COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri took a huge step toward claiming the SEC East title with a 36-17 win against Florida before a sellout crowd of 67,124 on Saturday while the rest of the division’s top teams fell in upsets.
The Tigers (7-0 overall, 3-0 in SEC play) also knocked of Georgia 41-26 a week ago _ like the Gators a team that has been riddled by injuries. Missouri has home dates left with South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M plus road trips to Kentucky and Ole Miss.
Tennessee beat South Carolina 23-21 today while Vanderbilt knocked off Georgia 31-27. Along with Florida’s loss to Mizzou, that gives the Gamecocks and Bulldogs two losses in league play.
It was the most points allowed by the Gators since Oct. 8, 2011 when LSU beat Florida 41-11 in Baton Rouge. The Tigers beat ranked opponents on consecutive weeks for the first time since 1972.
It is just the second time since 1962 that Mizzou started the season 7-0 and the first time the Tigers have beaten ranked teams since 1972.
“They have to have the discipline and mental toughness to handle all of this attention that will be thrown at them,’’ Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said of what’s ahead after the newfound success in its new league.
The Gators (4-3, 3-2) on the otherhand, looked like a broken, battered program with eight of its preseason projected 22 starters on offense and defense on the sideline Saturday, the last coming when defensive back Cody Riggs was ejected for a targeting penalty on the first play of the game.
Things went bad for Florida, which is now 1-3 on the road this season, right away in its first ever visit to a Mizzou program in just its second season in the league. The first offensive play of the game was a 41-yard pass from Missouri backup quarterback Maty Mauk (18 of 36 for 295 yards) to L’Damian Washington, who used a seven-inch height advantage to pull the ball in.
Riggs was called for targeting on the play and ejected from the game. The Tigers finished off the drive with a 20-yard pass from Mauk, playing in place of injured James Franklin (shoulder injury vs. Georgia last week) to Bud Sasser on the very next play.
Mauk set a new Missouri single game passing yardage record for a freshman in his first career start.
“He’s a great competitor,’’ Pinkel said. “Sometimes he tries to make too much happen. He’ll fire it down field when we have something close that’s open and he’ll learn from that. But I couldn’t be more pleased with him.’’
Florida managed just 151 yards (59 rushing, 92 passing) total offense and gave up six sacks (for a total of 10 in the last two games).
The Gators’ defense allowed Mizzou to pile up 500 yards total offense _ the most given up since the 2008 Capital One Bowl loss to Michigan and the most in an SEC game since yielding 512 to Kentucky on Oct. 20, 2007.
Gators coach Will Muschamp, who said it time to “circle the wagons’’ and the “arrows will be flying’’ after two straight bad losses, confirmed that quarterback Tyler Murphy had a shoulder injury and didn’t practice full-go until Thursday. The junior, however, said that wasn’t really an issue and he got work in during the week just didn’t throw while resting it.
“We’re just not really a good football team, certainly not today,’’ Muschamp said. “That’s all on my shoulders. We had a hard time running the ball and we couldn’t protect (Murphy) either. I am pretty disappointed that we have not made more positive strides offensively at this point of the season. We will go back and certainly look hard to make improvements. Defensively we gave up too many big plays. As a whole, as a football team, we did not do enough positive things today. That falls on my shoulders.’’
Pinkel pointed to chemistry as a key to the great Tigers’ start to 2013.
“I saw this back in August and I told a lot of different people about it,’’ he said. “It doesn’t surprise me. What I’m excited about is that this team is so driven. They play so hard and compete so well. When you have guys that compete like that and bring it every single Saturday, you’re a very fortunate coach.’’
Florida had a streak of 13 straight SEC games in which it had given up 20 points or fewer, started after a 26-21 win against Vanderbilt on Nov. 5, 2011. Missouri came into the game No. 2 to Texas A&M in scoring offense (45.7) in the league.
Muschamp, meanwhile, could be looking at a situation where the wheels are coming off a bit at Florida with an open date then a game with Georgia the following weekend.
“”I’m a competitor,’’ he said. “I’m going to fight my (rear end) off. That’s what you do.’’
After falling behind so quickly, Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy recovered a fumbled punt return to give UF the ball deep in Missouri territory. The Gators settled for a 23-yard Frankie Velez field goal to make it 7-3.
The Tigers added field goals of 43 and 19 yards by Andrew Baggett and it was 13-3 at the half.
The Gators had just 61 yards total offense on 29 first half plays. Missouri rolled up 200 yards in the first 30 minutes and actually could have put Florida away by halftime but 2 of 7 on third down conversions slowed the possible quick blow out.
It was the second game in a row in which the Gators have given up 200 yards in the opening half. Florida has allowed 45 points in the first quarter this season after giving up a combined 54 in the opening 15 minutes of all 13 games in 2012.
Florida got within 13-10 when Solomon Patton returned the opening kickoff of third quarter 100 yards but Missouri quickly responded with a 75-yard drive finished off by Henry Josey (18 carries, 136 yards) on a 6-yard run. Baggett added a 39-yard field goal to make it 23-10 with 6:40 left in the third quarter.
The Gators got a touchdown back on a long drive consisting mostly of Kelvin Taylor runs, which he finished off with a 20-yard score, making it 23-17. Taylor finished with 12 carries for 74 yards. But Baggett’s fourth and fifth field goals to tie a school single game record, from 33 and 28 yards out, advanced the margin to 29-17 with 8:04 remaining in the game and the Gators look lost at the end.
“We’re all looking for answers right now. . . . Obviously everybody is disappointed. We’ve never seen a scoreboard lit up like that against us the last two years,’’ confessed senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins.