GAINESVILLE — One week after losing their third starter in the past month, the Gators find themselves at the proverbial fork in the road.
With two losses, but neither in the SEC East, Florida still controls its destiny as far as winning a league title. For now.
But on Saturday the No. 22 Gators will play at 14th-ranked, undefeated SEC East foe Missouri, a team similar in many ways to the LSU squad that held the Gators without a touchdown last week.
The Gators have a multitude of things that need fixing, beginning with better protection for their rookie quarterback and improved offensive production.
"The whole (LSU) game is a motivator for this week," Florida left tackle D.J. Humphries said. "It let us know we weren't really where we thought we were."
The Gators lead the SEC in time of possession (37:04), but are next to last in the league in both total and scoring offense. LSU dominated the line of scrimmage, sacking Tyler Murphy four times and constantly pressuring him.
"We just didn't create enough explosive plays," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "We've got to be more explosive throwing the ball and running it. We didn't create enough in either phase of the game. Were there some protection issues? Absolutely. … We have to be more balanced in what we do throwing the football on earlier downs and continuing to run the football throughout the game."
Florida is second in the SEC in rushes per game (45.7) but ranked last in yards per carry (3.9). Yet the Gators have run the ball 60.2 percent of the time. Now Florida is without starting running back Matt Jones (torn meniscus in knee) as they face the league's third-best rush defense. Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said junior Mack Brown has proved himself, and he also believes freshman Kelvin Taylor can help.
"I think he's definitely ready for it," Pease said.
In 14 of 34 plays Saturday, LSU affected Murphy by manhandling the Gators physically, and using blitzes and odd fronts. It's not hard to imagine other teams trying to capitalize on that weakness.
"Probably, I would (blitz often) if I was scheming against us," left guard Max Garcia said. "Seeing that we had troubles against the blitz, I'd probably do the same thing. As an offensive line, we're just going to try to do our best against the blitz in practice and making sure we're mentally there."
Pease said the protection problems have been across the board from offensive linemen to receivers and running backs. Brown said it comes down to players just knowing who to block.
"Really, on pass plays you just got to know the rotation of the field," he said. "… You've really got to watch a lot of film of what a team does. That's the main thing just communicate with the O-line and the quarterback."
Pease believes the Gators can correct their problems.
"They (LSU) went to an odd front and in some cases we're built to handle it and we didn't get it done," Pease said. "It's fixable, and you've just got to get better at it. It's unacceptable to let it happen, but we're not just going to stay like that. We're going to make sure we've got it fixed and cleaned up."
Missouri leads the league in interceptions and is second in sacks. If the Gators can't score touchdowns this week, they most likely can expect to see their SEC chances fade.
"We're going to have to really dial in and really pay attention to their pressure packages," Murphy said. "… We have to find what we were doing the last few weeks that allowed us to create some plays down the field and put up some points."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.