Most of the headlines earned by the Florida Gators and Missouri Tigers on Saturday night will be for their pre-halftime skirmish, one that produced multiple ejections and is likely to result in multiple suspensions.
But the late hit that began it after Kyle Trask let loose a harmless Hail Mary was maybe Missouri’s best punch in the game. And between Trask and Kadarius Toney, Florida had flurries before and after halftime that kept the Tigers compressed on the canvas in a 41-17 win that wasn’t really that close.
Trask threw for 345 yards and racked up four touchdowns for the fourth straight game — a school record that pushed him to an SEC-record 18 passing touchdowns through four contests this year — and Toney scored three touchdowns on nine touches that covered 83 yards, jump-starting an offense that didn’t produce a touchdown until the second quarter but scored five sixes in seven drives once it did break through.
The primary stretch of success for the Gators came just as the first half was drawing to a close and just after halftime.
With just under two minutes to play in the first half, Trask found Toney on a screen and got to watch his jitterbug playmaker evade a tackle and spring back into stride for an 18-yard touchdown that capped a brisk six-play, 74-yard trot that required just 2:10 of game clock.
One kickoff and three plays later, Florida’s Brenton Cox, Jr. — notably more active and disruptive tonight than in his first three games — pounced on a Tyler Badie fumble, giving the Gators the ball on the Missouri 30; Trask rifled a strike to Toney on the next play from scrimmage, scoring Florida’s second touchdown in 33 seconds of game clock.
Then, after another three and out left to the fateful final Florida possession of the first half, the Gators came out of the locker room after halftime and drove 75 yards in eight plays for another score, this one coming on a Toney sweep around end that he punctuated with a balletic half-spin into the end zone.
Up 27-7 after the subsequent extra point, Florida had effectively swung the game entirely and irrevocably in its favor in fewer than 10 minutes of game clock.
Florida rolled up 169 yards on the ground to go with Trask’s damage through the air — Trask, of all people, led the Gators in rushing yards with 47 yards, most of them earned on two long keepers — and cracked the 500-yard plateau for the first time since its season opener against Ole Miss, tallying 514 yards of total offense on 71 offensive snaps.
And yet it might have been Florida’s defense that made more Gators fans happy on this night. Coming off of three woeful performances and playing without about half of their secondary, the Gators nevertheless controlled the Tigers, allowing just 248 yards of total offense and only three third-down conversions in 15 tries.
Florida allowed just one play of more than 20 yards — though a fortuitous drop likely spared the Gators from allowing a 70-yard touchdown pass — and wouldn’t allow an offensive touchdown until Larry Rountree punched in a five-yard run with under four minutes to play. (Missouri’s only touchdown in the first 56 minutes of play came on a pick-six by Trask, who threw a fluttering ball under duress that Jarvis Ware took to the end zone to help create Missouri’s only lead on the day.)
The Gators’ chances of doing the same sort of work against Georgia in Jacksonville next Saturday would seem slim, especially if they’re without Zachary Carter, who was ejected from this game after appearing to throw punches in the pre-halftime fracas and is now in line to be suspended against the Bulldogs.
But this was the most complete game Florida has played thus far this season — and while it was arguably an improvement in all facets, it was also one that still showed plenty of room for these Gators to improve.