- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida was able to hang on to beat visiting Missouri 14-7 and finish the season with a 7-1 record in the Southeastern Conference, the Gators’ best since they went 8-0 in 2009.
It was over when: Florida S Josh Evans intercepted Missouri QB James Franklin’s fourth-down pass to WR Gahn McGaffie in the end zone with five seconds remaining. That was Franklin’s fourth interception.
Game ball goes to: Florida’s defense. The Gators’ offense is what it is at this point in the season -- an unproductive group that is struggling to run the ball consistently and has trouble throwing it -- so the defense has to carry the team. And it did against the Tigers. UF forced four turnovers, sacked Franklin four times and held the Tigers to just one touchdown.
Stat of the game: Missouri’s defense played well enough to win this game. The Tigers held Florida to just 11 first downs and allowed the Gators to convert just 2 of 13 third downs.
Turning point: Missouri was driving for a potential go-ahead score late in the third quarter when Franklin’s wildness cost the Tigers again. Franklin overthrew a wide-open receiver in the middle of the field, and UF S Matt Elam picked off the pass and returned the ball to the Florida 42-yard line. The turnover resulted in the Gators getting the go-ahead score on RB Mike Gillislee’s 45-yard catch-and-run.
What we learned about Missouri: The Tigers struggled early in the season in SEC games, but they have gradually adjusted to the way games are played in the league and aren’t going to be a pushover any longer. Missouri was able to gash the Gators on the ground, and the Tigers were not physically outmatched the way they were in September. Had Franklin not missed at least three wide-open receivers, the Tigers could have left Gainesville with a victory.
What we learned about Florida: The Gators’ offense isn’t getting any better. Teams have figured out the way to beat Florida: pack the box to take away the run and force the Gators to throw the ball to win. Florida isn’t explosive enough offensively to do that on a regular basis. The Gators made two big plays on offense -- Omarius Hines’ 36-yard TD run on a jet sweep and Gillislee’s 45-yard TD on a screen pass -- but were otherwise held in check.
Unsung heroes: With buck LB Lerentee McCray out with an ankle injury, the Gators were missing their best pass-rusher. However, true freshman DEs Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard responded with their best games of the season. Fowler had one sack and Bullard 1.5 and helped force Franklin into a pair of intentional grounding calls.
Second guessing: It’s apparent that Franklin is not completely healthy, but he was able to hurt the Gators with his legs, especially when he was able to get outside. Maybe a few more designed runs would have cut down on the turnovers and kept several drives going.
22hAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf
7dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough