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A Fan’s Notes: Wrestling with the Gators

Notes, thoughts, and observations from halfway across the country as Mizzou wins a senior night scuffle

Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation

Missouri has found a lot of creative ways to lose football games through the years. Play your “A” game and come up just short, like three weeks ago at Georgia. Come out flat and lay an egg, like the Purdue morning game at home or at K-State last year. A stunning referee mistake, like the Fifth Down, or a special teams meltdown, like at Auburn, or an impromptu obscure rules explanation, like against Kentucky last year.

I won’t dwell too much on the negative results. Because for the first time all season, Missouri won a clunker. The point is, there are two possible results of a football game, but myriad processes. The Tigers followed a new script last night — hopefully, one they won’t need to repeat in their final two games — and stole a win after playing sloppy, inconsistent football.

The offense left points on the table, matching big plays with go-nowhere drives. The defense was gashed, the thin depth at linebacker exposed. It was perhaps Missouri’s worst played game of the season – certainly the worst after the first two that they treated as exhibitions – and they still earned a “W” with a dramatic result.

If they played that way every week and stole victories, you would call them a lucky team. But when that kind of performance is the outlier, and they are still mature enough to buckle down and earn a win, that’s the sign of a quality outfit. For a team in the SEC’s middle class, winning your clunkers is the difference between a generational New Year’s Six campaign and a feel-good 8-4 type season.

Some other notes…

  • Faurot was on fire. Honestly, it belongs in the pantheon of great Faurot crowds, with 2003 Nebraska, 2010 Oklahoma, 2013 A&M, 2022 Georgia, etc. It was hopping from the jump, bringing the energy to the game and not waiting to respond to good plays on the field. The crowd created communication problems for Florida’s offense all night long. There are a lot of things to feel good about regarding the direction of Missouri Athletics in general and the football program in particular, and the passionate home crowds are a part of that.
  • Riley Williams, the Aussie transfer from FCS Towson, got the nod again at punter after relinquishing his responsibilities to Luke Bauer earlier in the season. Drinkwitz said it was due to a better week of practice. His first couple kicks were excellent, rolling the ball deep into Gator territory, although his final punt of the night was poor. Honestly, kudos to Williams and the healthy competition in the locker room that in his final year in college ball, in a one-season pit stop at Mizzou, he kept working after losing the job midseason to earn it back by the end of the year.
  • Credit to the Florida offensive staff for making a great adjustment early in the game. The Gators run one of the most side-to-side pass games in all of college football, hunting YAC (yards after catch) with Ricky Pearsall and Eugene Wilson. Graham Mertz’s Adjusted Depth of Target is a minuscule 6.7 yards on the season. (For context, Brady Cook is at 9.6 this year and last - with an injured throwing shoulder and only slot receivers on the team - it was 8.5.) Mizzou’s secondary was snuffing those plays out in the first quarter with sure tackling. The Gators decided to challenge Mizzou’s backup linebackers in the box instead, and that’s when things really began to click for their offense.
  • It was tremendous to see Luther Burden back at full speed, making cuts, juking guys and returning punts. He was essentially a decoy last week against Tennessee. It was also tremendous to see Luther’s play in this game in particular as a response to last season’s game in The Swamp. His lack of physicality as a freshman was really exposed in that matchup, so to see Burden shine and make plays where he was breaking tackles, getting himself open, and trucking defenders against this team was cathartic.
  • Speaking of Burden, how about that block alongside Mookie Cooper downfield on Theo Wease Jr.’s long catch-and-run touchdown? I didn’t know Wease had that in his toolbox! He has been an amazing red zone target, a sure-handed possession guy, and one of the best in Missouri history at winning contested throws. But it was beautiful to see the big man galloping down the sideline like that.
  • An underrated great performance from the Iron Man, JC Carlies. The senior played probably the best game of his career under the lights, including a timely interception on a tipped ball. He still has the COVID year of extra eligibility if he wants to cash in, but if not, what a swan song.
  • I also want to give a shout out to our own Cal Tobias, a student and photographer who has been getting some killer snapshots in recent weeks. His picture of Brett Norfleet’s hurdle is awesome. Great stuff Cal, looking forward to more excellent work from you.
Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation