Missouri defense battled against Florida despite lack of offensive support

Saturday, November 3, 2012 | 5:11 p.m. CDT; updated 2:01 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 4, 2012
Missouri linebacker Will Ebner tackles Florida tight end Jordan Reed during the first half of the Missouri football game against Florida on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Missouri linebacker Will Ebner tried to hide it.

He tried to act like the defense wasn't frustrated by the offense's lack of production in the 14-7 loss to Florida on Saturday. With sweat dripping down his bruised forehead, Ebner refused to blame the offense's four turnovers for the loss.

"We put this loss on our backs because we allowed them to score more points than our offense scored," Ebner said.

But by all accounts, the Missouri defense played a great game. The Tigers took over possession in Gators territory three times but took advantage of the great field position just once. Despite the offensive futility, the defense kept Missouri in the game until the end.

"That's what good defenses do," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "They give your offense the opportunity to get back in it, and that's what we did."

With 3:37 left in the first quarter, the Florida offense had the ball on its own 34-yard line.

Sheldon Richardson, crouched down with one hand on the ground, jumped offside a bit early. He got back across before the offense snapped the ball, so it wasn't a penalty.

There was a big gap between the center and the right guard that Richardson had his eye on.

Florida snapped the ball, but Richardson did not go for the gap. He stayed in the middle, appearing to be blocked by the center.

Then he struck. Richardson ripped the center to the left and burst through the gap. He helped Ebner tackle Gators running back Mike Gillislee for no gain.

Richardson had the play under control. What he couldn't control was the offense.

Richardson admitted some frustration, but mostly emphasized his desire to win. He blocked a field goal in the game and has been consistently productive for the Tigers this season.

"There's more games to play. You can't get angry at each other now," Richardson said. "Just got to keep playing. We lost more lineman on offense, gotta keep going."

Missouri right tackle Justin Britt went down early with what Pinkel called an ACL injury.

"With the offensive line issues we have, it's absolutely staggering, and it affects absolutely every single thing that we do," Pinkel said. "And I thought our guys battled against a great defensive line."

The offensive line has struggled with injuries all season, which might be a reason why the defense is willing to share the blame for losses.

"It's frustrating but we have to keep our poise," said cornerback E.J. Gaines. "We can't control what they do. Anytime you lose, it's tough on the whole team, not just the offense or the defense."

While the Tigers defense held Florida scoreless in the first half, the defense was clearly wearing down in the second half.

A holding penalty nullified a touchdown that would have given the Gators their first lead of the game, but Florida scored anyway just two plays later to go up 14-7.

Even after, the defense regrouped and gave the Tigers a chance to win. For Ebner, it still wasn't good enough.

"We shut them out first half," he said. "Why couldn't we do it the second half?"

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