Whitley At The Half: UF's defense is carrying the offense?

David Whitley
Gator Sports
Nov 20, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Emory Jones (5) recovers a fumble as Missouri Tigers defensive back Ishmael Burdine (8) attempts the tackle during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Gainesville Sun sports columnist David Whitley provides first-half analysis of Saturday's Florida vs. Missouri game at  Faurot Field, Columbia, Mo:

Who saw this coming? In a game matching two potent offenses and two of the worst defenses in the SEC, we have a field goal contest. But all things considered, it was a good first half for the Gators.

Some of those things were:

They gave up 31 fewer points in the first half than they did last week against Samford.

The defense held Tyler Badie to 19 yards. That’s 190 fewer than he gained last week against South Carolina.

Florida’s defense was focused, flying around and came to participate. That was the big question going in, what with all the drama over Dan Mullen’s job status. That, and the fact it seemed the defense checked out about a month ago. It has apparently checked back in.

•So, where’s the offense that rolled up 70 points against Samford?

Wherever it is, it might have to rely on inexperienced receivers in the second half. Jacob Copeland took a helmet to the knee and limped off. Xzavier Henderson was shaken up and looks questionable. On top of that, Richard Gouraige limped off with an ankle injury. Copeland did come back.

• The Gators were also lucky. After a punt pinned them at the 2-yard-line, Emory Jones handed off to Dameon Pierce, who tried to make a cut but slipped. His left knee almost touched the turf in the end zone, but Pierce steadied himself enough to make it out of safety territory.

Pierce was stopped at the 3-yard-line, though his knee appeared to hit the turf inside the 1. The play was reviewed, but the refs didn’t overturn it.

If you thought that was a good break, it took a back seat to JaMarkis Weston’s punt return. Well, it wasn’t actually a return. He was setting up to block for return man Xzavier Henderson and the ball bounced off his helmet. It could have gone anywhere, but it caromed 14 yards forward and out of bounds. Instead of a turnover, the Gators got the ball at Missouri’s 36-yard line.