COLUMBIA, Mo. — With small clumps of snow still fighting to survive in the corners of Missouri’s Faurot Field, Florida players were in a warmer-than- the-temperature kind of mood.
They did the conga line and sang the fight song and went up the small hill to embrace family members in the stands. Their coach had no trouble finding eager palms to slap from the few hundred fans who made it to a place that has a lot of bad memories for the Gators in a short amount of time.
“It felt good to come back here (and win) after two years ago,” said senior receiver Josh Hammond. “Getting blown out, coach getting fired.”
No, that wasn’t a good day for the Gators, but Saturday was. They put a bow on their SEC season with a convincing — if uneven — win over Missouri.
The Sunday morning quarterbacks can even raise a glass to a 9-2 season with a chance for more.
Running game? They don’t need no stinking running game.
“I know everybody gets all freaked out about the rushing, but I don’t,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen. “I think we ran for some positive yards today. We also ran for some negative yards, but they all count in so everybody looks at the average and says ‘oh there must be a big issue.’ Not really. Right?
“Winning. That’s all that matters. Run, throw, pass, I don’t care.”
Winning is kind of a big deal and for what this team has been through whether it be physical with all the injuries or mental with two tough losses, this has really been an amazing season.
Think about this — how many teams go 9-2 through 11 games when the number of scholarship players available is somewhere in the mid-60s (it varies from game to game)?
“It’s hard to do that,” said defensive end Jon Greenard, who again transformed into an absolute beast with five tackles for loss. “To get to this moment, it really feels good on the inside.”
It should. There is still more to play for, but to get to this point with what Mullen has had to work with would be coach of the year stuff if not for the guy out in the Bayou.
“It’s huge, you know,” Mullen said. “Our guys bought in, our guys have bought in. Next-guy up mentality, guys work. That’s a big assistant coaches deal, assistant coaches are doing a great job of preparing guys and putting guys in to be successful.”
Florida won on Saturday despite a first half where the drives were killed by sacks. Ho-hum. Close in the first half? Been there, done that.
Because in the second half, the Gators did what they have done so often this season. And they won because of two plays that made the difference.
They were both catches, the kind of difficult ones that can be the difference between winning and losing and the kind of receptions we hadn’t seen around here for a decade or so before this staff arrived in Gainesville.
The first came from Hammond, who was running an inside fade. Florida’s game plan was to take advantage of one-on-one matchups and Hammond was matched up on safety Joshua Bledsoe.
He got behind him, but Kyle Trask threw the ball to the outside instead of the inside.
“I tried to put it where only he could catch it,” Trask said.
Yeah, but it required Hammond to make an incredible athletic move to flip his body from running full steam one way to the other.
“I’ve done it a couple of times in the past in practice,” he said. “You get it down. The biggest thing was to find the ball.
“I lost it for a second, but I knew where it was landing. I knew I just had to be where it was going to land and make the play.”
The 34-yard touchdown play gave Florida a slightly-more comfortable 13-3 lead. After Mizzou countered with a field goal, Florida struck again.
This time it was Lamical Perine, the senior running back who hasn’t been able to generate a lot running the ball, but has turned himself into a weapon catching it.
Perine got the match-up Trask was looking for against a linebacker and made a diving catch that required a replay overturn. It was a dagger for a Missouri offense struggling to generate much of anything against a Gator defense that has reacquired its edge.
“Great catch,” Mullen said. “You know, Perine, I think he gets lost the year he’s having catching the ball and the matchups and the problems he causes coming out of the backfield.”
Those two catches were the kinds of catches a really good team makes. And this really good team continues to show a knack for stiff-arming adversity.
Missouri Mystique? Not this day. Cold weather? Not a concern.
Instead, just take care of business and enjoy the flight home.
Like winners do.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.