Three things the Florida Gators learned from win over Missouri, with LSU up next

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
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Florida football (4-2, 1-2 SEC) will look to close out a three-game homestand with another conference win when it hosts LSU (4-2, 2-1 SEC) before a sold-out crowd at The Swamp on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN).

"Certainly, when you play LSU, you know they're going to be unique mismatch players on the field, and they've got lots of them," Florida coach Billy Napier said.

UF grades: Grading the Florida Gators against Missouri: No gold stars, but shiny enough to win

Scouting the Tigers:Florida Gators' next opponent: Scouting report on the LSU Tigers

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

The Gators picked up their first SEC win in almost a year on Saturday, beating Missouri, despite being outgained 370-297 yards. Florida won by scoring 14 points off two Missouri turnovers and coming up with a big play on special teams - a 48-yard punt return from Xzavier Henderson, which set up an early field goal.

"We took some steps forward in a lot of areas," Napier said. "Then to finally to make a game changing play with the punt return. Then a good third quarter on offense to try to get control of the game and found a way to win it in the end."

Here are three things the Gators learned from the Missouri game:

Third-down defense remains a problem 

Florida allowed Missouri to convert on 9 of 17 third-down conversions on Saturday, which included a 3rd-and-18, 3rd-and-15 and 3rd-and-22.

"It's all very correctible," Napier said. "Some of it is missed tackling. Some of it is pass rush lane integrity. Some of it is leveraging coverage. And then some we're just not - maybe we're not in a great call here or there."

UF's third-down defense (52.2 percent conversion rate) ranks last in the SEC and 125th nationally.

"We'll go back to work there and evaluate it objectively and try to put our players in better position and then try to get the players to execute much better," Napier said.

Running game can generate big plays

Florida had four runs of 30 yards or more in the second half, led by carries of 41 yards from Montrell Johnson Jr., and 39 yards from freshman Trevor Etienne. Quarterback Anthony Richardson also had 32 yards on a scramble.

Overall, Florida rushed for 212 yards in the second half after gaining 19 yards in the first half.

"Part of the identity of this offense is kind of doing what the defense allows," Florida offensive lineman Ethan White said. "So Missouri in the first half was kind of moving a lot. They gave us different looks. And then the second half (we) kind of just felt them out better and had a better idea of what they were trying to do."

Gators have a knack for winning close games

With the win over Missouri, Florida improved to 3-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, with the lone loss coming in a 38-33 loss at Tennessee.

Florida finished off the game with a defensive stop on 4th-and-2, as pressure from linebacker Ventrell Miller caused Missouri quarterback Brady Cook to throw an incompletion.

Earlier in the season, Florida finished off a close win over Utah with an interception in the end zone from linebacker Amari Burney.

"Your off-season program is where you create these intangibles," Napier said. "I think if you're intentional about - what I say is it's design difficulty. Everything that we do from a training perspective is both physically and mentally, we're trying to design difficulty for the players. It's the only way that you can create growth is to make it hard. Harder is better."

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