GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The low point for Florida last season came 1,000 miles from home in Columbia, Missouri.
The Gators had just parted ways with Jim McElwain, promoted defensive coordinator Randy Shannon to interim head coach, switched starting quarterbacks, made several more changes and went on the road believing they would end a three-game losing streak in the Southeastern Conference.
The Tigers had other thoughts, moving the ball at will, amassing 455 yards and thumping Florida 45-16 for their first league victory in five games.
“Those guys really beat up on us pretty bad,” receiver Josh Hammond recalled. “We had a lot of other things going on. Guys were just not focused mentally throughout the week last year for preparation for Missouri. …
“The one thing about SEC ball is you play those guys every year, and I think a lot of guys remember that loss and remember the feeling.”
No. 13 Florida (6-2, 4-2 SEC, No. 11 CFP) is counting on a much better performance against Missouri (4-4, 0-4) in the Swamp on Saturday.
Coming off a 36-17 loss to Georgia that eliminated the Gators from SEC East contention, they turned their attention toward their final four regular-season games and reaching double-digit wins for just the third time in the last nine years.
“We want to finish out the season strong,” defensive tackle Khairi Clark said. “We just lost this big game, messed up a lot for us. But at the same time, we can’t dwell on it. We’ve just got to move on and try to win the rest of these games.”
Missouri would like to get its first league win.
The Tigers lost a heartbreaker at home last week to Kentucky, rallying from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter before losing on a touchdown pass on the final play — an untimed down that followed a questionable pass-interference penalty.
“Our kids have responded great,” coach Barry Odom said.
Both teams hope to get more from their quarterbacks.
Drew Lock picked apart Florida’s secondary in 2017, throwing for three touchdowns, but the projected first-round draft pick hasn’t fared nearly as well against SEC defenses this season. Lock has completed 50 percent of his passes for 732 yards, with one touchdown and five interceptions, in losses to Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky.
Florida’s Feleipe Franks has been more efficient, although he has six turnovers in the last four games.
Franks has thrown an interception in four straight games and lost fumbles in the last two.
“There’s just one or two plays I’d like to have back, especially like the turnovers, just silly mistakes like that that they’re not like me,” Franks said. “That’s just something I need to fix.”
Some other things to know about when Missouri plays at Florida on Saturday:
The Tigers looked like one of the best defenses in the league last week, especially against the run. Led by three experienced linebackers, including sophomore captain Cale Garrett, they held Kentucky to 91 yards on the ground and 2.6 yards a carry. Florida is at its best when it’s able to run the ball with Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine. The Gators scored a combined 46 points in the three games (Kentucky, Mississippi State, Georgia) in which they failed to gain 200 yards on the ground.
Florida has just two sacks in its last two games, a concern for a team that notched six against Mississippi State and five against LSU. Getting to Lock is part of the game plan, but Mizzou ranks second in the SEC and 19th nationally in sacks allowed (1.25/game). The Tigers have five returning offensive line starters who could pose problems for Florida pass-rushers Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga. Polite and Zuniga have combined for 17 1/2 tackles for loss, including 11 1/2 sacks this season.
The Gators are playing the first in a three-game homestand in November. It’s a stretch that will determine which bowl they land and how many “stadiums” they have to run in the offseason . First-year coach Dan Mullen makes his team run the Florida Field steps for each home loss. The Gators already have one ahead and don’t want another.
It’s Florida’s homecoming. The Gators are 25-4 in homecoming games since 1989, including a 40-14 victory against Missouri in 2016.
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