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Gators notebook: Florida short-handed vs. Missouri

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Walk-on Chris Howard made two field goals and all five extra points for the Gators in place of unavailable Evan McPherson.

Florida wasn’t expected to be at full strength come kick-off against Missouri, and the full announcement of unavailable players confirmed as much, although the final count paled in comparison to UF’s prior list of COVID-affected players. 

The Gators announced 15 players would be unavailable for Saturday's contest, including much of the defensive backfield.

Florida’s starting secondary was without Marco Wilson, Donovan Stiner and Shawn Davis for the contest, along with reserves Chester Kimbrough and Avery Helm. Brad Stewart was announced as the starter at the Star position in Wilson’s place, with Rashad Torrence and Trey Dean moving to safety in place of the starters. Jaydon Hill and Kaiir Elam started at cornerback. Included in the list were two former players in CJ McWilliams, who sources indicated opted out after Florida’s win at Ole Miss, and Quincy Lenton, who entered the transfer portal two weeks ago.

On Tuesday, Florida announced 37 positive COVID-19 tests for the month of October, resulting in more than 55 scholarship players quarantining and isolating over the past two weeks. Regardless, as Mullen indicated would be the case, the Gators were able to field a 53-man roster against the Tigers despite the missing pieces.

Gators walk-on kicker steps up

The story of the first quarter wasn’t Florida’s ongoing COVID-19 situation, nor was it necessarily either team’s offense or defense. Instead, it was Gators walk-on kicker Chris Howard. 

The redshirt junior from Ponte Vedra, making the start in place of the unavailable Evan McPherson, provided Florida’s only points in the first quarter — a pair of field goals from 28 and 32 yards, respectively. Howard joined the team in 2017 and had yet to attempt a field-goal prior to Saturday’s performance, although he was 4-for-4 on extra-point attempts in 2019. Despite the absence of McPherson, the Gators showed in the first quarter they have plenty of trust in his back-up. 

“I learned Sunday morning I would be starting. With all the false positives and stuff, I didn’t know what to expect,” Howard said. “I was just super excited, man. As soon as I got the news, I’ve been waiting for four years now to really start a game, and I was just overwhelmed with joy.”

KT goes crazy

Kadarius Toney continued his strong season Saturday in the first half against Missouri. 

The Eight Mile, Alabama, native, wearing the highly coveted No. 1 jersey for UF, hauled in both of Florida’s second-quarter touchdowns as the Gators went from trailing 7-6 to holding a double-digit lead at halftime. 

The first, a 17-yard reception, saw Toney shed multiple defenders en route to the end zone, while the second, a 30-yard grab, saw him create space in the coverage for Kyle Trask to deliver a strike near the goal line. 

Toney finished the first half with four receptions for 60 yards as Florida took a 20-7 lead into the halftime break, and he didn’t slow up in the second half. He added a third touchdown in the third quarter, this one on a 16-yard rush, to cap his scoring for the night. 

Shorter finds end zone for first time

Former five-star recruit Justin Shorter accomplished something Saturday that many highly ranked prospects of his caliber take for granted: his first collegiate touchdown. 

Shorter, who transferred from Penn State in the offseason, hauled in a two-yard reception to put Florida up 34-7 as the third quarter came to a close. He’d appeared previously in 11 games for the Nittany Lions, hauling in 12 receptions for 137 yards. 

Talk about a knock-out celebration. 

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask was hit on the arm by freshman Nick Bolton as he was throwing, resulting in a pick-6 by Jarvis Ware. The play turned the tide quickly, giving the Tigers the 7-6 lead following the extra point, and Mizzou made sure to celebrate the lead in style. Ware adorned a boxing robe — the “Turnover Robe” per Missouri’s social media accounts — on the sideline as he celebrated the defensive touchdown. Fans have seen turnover chains and backpacks in recent seasons, but a boxing robe is unprecedented.