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Florida hopes to put last week's loss at LSU behind it with a win at Missouri on Saturday.

Friday October 18, 2013Gators Face Missouri with SEC East Lead on Line

Florida hopes to put last week's loss at LSU behind it with a win at Missouri on Saturday.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- They had as different weeks as a guy who hit the lottery and his neighbor whose house was burglarized.

Those dissimilarities began for Missouri and Florida on the flights home from difficult SEC road games last weekend.

The Gators, after losing 17-6 at LSU, immediately turned their attention to Atlanta, site of the SEC Championship game. Florida's first conference loss of the season dropped the Gators into a three-way tie for second in the SEC East with Georgia and South Carolina.

"A lot of people brought up that we can still win the East,” Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy said of the flight home. "We still have a chance to get to Atlanta. That’s our No. 1 goal."

If the Gators are in a three-way tie with Georgia and South Carolina for second in the East, something unlikely happened in the first half of the season. The Tigers are responsible for that something.

The Tigers were still celebrating the win at Georgia when they landed home to find a group of fans waiting to greet them at the airport.

Missouri is 6-0 in its second season in the SEC, earning its biggest conference win last Saturday with a 41-26 victory at then-No. 7 Georgia. The Tigers jumped 11 spots in the AP Top 25 poll, moving from No. 25 to 14th with the Gators coming to town for Saturday's showdown at Faurot Field.

This is the first time the Gators have ever visited Missouri and only the third time the programs have met. Florida defeated the Tigers 14-7 at home last season but this game has a much different tone.

First place in the SEC East is on the line. The Gators are trying to climb their way back to the top; Missouri is trying to hold on to a spot no one gave them a chance of reaching prior to the season.

Suddenly, Missouri is now the SEC's "it" team. They officially became the first SEC team to become bowl eligible with their early afternoon victory at Georgia a week ago.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, in his 13th season, is the SEC's longest-tenured coach. After a 5-7 record a year ago, Pinkel was considered on the hot seat. That seat has cooled considerably with the Tigers off to a 6-0 start for the third time in his 13 seasons.

"Where we're at doesn't surprise me," Pinkel said this week. "It's nice to be winning again and to be respected."

Missouri's surprise run to the top of the division has caught everyone's attention, including those computer polls that factor into the BCS standings. According to the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune, one of those automated polls — the Massey — is so infatuated with MU that it has at No. 1.

Meanwhile, the Gators dropped to No. 22 in the polls after their loss at LSU, compounded by the news Monday that running back Matt Jones is out for the rest of the season with a meniscus tear in his knee.

The Gators have been ravaged by injuries and Jones' loss adds another hurdle in Florida's path toward Atlanta.

While Missouri basked in the spotlight this week, the Gators turned inward to regroup and prepare for the key part of their season. The Gators face Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina over the next five weeks.

How they fare in those games will determine if Florida gets to Atlanta for the first time in four years.

"We're down but we're not out,'' Florida defensive tackle Damien Jacobs said. "We want to win the East and get to Atlanta, and that's still out there for us. That's what we have to focus on."

The Gators must focus on Missouri, first. The Tigers average 515 yards of offense per game but will be without starting quarterback James Franklin, who suffered a shoulder injury in the victory at Georgia.

Redshirt junior Maty Mauk will start in place of Franklin.

The Tigers' defense is also talented with defensive linemen Kony Ealy and Michael Sam setting the tone up front for a unit that has 17 sacks and SEC-best 13 interceptions.

Missouri is vastly improved from the team Florida trailed 7-0 at halftime in the Swamp last season before coming back to win 14-7.

"They’re a team that’s very explosive,'' UF coach Will Muschamp said. "It catches your attention when you turn on the tape, on both sides of the ball."

The Tigers start 11 seniors and after a season of looking up at the rest of the SEC, Pinkel revamped the team's training and practice methods.

Missouri's win over Georgia was the program's first victory over a top 10 team on the road since 1981.

"They have good talented kids on the offensive side,'' Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "You can see that they’re stronger and faster. I think they’ve got a little chip on their shoulder, so knowing what was coming back, especially from the defensive side, you can see."

As the Tigers garnered headlines all week, the Gators flew under the radar.

That's probably a good thing as the Gators try to avoid their first back-to-back losses since a four-game slide in Muschamp's first season.

They started that discussion on the plane ride home from Baton Rouge.

"We got to respond. We got to have better energy. We could be down after a loss like that. But, I mean, what’s that going to get you? You’re not going to have an opportunity going to the next game. Everything’s still on the table for teams that we play in the East and let’s go play football.

"I mean, we got to be better at what we are and I don’t think we’ve reached the pinnacle of what we’re really trying to achieve yet.”


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