Florida vs. Missouri, Rapid Recap: The anatomy of an escape

Sam Greenwood

Florida's 14-7 win over Missouri was closer than expected, and tenser than necessary. But the Gators got to 8-1 with defense and special teams, as usual.

Florida beat Missouri, 14-7, on Saturday. You can relive the game through our Game Thread. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, our first look before a second viewing, comes first.

With maybe 80,000 people in attendance for a noon game, Florida fans matched their Gators' propensity for underwhelming play on Saturday. But big-play defense and just enough offense were the difference for the Gators on this Saturday, as they have been on so many others this fall.

How Florida Won

Josh Evans' interception. Florida took a 14-7 lead early in the fourth quarter on a gorgeous screen pass to Mike Gillislee, but was unable to add to it or truly shut down the Missouri offense until James Franklin overthrew a receiver in the end zone, depositing a ball into the waiting arms of Evans, playing center field in the end zone, with less than 20 seconds to go in the game.

Outstanding

The secondary. Dorial Green-Beckham is a freak of nature who had six catches for 73 yards. Take him out of the equation, because no secondary can cover him adequately with man coverage (though, well, hat's off to Will Muschamp for trying), and I thought Florida's defensive backs did an excellent job against Missouri's receivers, covering them well on deep balls and underneath throws alike.

Adding in a couple of broken tackles (Jaylen Watkins got matador'd, Loucheiz Purifoy tried to whip someone down and failed to ground him) and bad angles, that rating goes back to "very good." But add the three interceptions, all of which either ended a drive in Florida territory or put the Gators in position to score, and it's hard not to call what the Gators did outstanding. Franklin aided it immensely with some terrible throws, but Florida's players still had to grab and run with the picks.

This is a very good secondary, despite the size disadvantages it will always have until bigger players arrive and despite the relative lack of depth (Florida rotates nine defensive linemen at four positions, and plays six defensive backs at six). It'll take a hit when Matt Elam and Evans are gone after this season, but it's been fun to watch this unit perform beyond expectations this year, and with a slew of young players behind the top line, it's likely to get better than it is now eventually.

Josh Evans. Worth singling out as the outstanding member of the secondary, because a) outshining Matt Elam, the best Florida safety since Reggie Nelson, is tough and b) Evans had 12 tackles, a career high. Evans was a scapegoat throughout 2011 for poor angles and poor form, but he's improved more than anyone else on a defense that has gotten better at virtually every position over the past year, and looks far more like a potential fringe NFL Draft pick than the liability he was.

Mike Gillislee. Sure, Florida's only consistent offensive option fumbled for the first time in 2012. Sure, his 4.3 yards per carry weren't stunning. But Gilly also made a beautifully drawn-up screen pass a scoring play with a smart cut to the middle instead of one to the outside, and got a lot of his 68 rushing yards after contact and with little blocking.

He's among the best running backs in the SEC, and the 1,000-yard plateau is 203 yards away despite South Carolina and Georgia keeping him more or less in check. And neither Mack Brown nor Matt Jones has Gillislee's agility or burst, at least not yet, so Gilly's ability to stay (mostly) healthy with a significant workload is worth lauding.

Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler. Fowler getting a sack has been part of my predictions pieces for a solid month not because I'm optimistic, but because it was inevitable: He's capable of imposing his will and has a great motor, two things that aren't common among freshmen in the SEC separately, much less together. He was great on Saturday, with two tackles for loss and a sack.

Bullard was almost as good, with 1.5 of each, and has emerged as a near-complete backside end who hasn't seemed like a freshman ... ever? Between the two of them, I'm very, very excited to see Florida's line develop over the next two years.

Sharrif Floyd. Florida's ends were able to be productive because Floyd had his best game of the season on Saturday, occupying multiple blockers and clogging the middle en route to three tackles for loss. Floyd still isn't even a particularly good pass-rusher from the defensive tackle spot, but he's a bear, and bears don't have to lope after prey to be dangerous: Getting their paws on you is enough.

Encouraging

Brent Pease's flashes of creativity. Florida scored its first touchdown because Pease picked the right moment and the right player, and gave Omarius Hines the same scoring chance that got scuttled against Georgia on a similar sweep; this time, Hines, smooth as can be, followed blocks perfectly and burst through a massive hole for the score.

The deep pass to Hammond was a great call for play action; the screen pass to Gillislee was well-designed and well-called. When Pease is aggressive (which isn't often enough, frankly), he tends to put players in position to make plays. Whether they do or don't is really not under his control.

Jeff Driskel. Driskel wasn't sacked, didn't get intercepted, and only fumbled out of bounds on the sideline. He only completed 12 of 23 passes, and had a couple of overthrows, but he made a perfect throw on the Hammond touchdown that came back, and made good throws that only his receivers could get to early.

Driskel's legs still work, too, and he ran for 31 yards with the aid of a well-called bootleg late. Florida's got a far better offense with Driskel's versatility than it has had since Tim Tebow, because Driskel helps to mitigate serious offensive line issues in a way John Brantley (or Jacoby Brissett) never could.

Loucheiz Purifoy. Purifoy's coverage was very good on the day, a nice bounce back from being picked on and burned late by Georgia, but his playmaking on special teams remains his selling point. Coming off the edge to block a field goal is his latest exploit, and the sort of thing that makes expecting him to change games on fourth downs almost reasonable and makes his typical brilliance in punt coverage (he made a backpedaling grab to down a punt at the 5) almost forgettable. If you need a go-to name for the old "Make your name on special teams, and turn into something," use Louchie Lou's.

Omarius Hines. Hines shouldn't be on returns; his hands are not good enough and his agility not on par with Florida's shifty defensive backs. But he needs several offensive touches per game, because all he does is make big plays when he does have the ball, and his sweep for a TD was no different. It's been a long time coming for Hines, and few Gators deserve success and its spoils more than the fifth-year senior; with Solomon Patton out and Andre Debose on the outs, he should have ample opportunity to help smith wins.

Both Good and Bad

Jordan Reed. Reed had three catches, which led the Gators, but only 16 yards, which was unspectacular. It's odd to see Reed struggle to make an impact on a game like that, but he's proved time and again that he's Florida's most reliable option in the passing game.

Florida's linebackers. Jelani Jenkins, who has been superb when healthy, had seven tackles and a sack. Jon Bostic had seven tackles and a pick. The only other Florida linebacker to record a defensive statistic was Neiron Ball, who had a quarterback hit. Two-thirds of a great unit does not a great unit make, and the flashes that Michael Taylor and Antonio Morrison have showed have not turned into anything more; on one hand, that's troubling, but on the other, it means that Florida's incoming freshman crop of linebackers, a very good one, is going to have ample opportunity to play its way onto the field.

Kyle Christy. Christy was not his Ray Guy-worthy best on Saturday, shanking one punt for 19 yards, only truly burying Mizzou twice (once on an insanely fortuitous roll), and giving Marcus Murphy a couple of chances to do damage. I expect this to be a blip.

Needs Improvement

Brent Pease's conservatism. Twice in the fourth quarter, with a 14-7 lead, Florida's offense went three-and-out with run-run-pass sequences that produced third and four and third and eight. Later, in the red zone, Florida played for a field goal that Brad Phillips would miss instead of grinding toward a touchdown that would have made everything after it academic. Pease (and maybe Muschamp, if he has any input on the objects of drives) will have these occasional mulish series, and they're never fun. They haven't been fatal yet, and won't be in the next two weeks, but it'd be nice to avoid them against Florida State and Florida's bowl opponent.

Offensive line. Driskel didn't get sacked, but he absolutely should've been twice on plays that saw him get rid of the ball at the last possible second. Gillislee wasn't completely muted, but that has way more to do with him than the line. Simply put, Florida's offensive line hasn't been good for the last two weeks after being average to good for the first seven games.

Xavier Nixon's absence had something to do with that on Saturday (he's bigger than D.J. Humphries, who spelled him admirably and still has all the potential in the world), and injuries that have made it difficult to run "God's play" and do other strange things effectively. But there's no overpowering being done up front and little running up the middle, and there's not nearly enough pass blocking to air it out.

Receivers. Florida got three catches by wide receivers on the opening drive on Saturday, with Trey Burton, Frankie Hammond, and Quinton Dunbar each hauling in a pass. Florida wideouts had four catches for the rest of the day, and that's only if you include Hines as a wide receiver. I don't believe Florida completed a single pass to a receiver on which the ball traveled more than seven yards in the air, and that's not on Driskel and largely not on the line (though the line wiped out the only deep pass that did get completed): It's on a group of receivers that does not scare anyone but Gators fans.

Overpursuit. Florida had issues early with James Franklin scrambling and with cutbacks on sweeps, and the issues were rooted in overpursuit that the Gators had mostly excised from their play. Sometimes, when the offensive line is giving you something, it's because they want you to have it.

Caleb Sturgis' health. Get well soon.

Embarrassing

My fellow students. I'll cop to having been slow to go get my ticket and almost late to the game on Saturday (for some reason, traffic on 8th was worse yesterday than it has been at any other point this season), but I was there to see kickoff and stayed until 0:00 in the fourth quarter. Thousands of students were not.

That's from about 15 minutes before kickoff.

And that was maybe a few seconds before or after kickoff, I can't remember.

If you're going to a football game, you should go for the whole game. If you leave an event you paid money for, you should either need or need to provide medical attention, or be so disgusted with what's happening that you can't bear to watch any more. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the students who came and left weren't in those two categories for the most part.

The bigger worry is the thousands of students who didn't come. There were many, many student tickets not even picked up, and surely plenty more than went unused, and this was for an SEC game involving a No. 7 Florida team. What's it going to be like next weekend, for Louisiana(-Lafayette)? For a Jacksonville State game that isn't even homecoming? There's always been a good argument that student tickets should be more expensive, and now there's a good argument to be made that there should be fewer student tickets sold and more allocated to alumni and the general public.

Remember, when you complain about the changes that are eventually made, that they were justified by days like this one.

That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments all day.

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