The friendly rivalry simmering between Florida’s Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson boiled over during a 131-second stretch Saturday in the second quarter of a 40-14 win against Missouri at soggy Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The Tigers’ revamped defense — which featured three new starters, including freshman linebacker Cale Garrett of Kearney — had kept the 18th-ranked Gators from pulling away despite an offense that started the game with six consecutive three-and-outs.
As the first half drew to a close, Mizzou senior cornerback Aarion Penton’s interception seemed to provide a small spark before Tabor and Wilson’s battle of one–upmanship — dueling interception return touchdowns only 2:11 apart — turned the tide for good.
“It starts off the field,” Tabor said. “We hang out a lot. We watch film together. If you see me, you see him. … It’s a really good, friendly competition and competition brings out the best in us all. … That’s been the story the whole season. Like Kentucky, he got one (an interception); I had to get one. And Tennessee — he got one; I had to get one. Today, I got one and he had to get one, so (it’s) really good competition.”
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Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock never saw Tabor on the first play after Penton’s interception.
Trying to connect with freshman running back Damarea Crockett on a wheel route, Lock instead drilled the ball into Tabor’s chest for a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown that delighted the homecoming crowd of 88,825.
“I didn’t want to turn my head around until I got behind (Tabor), because I didn’t want Drew to throw it before then,” said Crockett, who finished with career-highs of 14 carries for 145 yards.
By the time Crockett looked, Tabor was going the other way for a 13-0 lead.
Lock called it “a bad play by my part.”
“I didn’t see the whole thing,” he said. “It was kind of a blind throw on my part.”
The Tigers’ offense finally found some footing on the next drive, picking up its first three first downs (more than 27 minutes into the game) and driving into Gators territory for the first time.
Facing third and 7 from the Florida 32-yard line, Lock zinged a pass toward senior tight end Sean Culkin, but junior wide receiver J’Mon Moore also was in the area and his defender, Wilson, jumped the pass.
“If the play design and everything goes right our way and they play to the basics of what they’ve been taught, there’s supposed to be a guy (Wilson) out of there,” Lock said. “But I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus or say anything. I’ve got to take care of the ball.”
Wilson’s 78-yard touchdown dash ensured the outcome was never again in doubt.
“Those hurt,” MU first-year coach Barry Odom said. “You give two scores up when your defense isn’t on the field, that’s hard.”
The Tigers, 2-4, are winless in three SEC games this season and have lost nine straight conference games, including six in a row on the road.
“I didn’t play well enough for us to win the football game or even really move the ball,” said Lock, who finished 4 of 18 for 39 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. “In my mind, I played extremely bad today. It’s disappointing.”
Odom huddled Missouri at the 35-yard line when halftime arrived with Florida — 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC — in front 20-0, and after delivering a message, the team walked to the locker room with arms linked.
“I haven’t been around a real long time, but I’ve been around long enough to know that you’ve got to stay together,” Odom said. “ … I told the defensive guys to find an offensive guy and offensive guys to find a defensive guy, lock arms and let’s go in together.”
Starting the third quarter, there was a flicker of hope that a comeback was possible.
Senior cornerback John Gibson, who intercepted Gators sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio on the final play of the first half, snagged his second interception of the game.
That led to a 1-yard touchdown run by senior defensive tackle Josh Augusta.
The Tigers’ offense quickly returned to its sputtering ways, and the Gators piled on with a 20-yard third-quarter touchdown pass from Del Rio to freshman wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland and a 33-yard fourth-quarter TD run by sophomore Jordan Scarlett.
Mizzou junior running back Ish Witter added a 1-yard score in the game’s waning minutes, but Florida returned a subsequent onside kick for a touchdown.
Tigers freshman Trey Baldwin let the ball go by, because it hadn’t traveled 10 yards and would have been a penalty to touch it, but that allowed Gators sophomore Antonio Calloway to step up and grab the ball for a 44-yard touchdown return.
“We are not going to be good enough to win when there are three scores that weren’t given up by the defense,” Odom said. “ … Our margin of error is always going to be so slim and slight that we have to be spot-on in every area to have a chance to win.”
No. 18 Florida 40
FLA: FG Pineiro 53, 11:56
FLA: FG Pineiro 24, 5:45
FLA: Tabor 39 interception return (Pineiro kick), 3:25
FLA: Q.Wilson 78 interception return (Pineiro kick), 1:14
MIZ: Augusta 1 run (McCann kick), 12:32
FLA: Cleveland 20 pass from Del Rio (pass failed), 3:47
FLA: Scarlett 33 run (Pineiro kick), 11:43
MIZ: Witter 1 run (McCann kick), 1:23
FLA: Callaway 44 kickoff return (Pineiro kick), 1:17
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Missouri, Crockett 14-145, Witter 15-82, Zanders 8-31, Lock 3-18, Augusta 2-3, A.Ross 2-(minus 3), (Team) 2-(minus 11). Florida, Perine 11-106, Scarlett 12-101, M.Thompson 10-65, B.Powell 2-14, Cronkrite 3-6, Del Rio 1-(minus 5).
PASSING: Missouri, Lock 4-18-2-39, Zanders 3-4-0-59. Florida, Del Rio 18-38-3-236.
RECEIVING: Missouri, Mason 2-20, Floyd 1-34, J.Reese 1-24, J’.Moore 1-15, J.Johnson 1-4, Crockett 1-1. Florida, B.Powell 4-38, Cleveland 3-79, Goolsby 3-40, Callaway 3-28, Perine 1-31, Lewis 1-13, Cronkrite 1-11, Fulwood 1-(minus 2), Herndon 1-(minus 2).
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Florida, Pineiro 32.