COLUMBIA, Mo. — In the short term, a coaching change (perhaps) would give the Florida football team a jolt. The Gators, after all, had not given up on the 2017 season, despite the exit of Coach Jim McElwain.
At least, that was the hope.
But if it wasn't clear before Saturday, it became strikingly evident on this blustery midwestern afternoon that it's going to take much, much more than an interim coach to fix what's wrong with the Gators and their football culture.
Quarterback Drew Lock passed for three touchdowns and tailback Larry Roundtree III rushed for three more scores to lead a Missouri offensive onslaught to a 45-16 victory that hung a fourth straight loss on the Gators -- this one with interim Head Coach Randy Shannon manning the sidelines -- in their Southeastern Conference game at Memorial Stadium.
"Today wasn't representative of the University of Florida," said Shannon, who added he did not anticipate such a dismal display based on how the team prepared. "No, not at all. Guys practiced well. They flew around at practice. This morning, [the] walkthrough was very sharp, and everything else. You just don't know come game day. We're a very young team, but I'm not going make any excuses for this football team. When you come to this university, even if you're young, you have to play to a high standard. We've got to instill that in those guys that you have to play at a high standard."
And here's the current state of that standard, a week after UF and McElwain mutually agreed to part ways after two and a half seasons: After getting blown out 42-7 by Georgia seven days ago in Jacksonville, the Gators (3-5, 3-4) have now given up at least 40 points in back-to-back losses for the first time since 197, and at least 42 points in consecutive weeks for the first time in 100 years. With just three wins through the first eight games, the 2017 record to date is UF's worst at this point of a season since going 0-10-1 in 1979.
Linebacker David Reese and defensive back Jeawon Taylor wrap up a Missouri ballcarrier in the first half of Saturday's game.
"Yeah, kind of surprised," defensive tackle Khairi Clark said of the day's events. "We put in a lot of work this past week. With everything we had going on, we were just trying to focus on us. But we didn't get what we wanted."
The Tigers (4-5, 1-4), who came into the game winless in league play but with the SEC's second-best offense, went up and down the field on the way to gaining 455 yards, a total that included a 98-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that made the score 14-0. Turned out, Mizzou didn't need much more.
Lock finished 15 of 20 for 228 yards and ran his NCAA-best touchdown-pass total to 31. Roundtree carried 15 times for 83 yards and his trio of scores, while fellow tailback Ish Witter rushed 17 times for 83 yards and also caught a 15-yard TD pass.
On the other side, the Gators struggled to move the ball — and put it in the end zone — under senior graduate-transfer quarterback Malik Zaire, just as they did under redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who started six of the first seven games. UF managed 349 yards of offense, turned the ball over twice (once on an interception, once on a muffed punt) and scored on just three Eddy Pineiro field goals with Zaire under center. Zaire completed 13 of 19 passes for 158 yards and the one interception. He rushed just six times for 17 yards.
Franks was inserted midway through the fourth quarter and marched the Gators on their one touchdown drive, hitting Lamical Perine for a 16-yard score with 5:34 to go. Franks went 7-for-10 for 98 yards and the score.
UF has now lost four in a row for the first time since the 2013 season, a campaign that went south with seven straight losses to end the year.
The Florida defense stopped a promising opening Tigers' drive with an end-zone interception by true freshman cornerback CJ Henderson. Its next time out, the Gators defense forced a Mizzou punt. Corey Fatony's 33-yard kick fell to Brandon Powell at the UF 10. Powell called for a fair catch, but dropped the ball at the 11, where it was recovered at the 11 by Anthony Sherrils.
On third-and-4 from the Florida 5, Lock fired a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Blanton.
"From there, it snowballed," Shannon said.
Florida's second possession ended with a Johnny Townsend punt that pinned Missouri at its 2-yard line. Undeterred, Lock led the Tigers the length of the field on 14 plays, the big-hitter coming on a 36-yard completion to Emanuel Hall to the UF 35. Illegal substitution and defensive pass interference penalties helped set up Roundtree for a 2-yard touchdown run and 14-0 advantage.
The Gators finally got on the board when Pineiro kicked a 34-yard field goal midway through the second period. UF's six-play, 68-yard drive started when Zaire, making his first start at quarterback for Florida since transferring from Notre Dame, hit Dre Massey for a 38-yard completion. UF faced a fourth-and-1 at the Mizzou 21, but Shannon opted for the three points, rather than gamble on the first down.
After Florida got on the board, Lock needed just five plays -- thanks to a 43-yard completion to J'Mon Moore -- to pad his team's lead when he hit Witter uncovered out of the backfield for a 15-yard score.
On the second play of UF's ensuing drive, Zaire threw into coverage and was intercepted on the Mizzou sideline by Sherrils. After a 15-yard completion to Manuel, Roundtree went up the middle of the Gators' defense for a 15-yard touchdown run.
Late in the half, Florida appeared to strike for a 43-yard touchdown pass, Zaire to Tyrie Cleveland, but the play was called back for holding on tackle Martez Ivy. On the very next play, Zaire found Massey for 37 to the Missouri 13. After a sack, the Gators called on Pineiro for a 36-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
Pineiro's 24-yard field goal to start the second half capped a 14-play, 68-yard drive. The Gators had a first down at the Tigers' 2, but a 5-yard loss on a run by Mark Thompson was followed by a false-start penalty against tackle Jawaan Taylor. The two mishaps set the offense back to the 12-yard line. After a Zaire scramble to the 7 on third down, again Shannon opted for the three points, rather than going for it on fourth down.
"Any time you're in that 5-yard range going in, it hurts not to be able to punch it in due to miscues or missed assignments or whatever the case is," Zaire said. "That's unacceptable from the offensive side of football. But that's something that we'll review in film and make sure that when the opportunity comes up again we'll take advantage of it."
Pineiro's third boot made the score 28-9 with 7:20 to go in the third quarter.
UF was scoring field goals. Mizzou was scoring touchdowns (and the Tigers weren't done).
Before the period was over, Lock had marched Missouri to touchdown drives of 82 and 73 yards. The first ended with a 1-yard run by Roundtree, after what appeared to be a 50-yard touchdown pass to Hall was ruled down at the half-yard line. Lock finished the second drive with a 4-yard scoring toss to Moore that pushed the lead to 42-9.
"I just want to say one thing," linebacker David Reese said. "We loved every single one of our coaches that's been through here. It's unfortunate what's happened to them. I hate the way we represented our coaches like that today with this game. Those guys really care for us and gave us a real good game plan to do what we had to do. It's sometimes disappointing when everybody doesn't want to come together and just play for each other. That's sad to see. We've still got a lot to play for. Me, personally, and our defense, we want to play for those guys. We can't have appearances like we just had today. That's unacceptable."