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Florida 23, Missouri 6: Gators pull away late to earn ninth win

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Florida dominated on defense and got just enough offense for a road win in Columbia.

NCAA Football: Florida at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators took a while to get up to full speed on offense on Saturday — perhaps not surprising, given that their game against the Missouri Tigers kicked off at 11 a.m. local time.

But when that offense caught up to a revved-up defense, it put away a pesky team that has been a thorn in Florida’s side since joining the SEC East, staking the Gators to a second straight season of nine wins with a 23-6 triumph.

Kyle Trask threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns — both in the third quarter, and both acrobatically caught by Josh Hammond and Lamical Perine, respectively — and Florida’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown for the fifth time this season, with Jonathan Greenard spearheading a spirited effort that amounted to three hours of harassment for Kelly Bryant (25-for-39, 204 yards, one interception).

That defensive effort, which featured strong pass-rushing and good tackling in space on every Missouri player other than the oil slick-slippery Bryant, helped keep the game from ever being out of Florida’s control despite an up-and-down first half for the Gators’ offense. Florida got a field goal on its first drive of the game, but would not score again until midway through the second quarter, when two big throws to Trevon Grimes engineered another field goal.

Missouri’s only points of the first half came on a doinked field goal, though, and the Tigers went three-and-out to begin the second half, allowing Florida to open up a lead when Trask found Hammond on a deep corner route for a 34-yard score.

Florida’s second touchdown came on a drive with multiple calls going the Gators’ way on replay. A throw to Kyle Pitts was ruled a catch for Florida’s tight end on the field and after a replay review despite seemingly being being ripped away by a Missouri defender once the two hit the ground, and Perine’s touchdown was initially called an incompletion before replay confirmed that he had a foot down in the end zone while making a juggling catch.

A final Florida field goal drive — powered mostly by an Emory Jones strike to Kadarius Toney — ended the scoring in the fourth quarter.

And that felt in keeping with the game’s narrative: Florida was better able to find creative ways to move the ball despite neither team making much headway on the ground (Florida had 56 rushing yards, Missouri 52), but its big plays did not always turn into big points.

Still, the Gators’ ninth win gives them back-to-back regular seasons with that many victories for the first time since 2008 and 2009 — and a chance to get to 10 wins before postseason play for the first time since 2015.

Given that Florida’s chance to get to 10 will come in The Swamp against a Florida State team that has not lost in Gainesville this decade, there should be no shortage of motivation for the Gators in that one.