Florida football: 5 takeaways from the Gators' 24-17 win over Missouri

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

Florida football snapped its six-game SEC losing streak on Saturday, holding off pesky Missouri 24-17 before an announced crowd of 88.471 at The Swamp.

The Gators (4-2, 1-2 SEC) picked up their first SEC win since blanking Vanderbilt 42-0 on Oct. 9, 2021, a span of 364 days. It also was the first SEC win for first-year Florida coach Billy Napier.

“It’s definitely a great feeling," Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson said. "We were talking about it all week that we had to get the first one. I’m pretty excited that we got the first one. The energy’s great in the locker room, it was great on the field. A lot of guys were saying, ‘We got to win. We got to win.’ And we finally pulled through.”

Missouri (2-4, 0-3 SEC) outgained Florida 370-297. But with the score tied at 10 at halftime, Florida won on the strength of its run game. The Gators gained 212 yards rushing in the second half after running for just 19 yards in the first half.

"We’re a very capable group but still not as precise and detailed as we need to be in a lot of areas, but we’re getting there," Napier said. " The one thing about that group as you can hear, they’re a very competitive fiery group, right so I think we’ve got the right makeup, we’re growing up some young players and ultimately at some point here we continue to get better,

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Here are five takeaways from Saturday's game.

Jaydon Hill backs up his words

Florida starting cornerback Jaydon Hill said earlier in the week that the Gators "weren't supposed to lose" to Missouri despite the series being even (5-5) since the school joined the SEC.

Florida cornerback Jaydon Hill returns an interception for a touchdown during the first half of Saturday's win over Missouri.

Hill held up his end of the bargain on Saturday afternoon, with two interceptions. The first, a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown, gave the Gators an early 10-0 lead.

"That's something that we are supposed to do and what I said, I had to back it up," Hill said. "And we came out there and we did that.”

Hill came up with another big interception late in the third quarter in the red zone with Florida up 17-10, thwarting a potential Missouri scoring opportunity. 

"The second one was bigger than the first because we literally held them to no points," Hill said. "They could have kicked right out there. Every takeaway is good but taking it away when they are in the red zone it's different because that's points."

An up-and-down afternoon for QB Anthony Richardson

Richardson finished 8-of-14 with 66 yards passing.

He threw a 9-yard TD pass to Ricky Pearsall to put Florida up 24-10 and had a big 32-yard scramble on a fourth-and-2 play.

"Anthony he did enough, did enough to win," Napier said. "His team won today so when you’re playing quarterback, that’s the goal.”

But Richardson also lost a fumble late in the second quarter and threw an interception in the fourth quarter as Florida was trying to bleed the clock. Richardson has turned the ball over at least once in five straight games.

"Coach Nape says that every time we have to post a zero and we’ve yet to post a zero," Richardson said. "So I’m trying to take charge of that so we can limit turnovers as much as possible.”

Run game wakes up in second half

After gaining just 19 yards on 10 carries in the first half, Florida got the ground game going in the third quarter, gaining 135 yards.  

Overall, Florida rushed for 231 yards on 7.2 yards per carry. The Gators had four runs in the second half that went for 30 yards or more, including runs of 41 and 36 yards by Montrell Johnson Jr.

“That helps the offense a lot because it’s a game of momentum and they gave us a lot of momentum at the time," Johnson said. "We just built on it and had a great game.”

A 39-yard run by freshman Trevor Etienne and a 32-yard scramble on fourth-and-2 by Richardson set up a 3-yard TD by Johnson to put Florida up 17-10.

Johnson's 36-yard run in the fourth quarter set up a TD to put Florida up 24-10.

Johnson finished with 86 yards rushing on eight carries and one TD, while Etienne had 83 yards on 10 carries.

"We were just a little more precise and I thought our guys up front did a good job," Napier said. "Good vision. Obviously, you could see the backs, we got it to the second level. And then Anthony made plays with his feet, huge plays with his feet in the game on fourth down, on third down."

Mixed bag on special teams

Xzavier Henderson had a 48-yard punt return, Florida's longest return of the season, which set up a 37-yard field goal by Adam Mihalek to give the Gators an early 3-0 lead in the first quarter.

But Mihalek missed on field goal attempts of 50 and 47 yards later in the game to drop to 1 of 3 on the day and 5 of 9 for the season. 

“They were both deep," Napier said. "I think that’s one thing to consider there. I think I could help him. That’s what I think about. I think I could help him by managing the game there a little bit. We got a couple of two-play sequences there where I could coach better."

Defense bends doesn't break

Florida allowed Missouri to gain 370 yards and convert nine of 17 on third down during the contest. That included Missouri converting on a 3rd-and-9 play in the first quarter and a 3rd-and-18 play in the fourth quarter.

"Third and long, the national average is under 15 percent right," Napier said. "So, when you give up that many there are some things you need to look at, but it’s all very fixable I think.” 

 But in four trips to the red zone, Missouri came away with just 17 points. Linebacker Ventrell Miller came up with big pressure on a fourth-and-2 play that led to an incompletion by Missouri quarterback Brady Cook that sealed the win.

Four different Florida players accounted for UF's four sacks --- defensive lineman Princley Umanmielen, defensive lineman Brenton Cox Jr., defensive lineman Chris McClellan and defensive lineman Gervon Dexter Jr.

Miller was all over the field with 11 tackles, including 2 tackles for loss. 

“I don’t know how many times they got a play that looks like it’s going to develop and then 51 just comes out of nowhere," Napier said. "Ventrell is productive as a player, but it’s more impactful than just the production. That’s the thing that’s significant. I mean, the guy’s inspirational relative to his example, his consistency as a person, his leadership, his presence. He makes other people around him better and certainly that showed up today.”