Ga­tors home­com­ing harsh again

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By Edgar Thomp­son Orlando Sentinel

GAINESVILLE – This year was sup­posed to be dif­fer­ent.

In­stead, Dan Mullen’s Florida Ga­tors looked a lot like Jim McEl­wain’s for­mer team did a sea­son ago against Mis­souri.

The dif­fer­ence in Satur­day’s dispir­it­ing 38-17 de­feat is these Ga­tors still had plenty to play for this time against the Tigers. Much of the day, it was dif­fi­cult to tell.

Mis­souri en­tered the day win­less in the SEC. Mean­while, a 10-win sea­son and a New Year’s Six bowl re­mained at stake for the No. 11 Ga­tors (6-3, 4-3), de­spite last week’s 19-point loss to Ge­or­gia.

But a week after a gutwrench­ing 15-14 de­feat to Ken­tucky on the game’s fi­nal play, the Tigers pounced on the list­less Ga­tors to grab a 21-3 lead and never looked back, hand­ing UF its fourth loss on home­com­ing week­end in six sea­sons.

“Harsh re­al­ity for us as a team,” Mullen said. “A lit­tle bit of a re­al­ity check for the guys. We might have a lit­tle in­flated opin­ion of our­selves.”

Mullen added his play­ers weren’t do­ing “all the lit­tle things you need to do win a foot­ball game [that] we did do early in the year.”

A se­cond-half quar­ter­back change by Mullen did give the Ga­tors a mo­men­tary lift, but the Tigers’ of­fense and quar­ter­back Drew Lock would not be de­nied in front of a hos­tile an­nounced crowd of 80,017.

Mullen was ea­ger to see how his team would re­spond after ri­val Ge­or­gia elim­i­nated UF from the SEC race a week ear­lier. Re­venge of­fered fur­ther mo­ti­va­tion for the Ga­tors after last sea­son’s 45-16 beat­down at Miz­zou, just six days after McEl­wain’s ouster as coach.

Mullen did not like what he saw from his team, which now has been outscored 74-33 dur­ing the past two weeks.

“Ob­vi­ously a dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mance by us,” Mullen said. “That’s on the coaches.”

Last sea­son’s Mis­souri loss was the low point of UF’s mis­er­able 2017 sea­son. Satur­day’s no-show against the Tigers marked the nadir of Mullen’s first sea­son in Gainesville.

The game also might have sig­naled the end of Feleipe Franks’ time as UF’s start­ing quar­ter­back. Franks has had his share of rough mo­ments un­der cen­ter for the Ga­tors. Rarely has he been worse than Satur­day, when the boos in the Swamp rained down on the red­shirt sopho­more.

Off the mark from the game’s out­set, Franks never im­proved as UF fell be­hind 35-10.

Mullen has stood firmly be­hind Franks all sea­son, but fi­nally had seen enough with five min­utes left in the third quar­ter and his quar­ter­back just 9-of-22 pass­ing for 84 yards.

Red­shirt sopho­more Kyle Trask stepped in and im­me­di­ately led UF to a touch­down, com­plet­ing his first passes of his col­lege ca­reer. Fac­ing fourth-and-goal on the Ga­tors’ 8-yard line, Trask sensed a blitz off his right side and quickly got rid of the ball to a div­ing Josh Ham­mond in the end zone to cut Mis­souri’s lead to 35-17.

Trask’s ac­cu­racy and pocket pres­ence gave fans some­thing to cheer on a de­mor­al­iz­ing day, but his ef­forts were too lit­tle too late to bring back the Ga­tors.

“We were be­hind. I wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent,” Mullen said. “What we were do­ing wasn’t work­ing.”

Sim­i­lar to their start­ing quar­ter­back, UF’s de­fense was no match for Lock and the Tigers (5-4, 1-4).

After gain­ing just 13 yards on its first two drives, Mis­souri’s at­tack found its rhythm.

Ex­plo­sive plays have been UF’s Achilles heel all sea­son. Mis­souri had its share, fin­ish­ing with seven plays 20 yards or longer. UF man­aged just two such plays.

The Tigers’ of­fen­sive bal­ance and over­all ex­e­cu­tion was even more im­pres­sive.

A sea­son after set­ting an SEC record with 44 touch­down throws, Lock en­tered the day with just one in con- fer­ence play in 2018. Against the Ga­tors, the Tigers’ se­nior had three touch­down passes and fin­ished 24-of-32 pass­ing for 250 yards.

Mis­souri’s run game chipped in an­other 223 yards as the Tigers racked up 473, the most al­lowed by UF this sea­son. The Ga­tors have al­lowed 902 yards the past two weeks.

Op­po­nents also are 19 of 32 on third down, in­clud­ing 11 of 17 by the Tigers.

As the fi­nal min­utes bled off the game clock, the Swamp had be­come a ghost town. The Tigers had ruin- ed an­other UF home­com­ing.

In 2014, Mis­souri beat the Ga­tors 42-13 to set the wheels in mo­tion for Will Muschamp’s even­tual fir­ing. Fol­low­ing a 4-7 fin­ish a year ago, Mullen’s first sea­son at UF has been a suc­cess but has lost some se­ri­ous mo­men­tum the past two weeks.

How Mullen’s Ga­tors bounce back will be in­ter­est­ing. Muschamp re­turns to the Swamp next Satur­day with South Carolina.

egth­omp­son @or­lan­dosen­tinel.com

SAM GREEN­WOOD/GETTY

Mis­souri quar­ter­back Drew Lock, left, pushes past UF’sBrad Ste­wart Jr. dur­ing the Tigers’ road win over the Ga­tors.

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