a sack and an incomplete pass on third-and-15.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Gators had a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line, but running back Mark Thompson was nailed for a five-yard loss and offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor was penalized for a false start.
Facing a fourth-and-goal from the seven, Shannon elected to kick again.
“My mindset was if we can get points (late in the first half),” he said. “If we get points, I know we had the ball in the second half.”
The Gators got points on those three drives. But only three each time instead of six.
Heggie, Zuniga, Perine injured
The Gators had two starters leave the game with injuries in the first half. A third went down late in the game.
Offensive guard Brett Heggie injured his left knee in the first quarter and had to be carted to the locker room. He did not return. He was replaced by junior Tyler Jordan.
Defensive end Jabari Zuniga departed in the second quarter after re-injuring an ankle, but returned in the second half.
Perine appeared to injure his leg on his touchdown reception with only 5:34 left in the game.
The status of all three players is uncertain at this time.
First KOs of season
For the first time this season, an opposing team returned a kickoff against the Gators. The Tigers had two in the first half. Before that UF had been the only team in the nation that had not given up a kickoff return in 2017.
In the first seven games, Pineiro had 30 kickoffs. Twenty-eight went for touchbacks and the other two were kicked out of bounds.
The Tigers ended the streak on the game’s opening kickoff, which was returned by Larry Rountree for 36 yards. He also had a 28-yard return following a UF field goal late in the second quarter.
Toney, Polite sit it out
The Gators were hopeful that playmaking true freshman wide receiver Kadarius Toney would be available Saturday after practicing all week in non-contact drills, but he was unable to play due to the shoulder he injured in the LSU game.
UF also was without starting defensive end Jachai Polite, who injured his shoulder in the loss to Georgia a week ago and also was limited in practice this past week.
With Polite out, the starting defensive ends were Cece Jefferson and Zuniga. To help the depth situation at end, outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon went through some reps at defensive end during warmups.
Starting safety Nick Washington continues to be out with a chronic shoulder injury. His return this season is doubtful.
Wide receiver Josh Hammond was cleared to play after missing the Georgia game with an injured back.
No QB depth
With true freshman Jake Allen back home in Gainesville with an injured back, the Gators were down to two scholarship quarterbacks for Saturday’s game — starter Malik Zaire and former starter Feleipe Franks.
The No. 3 quarterback Saturday was Nick Sproles, a redshirt freshman walk-on from Winter Park who wears No. 42.
Start of the decline?
When the Gators last traveled to Missouri two years ago, Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier’s offense appeared to be on the brink of breaking out with redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier.
But only two days after the Gators’ 21-3 win over the Tigers, Grier was suspended for a year by the NCAA for testing positive to a performance enhancing drug and the offense hasn’t been the same since.
When the Gators left Columbia two years ago, who would have thought when they returned that Grier would be the starting quarterback at West Virginia and McElwain would no longer be Florida’s coach?
That one suspension altered the course of the McElwain era.
This, that and the other
Columbia is a tough road trip for Florida fans, and that was reflected in the stands Saturday. There appeared to be less than 1,000 Gator fans in attendance, including the school’s pep band. … During the pregame, Missouri honored the memory of former team play-by-play announcer Bill Wilkerson, 72, who died suddenly as his home in Florissant, Mo., on Friday. He broadcast the play-by-play for Mizzou football from 1976-93, including the infamous “Fifth Down” game in 1990. Referees mistakenly gave Colorado an extra play, which they used to score a touchdown and defeat the Tigers 33-31. Wilkerson was also the play-by-play announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1973 until 1987, when the team moved to Phoenix.