Florida vs. Missouri score, takeaways: Gators survive as Jaydon Hill, Ventrell Miller star

By OnlyGators.com Staff
October 8, 2022
Florida vs. Missouri score, takeaways: Gators survive as Jaydon Hill, Ventrell Miller star

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

“It wasn’t anything great.” Hoping to end a six-game winless streak in SEC play, the Florida Gators did just enough to emerge victorious on homecoming with a 24-17 win over the Missouri Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. While head coach Billy Napier’s words were a succinct evaluation of the Gators’ play on Saturday, that brief snippet overlooks what was a largely successful defensive effort until late in the fourth quarter.

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Jaydon Hill, playing just his second game since the 2020 season, grabbed the first two interceptions of his career, including a game-changing pick six in the first quarter. Joining him with an exemplary defensive effort was redshirt senior linebacker Ventrell Miller, whose 10 solo tackles consistently saved miscues by other teammates.

What was not “anything great” was Florida’s offense, which amassed just 65 yards in the first half and saw sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson finish with 66 yards passing and two turnovers in the game. Similarly, while special teams was productive for the first time this season in the return game, two missed field goals put the Gators well behind where they should have been on the scoreboard.

“We did just enough,” Napier said.

… It was a team win. It wasn’t anything great.”

In the end, Florida escaped with its first SEC win in 364 days — it last beat Vanderbilt on homecoming in 2021 — and improved to 4-2 (1-2 SEC) on the season. Let’s take a look at what went right and wrong for the Gators on homecoming.

1. Defense steps up but concerns arise: Hill and Miller were by far Florida’s most valuable players against Mizzou. Hill’s electric 50-yard interception return for a touchdown was the team’s lone touchdown of the first half. He said he watched that play three times during film study Friday night and had it easily snuffed out. His second pick came inside the Mizzou 10, preventing a score just after UF went up 17-10 with its first offensive touchdown of the game. (He also had three solo tackles.) Miller, meanwhile, saw 10 of his 11 tackles come individually with two for lost yardage and a quarterback hurry to boot. He was consistently saving potential explosive plays after his teammates missed tackles, and he swarmed to the ball with consistently tenacious effort proving his NFL bonafides.

Hill bounced back from a torn ACL in high school to play early at Florida. He was supposed to start the 2021 season but tore his other ACL in fall practice only to suffer another setback in his knee ahead of this season. After sitting the first three weeks and wearing a knee brace in his first appearance last week, Hill was tired of being hobbled by the brace and chose not to wear it against Mizzou. (It was supposed to be his last game in the brace.)

“It was a lot of hard work — late nights, early mornings, a lot of tears,” Hill said after the game.

Yet while those two stood out — and yes, other players made big plays in the game as the Gators had four sacks and 13 tackles for loss — it’s impossible to look at Saturday’s game as an exemplary defensive effort given Florida’s failures on third down. Not only did the Tigers convert an astounding 9 of 17 third-down attempts, Mizzou was able to make astoundingly massive gains on the money down throughout the fourth quarter.

Mizzou scored a touchdown by converting third-and-22 (for 27 yards) and third-and-15 (for 18 yards) consecutively before rumbling into the end zone with a walk-in 18-yard touchdown to cut UF’s two-touchdown lead to 24-17. The next time the Tigers touched the ball, they converted third-and-18 (for 20 yards). All three were occasions in which the Gators should have easily gotten off the field and effectively ended the game. Napier even pointed out after the game that the national conversion rate on third-and-long is just 15%.

“Third-and-long, the national average is under 15%, right? So, when you give up that many, there’s some things you need to look at. It’s all very fixable,” Napier noted after the game, saying that he needed to review the film to provide specific answers.

Florida has struggled in this area spanning multiple years and defensive bosses. Co-coordinator Patrick Toney must find some answers to these mind-numbing miscues soon because between third-down failures and the soft coverage the Gators frequently play, more offensively capable teams will be able to take advantage of them far easier than the Tigers did.

2. Richardson struggles again despite flashes: Struggling once again in The Swamp, Richardson completed just 8 of 14 passes for 66 yards with a touchdown, an interception, 45 yards rushing and a fumble. His 66 yards passing were the fewest for a Florida quarterback who started and finished a game since Treon Harris threw for 60 yards against South Carolina on Nov. 15, 2014.

Richardson was uneven in the first half and strangely refused to break down and run the ball despite his legs being his most dangerous and consistent weapon. His sack fumble in the second quarter was a questionable officiating all at best, yet it led to a Mizzou game-tying field goal. His struggles led to Saturday being the Gators’ first game in The Swamp without an offensive touchdown in the first half since they faced the Tigers in 2021. It was also the team’s first game with less than 70 yards of first-half offense at home since they faced the Tigers in 2014.

He did turn things around in the second half largely due to the success of Florida’s running game taking pressure of his shoulders. Sophomore Montrell Johnson Jr. and freshman Trevor Etienne broke off multiple big runs ultimately combining for 169 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 carries. Richardson’s lone chunk play of the game came after a 39-yard run by Etienne setup the Gators for success. On fourth-and-2, Richardson went through all his progressions before taking off for a 32-yard run that set up Johnsons’ touchdown. It completed a six-play, 82-yard drive and put Florida ahead 17-10. His other big play was a 9-yard scoring pass to Ricky Pearsall on the next drive, which was started by a 36-yard run from Johnson and ultimately went 91 yards in nine plays.

However, after two 16-yard runs by Etienne put the Gators in position to close out the game late in the fourth quarter, Richardson threw a third-down interception that, while on target, was dangerously late and high to Pearsall; the ball bounced off Pearsall’s hands and a defender’s body into another Mizzou player for the untimely pick. Richardson has now turned the ball over at least once in every game this season, which is not what the most important player on the team should be doing — especially coming off two sterling performances where it looked as if he had turned a corner.

3. Speaking of the running backs … Johnson started his first game for Florida with redshirt sophomore Nay’Quan Wright — the least successful of the Gators’ three rushers this season — getting the second set of carries in this game. Ultimately, Johnson and Etienne combined for 18 touches to five for Wright, which is the best distribution Napier has formulated in a game this season. It remains clear that Johnson and Etienne are monsters with the ball in their hands, while Wright is capable but no longer as explosive as he looked before his injury.

If Florida can consistently get its top two tailbacks 20-24 carries per game with Wright cleaning things up as a change-of-pace rusher, the offense will thrive. The Gators are now 4-0 when rushing for 150+ yards under Napier. Florida’s 212 yards rushing in the second half were more than three times its total yardage in the first half (65) while representing 71.4% of the team’s yardage gained in the entire contest.

4. Still not-so-special teams: While Florida’s had problems on special teams all season, its specialists had largely performed well. Out of nowhere, the struggles on this unit flipped all in one game. A return game that’s had next to zero success this season opened with a tremendous 48-yard punt return from sophomore WR Xzavier Henderson in the first quarter. Unfortunately, the offense failed to take advantage of great field position and settled for a 37-yard field goal. (UF was better in coverage allowing just one 21-yard kickoff return and no punt returns.)

Yet field-goal kicking where the team had its issues Saturday as redshirt freshman kicker Adam Mihalek did not boot another ball through the uprights. Mihalek missed field goals of 50 yards in the second quarter and 47 yards in the third quarter. He is now 1 of 5 from beyond 40 yards on the season while freshman Trey Smack remains relegated to kickoff duties. Smack has done well forcing more touchbacks, and while Mihalek has been nails from short range, it’s worth wondering whether time has come for a change given neither long try was close on Saturday.

“I got a long list of things we can do better, and that list is there every morning when I wake up and it’s there when I go to bed at night,” Napier said. “All we can do is continue to work. Every single day we’re working to improve, working to eliminate deficiencies that we have. … We’re consumed with making that list smaller.”

5. Odds and ends: Florida was outgained 370-297 and out-possessed 36:09-23:51 … the Gators were just 3 of 11 on third down compared to 9 of 17 for the Tigers … UF’s 46 plays run were its fewest since it played Colorado State in 2018 (Mizzou ran 72) … no Gators receiver had more than 20 yards in the game …

Florida evened its series 6-6 all-time with Mizzou with a 6-5 edge in SEC play and victories in three of the last four meetings … Napier is 5-0 in his career on a short week … the Gators have scored 24+ points in seven of their last 12 games … UF is 4-0 this season when rushing for 150+ yards … Florida is 30-8 against unranked opponents since 2018 … the Gators are 173-33 in The Swamp since 1990, boasting the second-best home winning percentage (.840) in the nation across that span … Florida has scored in 429 consecutive games, an NCAA record

6. What it means: This was a must-win game that the Gators ultimately won, even if it was not pretty. The schedule only gets tougher from here, and Napier is aware of the overall dissatisfaction from fans who hoped for a faster turnaround. One must remember that Florida is just five games into an entirely new era. The coaching staff, support staff and back-end systems were completely revamped. The roster is in the midst of a massive overhaul both in talent and numbers. And though the Gators are only playing close games this year, their losses are to ranked opponents who have been doing quite well. If Florida plays like this five games into Year 2, perhaps there will be real cause for concern. The Week 1 win over Utah changed expectations, perhaps unfairly given the aforementioned circumstances.

“We have not executed our formula to win games at the rate in which we would desire — at any point. We are very much a work in progress, but I do believe in this group,” Napier said. “… We’re built to play winning football. We got a formula that’s won a lot of games, and we’re getting better at that process. I’m hopeful we can win more in the future.”

7. What’s next: The Gators will play their penultimate home game of the season in a significant spot as SEC West cross-division rival LSU comes to town to face Florida in a night game. The rivalry between the Gators and Tigers has only heated up — mostly due to off-field reasons — across the last few seasons, and the teams will enter this game quite similar with 4-2 records and new coaches looking for a key win. After a 27-point loss at home to Tennessee, it’s unlikely that LSU will be ranked next week, though it was No. 25 this week. Given the Volunteers are a common opponent, it’s worth remembering the Gators only lost by five on the road this season in a game they nearly came back to win.

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