Disastrous end of first half dooms Missouri football in 41-17 loss to No. 10 Florida

Disastrous end of first half dooms Missouri football in 41-17 loss to No. 10 Florida
Missouri's defensive starters and reserves meet during a timeout in Gainesville, Fla. during the Tigers' 41-17 loss to Florida on Oct. 31, 2020. SEC Media Portal

Dan Mullen came back out of the tunnel. Not in Darth Vader garb — that would come after the game.

He didn’t have to come back out, but he did. The Florida coach used his final few seconds on the field to fire up the Gainesville crowd one more time before going to the halftime break. Mullen, who arguably incited a full-scale brawl just minutes before, vigorously raised his arms with his palms up, signaling the crowd to get loud.

“I have no idea what even they were yelling about,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said after the game.

The crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium did exactly that, delivering their loudest roar of the night. They had just seen their Gators go from losing 7-6 to winning 20-7, igniting an end-of-half brawl and essentially ending the game in the span of two minutes of game time.

“We just lost our composure,” Drinkwitz said.

The No. 10 Gators would go on to beat the Tigers 41-17, ending Missouri’s two-game win streak. Florida’s defense — the one that allowed 100 points in its first three games and came in without three of its starting defensive backs due to COVID — held Missouri to zero offensive points when the game was still in doubt.

“We just made a couple mistakes that they capitalized on, and we didn’t make enough plays,” running back Larry Rountree III said. “I would say coming out we were just a little flat, and I think that played a big part.”

Missouri’s downfall began with a simple screen pass from Florida quarterback Kyle Trask to his electric receiver, Kadarius Toney. The Tigers had mostly held Florida’s explosive offense in check to that point, allowing two field goals and nothing more, but Toney took matters into his own hands after he got the ball with 1:41 to go in the half.

Toney broke three tackles, including one from superstar linebacker Nick Bolton, and outran a diving fourth attempt on his way to paydirt. The 18-yard touchdown gave Florida the lead for good.

“We gotta tackle better, gotta gang-tackle,” Bolton, who made a hit on Trask that forced a pick-six for Jarvis Ware in the second quarter, said. “It’s a lot of different things. A lot of times we were leaving our feet. We gotta run through tackles. They got good athletes in space, so we just gotta do our best to bring the ball carrier down when we have the opportunity.”

The Tigers got the ball back down 13-7, looking to take the lead before halftime. Instead, quarterback Connor Bazelak and running back Tyler Badie mishandled their third-down handoff and the Gators pounced on the football.

“It looked like our left tackle got beat across his face with a defensive stunt, so the tailback was trying to jump-cut at the same time as the quarterback was trying to pull it from the defensive end coming down to crash,” Drinkwitz said. “When that happens, you got one guy going one way and one guy going the other, and that’s typically a fumble.”

After the fumble, everybody in the stadium knew the Gators would score to make it 20-7. Missouri’s demoralized defense trotted onto the field, and one play later, everybody in the stadium was right.

Toney motioned in front of Trask and toward safety Joshuah Bledsoe in the slot. About a second after the ball was snapped, Toney was behind Bledsoe in the slot. He beat Bledsoe off the ball and raced up a wide-open seam, providing an easy target for Trask and another touchdown.

Missouri went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, giving Florida a chance to score again with 35 seconds left. They drove to their own 48-yard line, and Trask heaved the football to the right corner of the end zone, where it fell incomplete near a covered star tight end Kyle Pitts.

Viewers at the game watched the ball fall incomplete, knowing that the half was over. When they turned their eyes toward the spot where the ball was thrown, both teams were throwing punches at each other.

“It’s an ugly scene for college football,” Drinkwitz said. “I’m not proud of it. I don’t know who started it. But we gotta figure it out, we gotta get it fixed. It’s disappointing.”

What started as a mild scrum quickly transformed into an all-out brawl. Mullen was upset at Missouri for a hit that defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat leveled on Trask after he threw the final pass. The hit was to the chest, the area of a clean hit, but it came in well after the ball was released.

“We played the ball, and the ball was knocked away,” Drinkwitz said. “I started running [into the locker room] and I saw one of their coaches on our hash yelling at our guys, and then I saw more of their players join in, and our players joined in. We gotta keep our guys from joining in.”

When the players finally separated, Mullen and Drinkwitz remained on the field. They exchanged words, and eventually Mullen had to be forcibly restrained from his Missouri counterpart.

Drinkwitz would eventually speak with Mullen after the game.

“It wasn’t exactly pleasant at halftime,” Drinkwitz said. “So [we were] just trying to figure out what happened and see if we can get it fixed. I thought both sides did a nice job in the second half of not letting it bleed over to the second half.”

Missouri defensive end Tre Williams, as well as two Florida players, were ejected after the refs sorted it out, which wasn’t easy over the “ref, you suck” chants from the patrons of The Swamp. Mullen then walked off the field, then walked back on, and urged the crowd to roar.

At that point, the game was all but over, and the second half only ran up the score.

“I mean, it wasn’t good enough,” Drinkwitz said. “Wasn’t good enough at quarterback, O-line, wideout, head coach. We gotta improve, and that’s what we’ll do. But it wasn’t good enough by anybody.”

Missouri will head to their originally-scheduled bye week before a touch test at home against No. 5 Georgia on Nov. 14.

Edited by Hope Davis | hdavis@themaneater.com

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