Monday, December 18, 2017
Colleges

No. 8 Florida Gators edge Missouri Tigers

GAINESVILLE — In the NCAA basketball tournament, coaches like to refer to it as "survive and advance." It's the philosophy of doing whatever it takes to ensure a victory. Doesn't have to be pretty. Fancy's not necessary either.

Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the Florida Gators had a little bit of that mentality — with survival as the ultimate goal.

First-year SEC member Missouri pushed No. 8 Florida to the brink, but once again the Gator defense rose to the occasion, holding off a threat in the final 26 seconds to secure a 14-7 victory in front of 90,496.

"That's actually a great feeling to know that at some point in time, with the game on the line, we're about to show: Is their offense better than our defense?" Gators defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd said. "Can their offense make better plays than our defense coming in? I like that. And that's how we play."

With the Gators (8-1, 7-1 SEC) holding precariously to a 14-7 lead, Florida's opportunity to seal the win in the final 1:49 failed when Brad Phillips, in for injured kicker Caleb Sturgis, sailed a 24-yard field goal attempt wide right. Missouri (4-5, 1-5) took over and, led by quarterback James Franklin, drove to the Gators 21-yard line. But on fourth and 6, Florida senior safety Josh Evans intercepted Franklin with five seconds left.

"I always tell (defensive players) they are the firemen and they have to go put out the fire," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "No matter how bad it is blazing, go put it out. When you go onto the field, your job is to stop them. … It is an opportunity for greatness when you have to make a stop on the goal line. If you want to be great, be put in that situation and do it."

The Gator defense battled out of difficult situations all day. In five of Missouri's final six drives, the Gators ended scoring threats with a blocked field goal, a sack, and three interceptions — by safety Matt Elam, linebacker Jon Bostic and Evans.

Missouri gained 335 yards, 99 rushing. But Franklin, who has battled arm and knee injuries all season, had four interceptions, and the Tigers were 1-for-2 in the red zone.

"We have all these plays in the red zone where we just didn't convert on them," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

As Florida's defense held things together, the offense again continued to try to find its way, finishing with 170 rushing yards and 106 passing.

The Gators trailed 7-0 at halftime, only the second time this season they were shut out in the first half. When tight end Omarius Hines scored on a 36-yard run with 9:03 remaining in the third quarter to tie the score, the Gators had gone six quarters without a touchdown. Quarterback Jeff Driskel's screen pass to running back Mike Gillislee, who took it in for a 45-yard score, gave Florida the go-ahead touchdown.

Muschamp said he realizes the offense isn't where it needs to be — UF has trailed at halftime in four of its eight wins, tied for most in Division I-A — but for now, "we're doing what we need to be doing to win football games."

Driskel agreed.

"I'm not apologizing for victories, not at all," Driskel said.

Florida has seven SEC victories for the 12th time — the most in the league since 1991. The Gators overcame the disappointment of last weekend's loss to Georgia and the absence of several key players on Saturday.

"It shows we're really going to play with heart, and not just go out there and try to play with just athleticism," center Jonotthan Harrison said. "We're going to play from deep down inside, and if we want to be a successful team, we have to play for each other."

 
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