Barry Odom has said that his Missouri football team would find success once it began translating practice into games, when it started playing with more discipline. After a 45-16 win over Florida, the Tigers now have a three-game winning streak to show for all that — but the play that spurred this beatdown over the Gators happened because a Tiger freelanced.
The Tigers’ first score came after Florida fumbled a punt at its own 11-yard line. Anthony Sherrils, a redshirt senior safety who went to Hogan Prep, was supposed to run behind the punt returner to prevent the ball from bouncing into the end zone, but he looked up and saw that wasn’t going to happen.
“So I just waited to see, put a little pressure on him, make an ugly face or something like that to get him to drop it,” Sherrils said. “And he dropped it. I was there to pick it up.”
And Sherrils, in the second quarter, intercepted a Florida pass near the Gators’ 36-yard line, which led to another score. And on first-and-goal during Florida’s opening second-half drive, he saved a score with a big hit on running back Lamichal Perine. The Gators would eventually settle for a field goal.
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If this wasn’t the safety’s best game at Mizzou — 2.5 tackles for a loss against Mississippi State in 2015 might top it — it was certainly the most meaningful, Sherrils said. He senses his college career ending soon, and he had to miss Missouri’s road losses at Kentucky and Georgia with a concussion. This was his third game back, and he was key for a Mizzou team that came into this game tied for 122nd in the country in turnover margin (-10).
“Him not being out on the field with us and his guys, you know, it was eating him up on the inside,” said wide receiver J’Mon Moore, one of Sherrils’ closest friends on the team.
Sherrils entered this season with the most career starts (20) and tackles (130) of any returning Missouri defender. He recorded half a sack a week ago at Connecticut. His interception on Saturday was just the third of his career and his first since Mizzou’s 2016 season opener at West Virginia.
On Saturday, when Florida quarterback Malik Zaire didn’t throw quickly to one receiver who ran toward the sideline, Sherrils figured Zaire would go to a tight end running upfield.
“And the tight end gave me a weak head fake,” Sherrils said. “I knew he was going to the corner. I just jumped it.”
The Tigers are all using the cliche of “one game at a time,” including Sherrils. But the safety also felt confident enough to say how special closing the season on a six-game winning streak would be for him.
The key to Sherrils’ continued improvement, Odom said, is to remain focused. The coach said he senses greater urgency from Sherrils, which has helped the senior practice better.
“He’s a tremendous athlete, but the times Anthony’s gotten in trouble is when he’s done too much or not focused on the assignment at hand,” Odom said earlier this week.
That is, of course, except when Sherrils stops in front of a punt returner instead of running behind him.
“I wouldn’t say get in trouble,” Sherrils said before laughing.