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The loss of starting defensive back Cody Riggs on Saturday on the game's first play was costly.

Saturday October 19, 2013Missouri Seizes Momentum Early, Gators Struggle on Both Sides of Ball

The loss of starting defensive back Cody Riggs on Saturday on the game's first play was costly.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A redshirt freshman made the first start of his college career Saturday against the No. 1 defense in the Southeastern Conference. The expectations on young Maty Mauk, the Ohio prep prodigy and University of Missouri rookie, rivaled the game’s ramifications, with first place in the league’s East Division in the balance. 

So when Florida won the pregame coin toss and deferred possession to the second half (almost customary), it was with the intent to send a message. 

A message was sent, only it was delivered by Mauk and the unbeaten, 14th-ranked Tigers in a 36-17 victory over the No. 22 Gators at Faurot Field. 

“They got the jump on us,” UF sophomore defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said of Mauk’s 41-yard completion on the game’s first play from scrimmage, half of a two-play, 76-yard drive that got Mizzou rolling. “Hats off to ‘em.” 

Mauk passed for 295 yards and a touchdown, while engineering an offense that amassed 500 yards, including 205 on the ground. It was the most yards surrendered by the Gators since facing Michigan in the Capital One Bowl at the end of the 2007 season -- a run of 74 games -- and it came against a bewildered UF defense that came in down in numbers and immediately was depleted further by circumstances. 

“Yeah,” Coach Will Muschamp said. “Not good.” 

On the game’s first snap, Mauk dropped, set his feet and launched a rocket down the right sideline, seeking out UF’s heralded true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Tigers wide receiver L’Damian Washington skied over Hargreaves to make the catch and then was leveled with junior safety Cody Riggs coming over with help. 

The play gained 41 yards, plus an extra 15 when Riggs was flagged for targeting a defenseless receiver. Per rule, Riggs was ejected from the game. 

That 56-yard flip of the field gave the Tigers a first down at the UF 20. On the very next snap, Mauk lofted a perfectly throw ball into the left corner of the end zone, where Bud Sasser beat cornerback Brian Poole for a 20-yard touchdown at the 14:38 mark of the first quarter. 

So 22 seconds into the game, Mauk had moved his squad 76 yards, had his first touchdown pass and enough confidence to stretch across these Midwest plains. Conversely, the Gators were down seven points, shell-shocked and without their starting safety. 

Muschamp understood the call, but after the game reiterated the stance he has maintained on the targeting rule since it was announced in the offseason; the one that claimed a second Gator ejection this season. 

The sequence set the tone on a day the Gators uncharacteristically did little right defensively. Hargreaves had been UF’s best defensive back through six games -- he leads the Gators with three interceptions -- but misjudged his leap on the first pass and the Tigers took over from there.

“We knew they were going to come out and throw some balls deep,” UF senior safety Jaylen Watkins said. “Once they caught one, I guess they felt they could catch some balls on us.” 

Then they went out and did just that. The Tigers connected on five passes of 20 yards or more, three of 37 or more. 

In fact, each time the Gators did something positive, the Tigers not only had an answer, but had one immediately. 

“Once we get momentum, we’ve got to keep the momentum,” Fowler said. “We didn’t do that.” 

Solomon Patton’s 100-yard kickoff return to open the second half made the score 13-10 and silenced the packed house ... for a few seconds. 

On Mizzou’s second play of the second half, Mauk hit Jimmie Hunt for 52 yards to set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Henry Josey. It was like the shot-in-the-arm start of the game all over again. 

And later in the third period, the Gators drove to their best offensive possession of the day, a 6-play, 70-yard march that marked UF’s lone touchdown drive of the past two games. Freshman tailback Kelvin Taylor finished it with a 20-yard run that pulled UF to 23-17. 

On the second play of the Tigers’ ensuing possession, Josey busted a 50-yard up the middle of a stacked UF defensive front, leading to another field goal and another two-possession deficit for the Gators. 

Muschamp was beside himself after that one. 

“The way we play, some of the pass plays [given up], I can deal with that,” he said. “But the run game? We had them in a box. We had six-man boxes versus a five-man look. We should not have been giving up what we’re giving up.” 

Last week, it was offensive issues. They were back again this week (just 151 yards of total offense), the Gators struggled on both sides of the ball. But Saturday the struggles on their best side of the ball brought greater concerns. 

Now what? 

“We’re all looking for answers now,” Watkins said. “Everybody is a disappointed. We haven’t seen a scoreboard lit up like that on us the last two years.” 

Longer than that, actually.

 

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