Marcus Murphy and Missouri’s defense rendered the Tigers’ ongoing offensive struggles moot Saturday in a dominating 42-13 victory against Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Quarterback Maty Mauk finished just six of 18 for 20 yards with an interception — his fifth in the last two games — and no touchdowns for a third consecutive game.
It simply didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter that Missouri’s offense totaled fewer than 300 yards for the third straight game because Murphy became the first player in Tigers history to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same game.
It didn’t matter that the Gators, 3-3 overall and 2-3 in the Southeastern Conference, had more first downs (17-7) and outgained the Tigers (283-119), because Missouri forced six turnovers, including a pair that were returned for touchdowns and two interceptions by senior Braylon Webb, after going three straight games without any.
Murphy went 96 yards with the opening kickoff, staking Missouri, 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the SEC, to a 7-0 lead only 11 seconds into the game — not a bad start for a team coming off a 34-0 shutout loss to Georgia.
“I’d like to start like that every week if you can, but there’s no question it was a great way to start the game,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said.
Senior Markus Golden scored on a 21-yard fumble return and senior linebacker Darvin Ruise added a 46-yard interception return, which had Missouri in front 42-0 with 5:57 remaining in a truly odd third quarter.
At one point, Missouri had minus-2 yards of offense in the period but had bumped its halftime lead from 20-0 to 42-0 thanks to those defensive scores and Murphy’s punt-return touchdown.
“That third quarter, I wish it could happen every game like that,” Pinkel said.
Florida’s marching band hadn’t even made it to their seats in the northeast end zone before Murphy’s first special-teams score.
The Missouri defense went to work from there.
Senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent pounced on a fumbled exchange between quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Matt Jones, ending the Gators’ first drive.
Mauk’s interception on the ensuing drive did nothing to halt the MU defense’s momentum. Missouri, which allowed Florida only 66 yards of offense in the first half, simply forced another turnover.
After senior punter Christian Brinser pinned the Gators inside the 20-yard line, one of five times he did that in the win, linebackers Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer came on a twisting blitz. Brothers rocked Treon Harris for a 5-yard sack, jarring the ball free, and Scherer recovered at the Gators’ 19.
Murphy scored a 5-yard touchdown four plays later, bouncing off Florida safety Keanu Neal at the 3 and diving into the end zone.
With the Tigers’ defense continuing to dominate, the offense stirred to life with an 18-play drive — a confidence-building, 55-yard march — capped by junior Andrew Baggett’s 25-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, Harold Brantley’s pressure up the gut forced a terrible underthrow by Driskel, which Webb picked off and returned to Florida’s 5.
That led to Baggett’s 34-yard field goal and a 20-0 halftime lead.
It was more than enough, but Missouri wasn’t nearly done.
Florida’s opening drive of the second half stalled near midfield and Murphy, who now owns the Tigers’ career record with six total kickoff and punt return touchdowns, returned the ensuing punt 82 yards for a touchdown.
“The guy, he’s a game-changer,” Ruise said. “He can change the game any time with the ball in his hands and that’s what we need. He gives us a spark and an edge on offense. To me, he should be in the race for the Heisman if I had anything to say about it. That’s just him; that’s who he is.”
Mauk hit senior Bud Sasser for a two-point conversion and a 28-0 lead.
Next came the two defensive scores before the Gators broke up the shutout when Harris eluded a blitz by cornerback John Gibson and lobbed a 5-yard touchdown to tight end Tevin Westbrook late in the third quarter.