One of the two teams that took the field in The Swamp on Saturday was coming off an entire half without a first down and a defensive meltdown.
That team, Missouri, made the Florida Gators look like that fate had befallen them, and sprinted past the Gators into their beautiful new orange end zones.
Missouri’s Drew Lock threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns, the Tigers ran for another 223 yards and two scores on the ground, and Florida’s offense looked largely listless in a 38-17 loss that dashes any hopes of a 10-win regular season for the Gators and likely dims any aspirations of making a big-time bowl game.
The Gators actually started slightly faster than Missouri, forcing consecutive punts and getting a 3-0 lead on their second offensive drive — which started in Missouri territory.
But Missouri would score the next 21 points, gutting a bewildered Florida defense, as the Gators sputtered on offense, with Feleipe Franks starting his day 3-for-10 from the field. And while Florida did get a touchdown drive sparked by a long Franks pass to Kadarius Toney and ended by a Franks plunge into the end zone late in the second quarter, it would struggle again in the second half, going three and out on its first two possessions after intermission.
When the Gators finally got the ball back after that second punt, the score on the board was 35-10 with five minutes left in the third quarter — and so Dan Mullen inserted redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask for Franks, either hoping for a spark or for a good look at Trask, who had never taken a snap in a regulation game prior to Saturday, in garbage time.
Trask would give Florida fans — and Mullen — something to hope on over his first drive, completing four of seven passes and leading the Gators to their last touchdown of the game, with the remaining crowd roaring in approval at those plays after cascading boos on Franks in the first half.
But an overturn of a bizarre play — in a weirdly-officiated game that saw Florida punter Johnny Townsend flagged for two personal fouls — that was ruled a fumble returned for a touchdown on the field ended any brief threat from the Gators, and Trask was less impressive on his second drive before hitting a couple of throws against Missouri reserves on a final drive.
That likely leaves enough of a mixed impression in his first action in regulation for Florida fans to spend any and all seconds between now and Dan Mullen’s official proclamations about his starting quarterback to agitate for either Franks (9-for-22 for 84 yards and a touchdown run) or Trask (10-for-18 for 126 yards and a touchdown) to be installed in that role going forward.
And so a promising season that seemed like it was being acted out by a Florida team bent on being ahead of schedule and upending expectations may yet dissolve into the sort of frustrating trudge to the end that many feared at the season’s outset.