After seven failed attempts, Barry Odom finally got his win over a ranked opponent by notching a 38-17 win over No. 13 Florida on Saturday. It was Missouri’s first win over a AP Top 25 team since 2014.
A week after a crippling last-second loss to Kentucky, the Tigers bounced back in a big way. Quarterback Drew Lock returned to form, the defense came through when it mattered, and for the first time in 2018, Missouri played 60 minutes of complete football.
The Tigers, now 5-4, return home with a new lease on life and host Vanderbilt this coming Saturday to start the final quarter of the season. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m.
But first, here are five takeaways from Saturday’s win:
Lock steps up
Missouri’s quarterback has been oft-chided this fall for what he hasn’t done against conference opponents, and rightfully so. Heading into Saturday’s contest, Lock was completing under 50 percent of his passes in Southeastern Conference play and had thrown just one touchdown to go with five interceptions.
The senior signal-caller flipped the script in his second consecutive win over the Gators. Lock completed 24 of his 32 passes (75 percent) for 250 yards and three touchdowns against a Florida secondary that had previously allowed opposing quarterbacks just 170 yards per game.
“We knew that if we came out firing,” he said postgame, “we were going to be the better offense in the game.”
In earlier conference games against the likes of Alabama and Kentucky, Lock stumbled when faced with aggressive pass rushes, and his accuracy and decision making suffered for it. On Saturday, up against a Florida defense line that entered averaging nearly three sacks per game, Missouri’s gunslinger stood tall in the pocket and made plays in the midst of the rush, including his 41-yard, third-quarter touchdown strike to Kam Scott. And after failing to convert a single first down in the second half in the loss to Kentucky a week ago, Lock helped the Tigers move the chains 22 times Saturday, converting on third down 11 times.
This was a statement game for Lock. In Gainesville, Florida, the senior proved to the fanbase, the conference and NFL scouts that he has the ability step up and perform under the pressure of the biggest stages.
Missouri won’t face another secondary like Florida against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Arkansas in its final three games, and the light schedule to finish the season should allow Lock to pad his stats and end his college career on a high note.
Defense holds strong on third down
Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters and his defense delivered another staunch performance in “The Swamp” on Saturday, limiting Florida’s offense to 323 yards of total offense and forcing starting quarterback Feleipe Franks out of the game in the third quarter. The budding bravado the unit has shown in recent weeks was again on full display and played a crucial role in the victory.
The Tigers were especially stout on third down. Missouri limited the Gators to just three third down conversions on 15 attempts (20 percent), consistently putting the ball back in the hands of a Tigers offense that was firing on all cylinders. Missouri held Florida to an average of 3.3 yards in third down situations, and the Gators were 2-for-5 on third downs that began four yards or fewer from the first-down marker.
“Guys are playing with confidence,” Odom said. “I’m excited about what the defensive staff has done in continuing to build the defense.”
Third-down defense was once an issue for Missouri in 2018. Its inability to execute and get off the field early in the season often left the Tigers’ defense worn down late in games, and the effects showed during late comebacks by Purdue, South Carolina and Kentucky. On Saturday, Missouri turned third downs into an advantage, and it helped propel the Tigers to a win.
Hall opens things up in return
The much anticipated return of wide receiver Emanuel Hall proved to be massive for the Tigers at Florida. Sidelined since Sept. 22 by a groin injury and trip home after the death of his father, the senior was a full go in the win. Hall’s time off the field coincided with a halt in Missouri's offensive production, and Saturday's victory showed how much the Tigers missed the receiver.
Hall produced immediately against the Gators and showed no signs of trepidation when he was targeted deep by Lock in the first quarter. The senior receiver finished with four catches for 77 yards, including a 41-yard snag up the sideline on a third down in the second quarter, and caught a touchdown to extend Missouri’s lead in the second half. After the game, Lock expressed how it felt having his top target back in the lineup.
“When you’re growing up, you’ve got your blankie. I was sleeping and I was freezing for like four weeks. But the little blankie came back and made some plays for us,” Lock said.
In addition to his contributions on the stat sheet, Hall made an impact by freeing up his fellow pass-catchers. In his absence, defenses could key on tight end Albert Okweugbunam and Lock’s other downfield targets, limiting the dimensions of the offense. With Hall attracting attention from opposing secondaries, Lock's other targets found space to work. Okwuegbunam finished with four catches for 46 yards and a touchdown, and Scott remerged as a vertical threat on his long touchdown.
Offensive line has a banner day
Missouri's offensive line has dominated in the nation’s toughest conference for the better part of two years now. In 2017, the blocking quintet of Yasir Durant, Kevin Pendleton, Trystan Colon-Castillo, Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms and Paul Adams allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC. With the whole group back in 2018, the line has been effective once again.
On Saturday, it starred. Although Lock earned the spotlight postgame alongside Hall and running back Damarea Crockett, it was the Tigers’ fearsome O-line who had made it all possible. Up against a defensive line that featured three pass rushers with four-plus sacks, Missouri’s blockers gave Lock time in the pocket and kept their quarterback mostly upright, allowing only one sack. Missouri rushed for 221 yards on the day, paved by the offensive line.
In contests against similar pass rushes this season, the offensive line hasn’t been as sharp. On Saturday, that was not the case, and it allowed the Tigers to put up 38 points on a defense that had previously allowed 19 points a game.
Holmes continues promising progression
Cornerback Christian Holmes opened Saturday’s game with a pass interference penalty on the first play from scrimmage. On the next one, he made a statement with a crushing hit on a Florida pass-catcher on a screen in the backfield. From there, the redshirt sophomore put on an impressive performance, building on strong play that’s earned him increased playing time in recent weeks.
Stepping into a larger role in the absence of fellow cornerback Adam Sparks, who did play not with a bruised shin, Holmes made an impact against the Gators. He finished as Missouri’s second leading tackler with eight tackles on the day — four for loss — and batted down a pair of passes thrown his direction. With a powerful combination of aggression and physicality, Holmes was a thorn in the side of Florida’s offense all game.
The continued emergence of the 6-foot-1 defensive back has been an important development for the Tigers this fall. Missouri entered 2018 thin in the secondary and injuries such as the one suffered by Sparks has necessitated the Tigers to dig into their depth. When called upon, Holmes has taken advantage and proven to be a reliable cover man in the secondary.
Supervising editor is Eric Lee.