By Adesina O. Koiki
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Interim Florida head coach Randy Shannon stressed to the media before his first game in charge of the Gators that, no matter where any of his players or coaches end up after this season of tumult, it is pivotal to leave a good impression on tape during this final month, in part, for future employment opportunities in college or in the professional ranks.
One can only hope any future employer, in-house or otherwise, ignores looking at the tape of what transpired at Faurot Field Saturday afternoon.
Missouri scored touchdowns on four consecutive drives in the first half – two of those set up by Florida turnovers – as the Tigers raced out to a 45-16 victory over the Gators in Shannon’s first game as head coach of Florida after the departure of Jim McElwain last week.
After Florida’s uninspiring 42-7 loss in its rivalry game to Georgia and McElwain’s subsequent dismissal, Shannon, the team’s defensive coordinator prior to his promotion, made his first major move as head coach this week by announcing Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire as the starting quarterback, hoping to jumpstart an offense that has scored more than 20 points just twice this season. The Gators’ struggles continued, however, generating just 151 yards of offense in the first half while converting just one of its five third-down attempts.
The route towards a rout started on special teams, as Florida senior receiver Brandon Powell muffed a punt, after Missouri’s second drive, which was recovered by the Tigers’ Anthony Sherrils at the 11-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Drew Lock threw a jump ball into the end zone that was caught by 6-6 tight end Kendal Blanton to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead at the 5:56 mark of the first quarter.
Florida mounted a much better drive on its next possession, moving the ball 45 yards before having to punt the ball away. On that punt, the Gators’ special teams downed the ball at the two-yard line.
Any momentum swing that might have occurred after pinning Missouri deep in its own territory was completely wiped out in the next 14 plays – the amount of plays it took for the Tigers to drive 98 yards to take a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, capped off by a Larry Roundtree two-yard plunge.
Florida did respond with a score of its own on the subsequent drive, with the big play being Zaire’s best pass of the afternoon, a 38-yard strike to Dre Massey over the middle. Five plays later, Eddy Pineiro converted on a 38-yard field goal to put the Gators on the scoreboard.
Missouri’s up-tempo, no-huddle spread attack continued to do a number of the Gators’ defense, continuing to gain yards in big chunks while not taking much time off the clock. Lock found running back Ish Witter over the middle of the field for a 15-yard touchdown pass to give the Tigers a 21-3 advantage, capping off a five-play drive which took just 1:47 off the clock.
Zaire’s next pass, two plays after Missouri’s touchdown, was an underthrown ball into double coverage that was intercepted by Sherrills at Florida’s 36-yard line. Two plays later, Roundtree exploded up the middle for a 21-yard touchdown run and a 28-3 lead, effectively ending the competitive nature of the contest.
Florida added a Pineiro field goal on the last play of the first half to go into the locker room down 28-6.
Zaire completed 13 of 19 passes for 158 yards and an interception before being relieved by Feleipe Franks in the second half, who threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to running back Lamical Perine late in the fourth quarter for Florida’s only venture into the end zone today.