Florida begins 4-game stretch to define season
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Will Muschamp gathered his seniors together Monday for a brief tutorial.
It had nothing to do with the gut-wrenching loss to LSU, the upcoming game against Missouri or anything the Gators have done right or wrong this season.
It was all about the Southeastern Conference’s muddled Eastern Division — and Florida’s position in it.
Muschamp showed his seniors their remaining schedule and compared it to everyone else’s in the division. He made it clear that the other teams in contention — Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee — would gladly change places with Florida (3-2, 2-2 SEC) down the stretch.
Florida begins the all-important, four-game slate Saturday night against Missouri (4-2, 1-1). The Gators also play Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina to wrap up conference play.
“We have everything in front of us,” Florida running back Matt Jones said. “They’re all beatable teams. We’ve got it right in our hands. It’s just like taking candy from a baby.”
Although Georgia, Kentucky and Missouri are ahead of Florida in the East, the Gators already beat Kentucky and can move ahead of the Tigers and Bulldogs with head-to-head wins in the next two games.
“We have four games to get us to the SEC championship,” center Max Garcia said. “Four very winnable games if we go out there and do what we’re supposed to do and what we’re capable of doing. He just put that in perspective for us. We have what we want right in front of us.”
It could be more difficult for Missouri to think about getting back to Atlanta following last week’s 34-0 home loss to Georgia. The Tigers also lost to Indiana in Columbia last month.
“It’s done. It’s over. It’s gone,” Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said. “Get rid of it and move on, because anything that lingers will not help us at all play our best football game this week.”
Missouri’s Maty Mauk accounted for five turnovers, including four interceptions and a fumble, and finished with 97 yards passing against Georgia. The Bulldogs ran 87 plays and held the ball for 42 minutes.
“It doesn’t represent what we are. It doesn’t represent the team that we have,” center Evan Boehm said. “But with times like this, in the conference we’re in, you have to flush stuff like that. You have to forget about it.”
Aside from the up-for-grabs East, here are things to know about Saturday’s Missouri-Florida matchup:
HOT SEAT: Every loss creates more speculation about Muschamp’s future in Gainesville. The Gators have lost 11 of their last 18 games, and some believe Muschamp would not survive a loss to a struggling Missouri team on homecoming. Then again, with the East being so wide open, the Gators could lose and remain in the division race.
MEMORIES OF MAUK: Surely the Gators are looking for a little payback against Missouri and Mauk. Making his first career start, Mauk threw for 295 yards in a 36-17 victory against Florida a year ago. The Gators had issues on both sides of the ball, most notably gaining just 151 total yards.
TWO-QB SYSTEM: After Jeff Driskel turned the ball over eight times in the last three games, the Gators decided to use two quarterbacks against Missouri. Freshman Treon Harris will split snaps with Driskel in hopes of providing a much-needed boost to a stale offense.
ROAD SUCCESS: Mizzou has won seven straight on the road, including both games this season. The Tigers beat Toledo 49-24 early in the season and then overcame a 13-point deficit in the final 7-plus minutes to stun South Carolina 21-20 three weeks later. Missouri is 0-1 in Gainesville, falling 14-7 two years ago.
JONES RETURNS: Jones is Florida’s most versatile running back and is expected to return after missing most of the LSU game with an ankle injury. He’s a 230-pounder who seems to get tougher to tackle with every carry, and the Gators really missed him during a goal-to-go situation in the fourth quarter. “I wish I would have played through it, but kind of looking at my future and this season, we’ve got a lot of football to play here,” he said.