The chances for No. 11 Florida to reach the SEC title game in Atlanta took a severe blow when rival Georgia knocked off the Gators last Saturday in Jacksonville.
But first-year Florida coach Dan Mullen is trying to make sure the dispirited Gators don’t lose their edge when they return home for their homecoming game against Missouri.
“Every game, win or lose, it’s how you respond and continue to go during the season,” Mullen said. “So, it’ll be interesting to see now. Our first loss of the season, I think we handled it really well. Then we started handling success pretty well and now we want to see how we handle this adversity.”
Florida (6-2, 4-2 SEC) won five straight after its first loss of the season against Kentucky. But that streak came to an end in a 36-17 loss to the Bulldogs. Florida led 14-13 early in the third quarter but couldn’t overcome three turnovers and breakdowns in pass coverage in the second half against the Bulldogs.
Missouri (4-4, 0-4) is also trying to overcome adversity. The Tigers are coming off a heartbreaking 15-14 loss to Kentucky, coughing up a 14-3 lead with less than six minutes left and giving up a touchdown with no time left on the clock after a controversial pass interference penalty in the end zone.
This is the time for the Tigers to bring out offensive coordinator Derek Dooley’s favorite acronym: FIDO. There might be variations on the first letter, but it stands for “Forget it, drive on.”
“That’s the mentality that we have right now,” Tigers quarterback Drew Lock said in the Missourian.
The Tigers need Lock to drive the offense, which has just 24 points in the past two SEC games (Alabama, Kentucky). Lock was 15 of 27 for 165 yards and no touchdowns against the Wildcats.
“The defense played their (butts) off,” Missouri offensive lineman Paul Adams said on Tuesday.
“I cannot even express and tell them how much good they did on Saturday. It was unbelievable. If they play like that the rest of the season, we’re going to win a lot of games. I’m very proud of them. But on the offensive side, we need to pick it up.
“We had eight straight three-and-outs. Unacceptable. It’s bad.”
Things won’t get easier against Florida, which is 20th nationally in scoring defense (19.0 points per game) and 12th nationally in pass defense, allowing 170.1 yards per game. Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham likely will dial up pressure to keep Lock, the top-rated senior quarterback prospect according to NFLDraftScout.com, off balance.
As for Florida’s quarterback, redshirt sophomore Feleipe Franks accounted for two of UF’s three turnovers against Georgia on an interception and a lost fumble. Franks also missed a wide-open Van Jefferson throw on a flea-flicker play on Florida’s first offensive play that could have been a touchdown.
That was a step back in his development, but Franks has still had a solid season with a TD-to-interception ratio of 16-to-6. It will be curious to see how he bounces back against Missouri.
“We’ve seen it in flashes with him in how he grows,” Mullen said. “I think he’s grown with learning how to prepare within a game.”
Florida safety Brad Stewart did not play against Georgia for undisclosed reasons after starting the previous five games and leading the team with two interceptions. Early this week, Mullen would not confirm or deny if Stewart was suspended, or if he would play this week.
The Tigers could get back wide receiver Emanuel Hall, who has played in only four games because of a groin injury. He was still limited in practice on Tuesday, but Odom said Hall thinks he can play in the final four regular-season games. Hall caught 18 passes for 430 yards and three TDs in the first four games.
“I’ve got holy water up in the office,” Odom said. “I’m going to throw it on him.”