- Florida's season was circling the drain before Saturday's loss to Missouri, but few expected the Gators to look this bad.
Saturday was the latest in a season full of bad looks for Florida. In the first game since parting ways with head coach Jim McElwain, the Gators looked uninterested in even being present, stumbling through a 45–16 blowout loss to Missouri, which entered Saturday winless in SEC play.
These were two teams heading in opposite directions in the middle of the mediocre SEC East: Florida went from the AP’s preseason No. 17 team to the first SEC program to let its coach go in the middle of the season; Missouri was picked in a preseason media poll to finish last in the East but has played better in recent weeks, and with the victory over Florida, the Tigers have a three-game winning streak and a realistic shot at bowl eligibility.
The Gators proved Saturday that they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt from anyone, against anyone, for the rest of the year. Missouri’s offense is good—quarterback Drew Lock has thrown for 31 touchdowns and 2,795 yards this season—but it was also stifled by Purdue in a 35–3 loss in September. And no matter how bad the offense has been in recent years, Florida has always had its defense—until now. The 45 points the Gators allowed was a season-high, eclipsing a mark set last week against Georgia in the game that proved to be the last straw for McElwain’s tenure. Giving up 40-plus to the team sitting atop the College Football Playoff rankings might be expected, if disappointing. It’s inexcusable against Missouri.
Florida’s offensive performance was just as discouraging. Missouri entered the day allowing more than 35 points per game, but it looked like the stout Tigers units of recent vintage against a punchless Florida offense, allowing 349 yards (nearly a third of which came in garbage time) and limiting the Gators to five third-down conversions in 13 attempts. Interim coach Randy Shannon opted for three field goals inside of 40 yards with Florida facing deficits of 14, 25 and 22, and those lackluster scoring drives may have done more harm than good.
Shannon’s decision to start graduate transfer quarterback Malik Zaire, who hadn’t played meaningful time in more than two years and had been repeatedly passed over in the final games of McElwain’s tenure, was a sign of desperation for a team that should be working on development rather than constant personnel shifts. Zaire will play no part in Florida’s rebuild when it hires a new coach this offseason. Feleipe Franks, the Gators’ starter for much of the season, struggled against Georgia before being benched, but that wasn’t nearly enough to warrant sitting him against Missouri. ESPN reported on its broadcast that Franks had complained to interim coach Randy Shannon that he’s better than Zaire—bold words for a redshirt freshman that were proven true on Saturday.
Florida approached Saturday’s game like a team that wasn’t ready to address its real issues and look toward the future, showing an utter lack of self-awareness. Fortunately, the Gators’ official twitter account suffered from no such affliction.
It was a moment of humor in a game that highlighted just how far one of college football’s proudest programs has fallen.