Saturday served as nothing more than the next scene in a completely flipped script.
Missouri head coach Barry Odom stood at his postgame podium saying the very things he hoped to avoid. The Tigers were stunned — some silent like defensive back Jarvis Ware, others like offensive lineman Trystan Colon-Castillo trying to pinpoint what has put the Tigers’ once-promising season in reverse.
After standing at 5-1 five weeks ago, Missouri has nosedived to a .500 record with four straight defeats. Its most recent showing, or lack thereof, was a 23-6 loss to No. 11 Florida.
“We got beat. We didn’t play well enough. It’s a team loss,” Odom said. “If we score six, we’ve got to hold them to five. It wasn’t a great performance. We had opportunities we left on the field.
“They outcoached us, outplayed us, outperformed us, outscored us.”
Hard to disagree with that assessment.
Once a consistent force during five straight wins at Faurot Field, the Tigers’ offense was lifeless with six three-and-outs and 10 punts in their return to home turf after the longest span between home games for any Power Five program this season. For the first time in 20 years, MU has punted the ball nine or more times in back-to-back games.
Missouri has mustered fewer points the past four games combined (27) than it posted in its most recent win, which came seemingly eons ago — Oct. 12, to be exact — against Mississippi on the same field it no-showed Saturday in front of 57,280. Following last week’s 27-0 loss at No. 4 Georgia, nine straight quarters have come and gone without a Tigers touchdown.
“We didn’t put enough points on the board to win the game, and it sucks,” said Colon-Castillo, who alongside fellow offensive linemen had trouble all game holding back the Gators in their pursuit of quarterback Kelly Bryant. “We haven’t won in what, over a month? Nobody feels good around here. I just want to get back to winning games and having fun.”
The defense gave a valiant effort in the first half, holding Florida to a pair of field goals as Kobie Whiteside and Jordan Elliott combined for three sacks before the break.
But the penchant MU has most prided itself on during victories this season was nowhere to be found Saturday. The Tigers were unable to force any turnovers despite having chances, including dropped interceptions by Nick Bolton and DeMarkus Acy.
“People have got to look in the mirror,” defensive back Christian Holmes said. “We’ve built a culture around we don’t lose in November and we’ve built a culture around we don’t lose at home. So it really hurts to see everything unfold. When I look at myself in the mirror, I didn’t get a takeaway today. That looks bad on the team.”
Khalil Oliver nearly made a game-changing play in the third quarter when he battled Florida tight end Kyle Pitts on a ball in the air and appeared to make an interception. Referees credited Pitts with the catch despite him never completely controlling the ball.
The Gators chomped hard, going up two touchdowns just three plays later.
Three personal fouls didn’t help the Tigers, either. Perhaps the most damaging was called on tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, whose retaliation after a late hit on Bryant offset Florida’s initial infraction and doomed Missouri’s first drive of the second half.
Three penalties on a single play derailed Missouri in the final period, turning a third-and-13 into a treacherous third-and-38, eliciting boos from the home crowd.
Missouri finished with 256 yards of offense to the Gators’ 386 and went 5-for-18 on third downs. The Tigers averaged just 1.8 yards per carry and couldn’t buy enough time for Bryant to throw downfield aside from a 44-yard strike to Jalen Knox in the first half.
“We’re struggling,” Odom said. “I wish I had a great philosophical answer on exactly what that one reason is, but it’s not one. We’re not functioning at all offensively.”
The regular season has two games remaining for Missouri, first against Tennessee at home next weekend before a trip to Little Rock to face hapless Arkansas on Black Friday.
After flopping in its opportunity to prove itself against two of the elite programs in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers have just two more chances to earn win No. 6, something that would come at least six weeks after their fifth.
“We definitely just have to keep fighting, try to get that No. 6,” Knox said of reaching the bowl-eligibility threshold. “Even though the season is not going the way we want it to go, there are still things that can happen. We’ve just got to keep playing and trying to win games.”
The lingering uncertainty about whether the NCAA will lift its bowl ban on the Tigers is no longer the defining question of their 2019 season.
Missouri must first get into position where that would matter.
“We didn’t see ourselves here, but we’re here,” Holmes said. “We’ve got to deal with it.”