Three weeks ago, Missouri coach Barry Odom set fire to game plans, scouting reports and negative articles from the first half of the season in a motivational ploy. The Tigers haven't lost a game since.
Perhaps Florida interim coach Randy Shannon should gather flammable objects for his own bonfire.
In a game pitting two teams riding emotional waves in opposite directions, Missouri trounced Florida 45-16 on Saturday. The Tigers (4-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) have won three straight games, while the Gators (3-5, 3-4) have dropped four straight.
"You're never as good as you think, and you're never as bad as you think," said Odom, whose job security was questioned after Missouri opened the season 1-5. "I'll take the positive momentum, and we'll use it."
Shannon can only hope the Gators aren't as bad as they've looked the last two weeks. Coach Jim McElwain was fired last Sunday after a 42-7 loss to Georgia, and Florida didn't play any better against Missouri. Shannon was asked if players were losing interest in the season.
"Never have to worry about guys checking out," Shannon said. "Somebody wants to play in the game. If a guy's going to check out, just go to the next guy. . You've just got to keep playing, keep coaching. Now if you check out as a coach? That'll go down to the players."
Missouri took control of the game with a 14-play, 98-yard touchdown drive that spanned the first and second quarters. The key play was a 36-yard Drew Lock pass to Emanuel Hall on first-and-25. Larry Rountree III capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, giving the Tigers a 14-0 lead.
The Tigers, known for Lock's prolific passing, leaned heavily on the running game early. Rountree carried 15 times for 83 yards and three touchdowns, and Ish Witter added 83 yards on 17 rushes. The Tigers finished with 227 rushing yards.
Lock and his receivers also exploited Florida's tight man-to-man coverage over the top. Lock completed 15 of 20 passes for 228 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Hall had five catches for 113 yards. J'Mon Moore had six catches for 64 yards and one touchdown.
In his previous two games against Florida, Lock was a combined 20 of 57 for 190 yards and four interceptions as the Tigers lost 21-3 and 40-14. In those games, Missouri wide receivers struggled to get off the line of scrimmage. Not this time.
"They know how to attack guys way better than what we had in the past couple years," Lock said of his wideouts. "We're not worried about teams trying to man us up, press us up. I'm confident in those guys being able to get off the ball. If they get off the ball, there's not a lot of guys that will be able to run with them in this league."
In his first start at quarterback for the Gators, graduate transfer Malik Zaire completed 13 of 19 passes for 158 yards and one interception. Florida settled for three Eddie Pineiro field goals, including a 24-yarder after it squandered a first-and-goal opportunity from the 2-yard line.
"Any time you're in that 5-yard range going in, it hurts not to be able to punch it in due to miscues or missed assignments," said Zaire, who previously played at Notre Dame. "Whatever the case is, that's unacceptable."
Florida finally reached the end zone when backup quarterback Feleipe Franks connected with Lamical Perine on a 16-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Missouri safety Anthony Sherrils set up two touchdowns with turnovers. He recovered Brandon Powell's muffed punt in the first quarter and intercepted Zaire in the second quarter. The Tigers' defensive improvement has been a key to their turnaround. The group that yielded 43 points to FCS opponent Missouri State in the season opener has held its last three opponents to 21 points or less.
Missouri's second-half surge also has been aided by a friendly schedule. The recent wins came against Idaho, Connecticut and Florida, which all have losing records. But the same can be said for Missouri's next three opponents: Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. If the Tigers win at least two of those games, they'll be eligible for a bowl, which seemed far-fetched a month ago when Odom built his fire.
"They're aware of it, but we won't talk about it in here," Odom said about the possibility of making a bowl. "We'll talk about having an unbelievable Sunday night practice and meetings and getting the week started off Monday academically in the correct way and jump on the preparation for Tennessee and do everything possible to have a great Tuesday practice. I know that's a boring answer
"I'd love to talk a little bit more about grander ideas and thoughts, but I don't know that we can handle that. We've got something going right now, and we've got to focus on one day at a time. We do that, then all that other stuff will take care of itself."
MISSOURI: Lock, a junior, moved past Brad Smith into second place on Missouri's career touchdown passes list. Lock has 58 TD passes, which is 43 behind record-holder Chase Daniel. Lock has 31 touchdown passes this season.
MISSOURI: The Tigers will try for their fourth straight victory with a home game against Tennessee.