Regression and exasperation.
The team that Will Muschamp built into an SEC contender is broken, and the solutions are evading him.
The Gators already have lost more games than last season, the latest a 36-17 humiliation Saturday by No. 14 Missouri at Faurot Field in front of 67,124. No. 22 Florida’s floundering offense was even worse than it has been, and the normally steadfast defense failed repeatedly.
“We’re just not a good football team — certainly not today — and it falls on my shoulders,” Muschamp said. “We’re inept offensively. We have a hard time running it and certainly can’t protect very well.”
Next, he turned his glare toward the defense.
“I tell our guys all the time, ‘You’re the firemen. You gotta go put it out,’ ” he said. “Regardless of the situation in the game, you’ve gotta play a certain way. When you don’t do that, you’re not doing your job.”
Florida had 151 yards of offense — its lowest total since 1999. The defense’s 500 yards yielded to Missouri were the most any team has piled up on the Gators in the past six seasons. Part of problem was the absence of four UF starters who have season-ending injuries and two more who were out hurt Saturday.
The Gators’ shot at winning the SEC Eastern Division is fading. Missouri (7-0, 3-0 SEC) owns a two-game advantage in the loss column over UF (4-3, 3-2), Georgia (4-3, 3-2) and South Carolina (5-2, 3-2).
Furthermore, the Gators suddenly are staring at a narrow road to bowl eligibility — a startling issue for a team that lost one regular-season game last year and played in the Sugar Bowl. After the upcoming bye week, UF will face Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Georgia Southern and Florida State as it pushes to at least reach the six-win threshold.
Muschamp will spend the next two weeks searching desperately for ways to save the season.
“I’m a competitor,” he said. “I’m gonna fight my ass off. That’s what you do. You get your back against the wall and you fight your ass off. That’s what we’re gonna do.”
He delivered a similar message to his players in an otherwise quiet locker room.
“Circle the wagons, you know,” he said. “Right now the arrows are flying. We’ve gotta pull together and find out who’s gonna forge forward with us.”
His chief concern is the offense, which has been alarmingly bad. The Gators were mediocre last season, coordinator Brent Pease’s first with the team, and Muschamp sees no improvement.
Coming into the Missouri game, Florida was marginally ahead of last year’s yardage totals, but lagging in points. It sits 13th in the SEC in both categories.
“We struggle to do anything we try to do,” Muschamp said.
He kept returning to his lifeless offensive line, and nothing angered him more than that group Saturday. For the second straight week, quarterback Tyler Murphy spent the afternoon drowning in pass rushers.
On some plays, he ran more than 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage to create space, but rarely found any. Missouri sacked him six times for 42 yards and hurried him on eight dropbacks. It was a brutal afternoon for a quarterback who missed part of last week’s practices with a shoulder injury.
Murphy finished 15-of-29 for 92 yards with an interception, his worst game since replacing starter Jeff Driskel last month, but refused to blame his linemen.
“They had my back and I have theirs,” he said. “They really have nothing to apologize for.”
Muschamp wasn’t so kind. At halftime, he told the school’s radio network, “We gotta block somebody. We stink.”
He was disgusted by the offensive line in last week’s 17-6 loss at LSU and responded by benching left tackle D.J. Humphries. Heading into the Missouri game, the Gators shifted guard Max Garcia to left tackle and stuck Kyle Koehne in Garcia’s spot.
That worked out so poorly that UF sent Humphries in and went back to its regular line before halftime. Later, Muschamp pulled starting right tackle Tyler Moore.
In the fourth quarter, Missouri defensive end Shane Ray blew past Humphries to sack Murphy and force a fumble at the Gators’ 7-yard line.
“No excuse,” guard Jon Halapio said. “We didn’t block. We didn’t do our job.”
The line was equally soft in the run game. The lone bright spot offensively was true freshman Kelvin Taylor, from Glades Day School. He made a strong case for the starting job with 12 carries for 74 yards and his first career TD. The rest of the team combined for 35 yards on 12 rushes, not counting sacks.
Taylor’s 20-yard scoring run cut Missouri’s lead to 23-17 with 46 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Gators gave up two field goals and a TD in the fourth quarter before trudging off the field with their most embarrassing loss of the year.
“It doesn’t show on the scoreboard that we’re a good team,” Murphy said. “When you’re not winning, you’re doing a lot of things wrong.”
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