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Pourover: The defense is... good?

Left for dead, the Missouri defense crawled out of its grave and has become the backbone of this team.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Florida at Missouri Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sports are fickle, winning is hard.

The University of Florida is currently trying to decide if Dan Mullen is worth bringing back as their head coach in the same season he lost to second ranked Alabama by a failed 2 point conversion. The Gators looked every bit a top 20 team early, but got beaten by Kentucky and things unravelled a bit from there. They shutout Vanderbilt, lost to LSU, got blasted by Georgia AND South Carolina, then barely showed up in time to beat Samford. Beating Missouri would’ve meant bowl eligibility and possibly rescuing the season, and maybe Mullen’s job. Early on, the Gators looked up to the challenge, and their maligned defense looked ready to take on Tyler Badie and shut down the Missouri attack.

But a funny thing happened to the narrative of the Missouri season. The defense — wrecked for the first half of the year and barely able to contain the run game of even an FCS opponent — has fixed whatever issues it had and are playing really well. Well enough for them to carry a stumbling Missouri offense into overtime. Then in overtime Tyler Badie did what he needed to do, Daniel Parker, Jr did what he needed to do, and Missouri planted themselves into bowl eligibility.

Narratives just a few short weeks ago had Missouri Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks as good as fired at the end of the season. 6 weeks ago I was talking about how the defense, while not being immensely talented, still should be playing better. Eli Drinkwitz fired his defensive line coach, but that felt more like a “we gotta do something” move than anything towards solving the problem. But as the attention towards the decline in play from Connor Bazelak and the perception of a quarterback controversy, the defense figured it out.

A week after shutting down the same South Carolina rushing attack who ran for 284 yards on Florida, the Missouri defense held the Gators and their mobile QB, Emory Jones, to just 93 rushing yards. (For context, Florida ran for 161 yards on Georgia.) While the secondary has been pretty good all year long, the lack of a pass rush and an inability to stop the run put them in a bind. But with the pass rush fired up the way they’ve been the last few weeks it’s helped make the corners and safeties look even better. Aside from a 49 yard garbage time reception with no time on the clock at the end of the 2nd quarter, Florida threw for just 218 yards. That performance would have had Missouri in the neighborhood of Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia for slowing the Gators down.

So while there are a lot of people (probably on the Florida side) who might point out that the Gators out gained Missouri, if you remove that one garbage time reception, Mizzou was actually better on a per play basis (4.6 to 4.4). On the season, Florida’s worst performance on a per play basis was against Georgia, when it was 4.8.

At this stage, anyone who is talking about Steve Wilks and his job security should have their head examined. You don’t dismiss the first half of the season, but whatever Wilks and his assistants on the defensive side of the ball did to change things... it worked.

Are things perfect in Columbia? No. The offense is still 98% Badie focused, and while the senior running back has been unbelievable all season long, it makes things far tougher on the defense when the quarterback can’t run and the passing game is shaky. Drinkwitz still needs to figure out how to get either more from Bazelak, or he needs to figure out how to get satisfactory performances from either Brady Cook or Tyler Macon. The offense needs more than Badie, and will need more than Badie to beat Arkansas.

But regardless of the results next week, being bowl eligible after losing to Boston College, Kentucky, and Tennessee is impressive. Drinkwitz and his staff righted a sinking ship and recovered enough to keep playing past the Arkansas game. You don’t hand out medals for that sort of thing, but it should bode well for the future.

Stats from Statbroadcast:

statbroadcast florida 2021
statbroadcast florida 2021

Here are your other SEC scores:

  • 1. Georgia 56, Charleston Southern 7
  • 2. Alabama 42, 21. Arkansas 35
  • 12. Ole Miss 31, Vanderbilt 17
  • 16. Texas A&M 52, Prairie View A&M 3
  • 25. Mississippi State 55, Tennessee State 10
  • South Carolina 21, Auburn 17
  • Kentucky 56, New Mexico State 16
  • Tennessee 60, South Alabama 14
  • LSU 27, Louisiana Monroe 14

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