No. 11 Florida looks for different outcome against Missouri

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida linebacker David Reese insists things will be different against Missouri this week.

He believes his team’s preparation, focus, effort and intensity will change — along with the outcome. It’s imperative if the Gators are going to make it to a New Year’s Six bowl.

No. 11 Florida (8-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) has lost two in a row against the Tigers (5-4, 2-3), and neither was close. Mizzou outscored the Gators by a combined 50 points in those meetings, delivering Florida late-seasons losses few saw coming.

The Gators hope to end the skid Saturday in Columbia, Missouri, where an early start and 40-degree temperatures await.

“It’s insane to do the same thing repetitively,” Reese said, a senior who vividly remembers those lopsided losses. “We’re excited and we’re pumped up. We don’t care about the weather or anything like that. We just want to win. … If you’re a competitor, then that’s what you want to do. You expect to win every game.

“No matter what happened last week, you can’t change the past, so we’re trying to win right now.”

What happened in the past is sure to provide at least some motivation this week. After all, Florida was noncompetitive in consecutive years against the Tigers.

The Gators were still reeling following the firing of coach Jim McElwain in 2017. Interim coach Randy Shannon made several changes early in the week, including giving transfer quarterback Malik Zaire his first start.

None of them worked. Florida turned the ball over twice in the first 25 minutes, including once by Zaire, trailed 28-6 at halftime and never recovered. Missouri won 45-16. It was the first time in more than 100 years the Gators had allowed 42 or more points in consecutive games.

Players and coaches blamed the lackluster effort on the distractions that come amid a coaching change and an uncertain future.

“Our attitude wasn’t right going into the game,” cornerback Marco Wilson recalled. “Coaches got fired. I’d say we just started giving up, which is not the right thing to do. We knew we weren’t going to win the SEC East or any of that.

“People just didn’t have the mindset of, ‘We still got something to play for, which is that they’re keeping score in the game and we need to win it.'”

The Gators offered no excuses for last year’s debacle in Gainesville, a 38-17 drubbing in which Feleipe Franks was booed and eventually benched. Florida’s defense was equally to blame, giving up 471 yards and allowing 11 of 18 conversions on third down.

“Bitter taste,” defensive lineman Adam Shuler said. “You know, we lost. Not a revenge game, but we lost. That’s how it always is in my head, in our head. We lost last year. Everybody knows we lost.

“We don’t have to tell anybody. Guys know. That’s not our really motivation: just to get revenge; that’s not our whole key this week. It’s just the next big game.”

Florida has its sights set on a New Year’s Six bowl, probably the Orange or Cotton, but needs to win its remaining two games to have a chance. It starts against Missouri, which is undefeated (5-0) at home and winless (0-4) on the road.

The Tigers have outscored opponents 202-58 at Memorial Stadium this season, winning by an average of nearly 30 points a game. They’ve been less formidable on the road, getting outscored 114-52, including 56-7 in back-to-back losses at Kentucky and Georgia.

“We have to deal with the good side of things,” Florida coach Dan Mullen quipped.

Added Wilson: “On the road, they struggle. But then they get home, something clicks with them and they blow teams out. We’ve got to be ready for that. We know they’re going to be hyped up. Home game, weather’s probably going to be weird, so we got to put all the distraction aside and just focus on balling.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.